China became the center of the martial arts universe in 2600 B.C. In 2000 B.C., Emperor Huang Di was noted to be a shuai jiao (wrestling) and pole-fighting expert and had his troops learn martial arts. Mongolian tribesmen introduced a violent style of skull-bashing wrestling to China around 770 B.C.; this art is believed to be the progenitor of sumo. During the Han and Qin dynasties (256 B.C.-A.D. 220), this wrestling style was combined with kemari (a kicking game designed to strengthen one’s feet for war) to create shubaku. Sun Tsu (544-496 B.C.) wrote The Art of War, emphasizing the importance of martial arts for living and fighting. Early records also indicate that Chinese martial arts spread into Europe, India and Asia Minor (Middle East) via the Silk Road in 500 B.C.
Yet the origin of today’s martial arts began in 527 A.D. when Indian monk Ta Mo arrived at the Shaolin Temple in the Henan province and taught the monks the 18 Buddhist Fists, which evolved into the Five Animal Styles of Shaolin. While Tao Mo’s influence has inspired many Chinese and non-Chinese martial arts, others have evolved independently.