There is no evidence of hand-to-hand combat techniques being used in India before the Arian invasions of the twelfth to tenth centuries BC. Before this time, the people probably only practiced "meditation under trees," which is the supposed origin of yoga. One cannot definitely say that Yoga was a part of a combat regime, but its meditation and breathing disciplines, along with the principles of Zen Buddhism, made important contributions to the development of all the Oriental martial arts.
The Arians codified yoga in the Upanishads, in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The first records of Indian combat techniques were written during this same period. Later, Indian combat techniques were categorized in the famous Buddhist chronicle Lotus Sutra as either joint locks, fist strikes, grapples, or throws. During the fifth and fourth centuries BC, these categories gained firm standing and developed separately.
When Gautama Siddartha, the Buddha, lived on earth, the Bhramin religious group held sway over much of India. They believed the duty of every man was to become an itinerant priest. Combat training was of great importance to these wandering priests who had only a staff to defend themselves against wild animals, robbers, and villagers of different religious faiths. Their hardships were intensified by the constant warring of all sixteen principalities of India.
Gautama, a man of peace and love, was also a prince, and, as such, he received the military training given all people of high birth. His fighting skills were so great that it was said he was never defeated. Before Gautama devoted himself to religious meditation and teaching, he had won the hand of the beautiful Princess Yasudara by excelling above all other contenders in running, leaping, fencing, archery, and fisticuffs. It is said that, after becoming Buddha, he was able to overcome evil spirits by dazzling then with the reflection from the nimbus surrounding his body. This description was probably a romanticized explanation of his lightning-fast movements.
Some of the first written records of unarmed self-defense come from ancient India, from about 2,600 BC. One story tells of an Indian prince who developed the first scientific method of self-defense by systematically jabbing needles into his slaves. He recorded the results and developed techniques to attack the vulnerable areas he had discovered.
An Indian warrior class called the "kshatriya," that was similar to the Japanese "samurai" or the European knight, were dominant during the times. Experts agree that the kshatriya probably developed at least one early fighting style, but the first documented proof of an Indian empty-hand fighting style is found in the Lotus Sutra. The chronicle mentions an early type of pugilism but it also reveals an earlier type of unarmed combat called "Nata," which translates to mean a dancer or a performer. This is significant since one of the basics of taekwondo is the performing of hyung/patterns/forms, which resemble dancing. Another empty hand fighting style called "vajramushti" also developed in India. These early Indian arts, once they were coupled with the Buddhist teachings, gave birth to "yoga" and later to "kalarippayattu."
Kalarippayattu is practiced in Kerala, a state in South India and in parts of Tamil Nadu. It combines self-defense techniques, religion, and has elements of "martial dance" as in capoeira. Kalarippayattu literally means "combat training inside the gymnasium." Traditionally kKalarippayattu training is always done inside the Kalari, a specially constructed practicing area. In the South-West corner of every Kalari is a Puttara, a seven tired platform where the guardian deity is located. Flowers, incense, and water is given to the deity everyday and, before training, each student prays to the deity. \
Kalarippayattu uses intricate dance-like exercises, empty hand fighting techniques, and both wooden and metal weapons. Oil massage is an integral part of kalarippayattu.
The earliest reference to kalarippayattu appears in A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century CE by Duarte Barbosa, which indicates that kalarippayattu had already developed by this time. Some theorize that Bodhidharma was a student of kalarippayattu and thus that it was the basis for the development of kung-fu, but others claims there is evidence that forms of martial arts existed in Buddhist temples in China prior to the purported arrival of Bodhidharma.
Practically all martial arts trace their beginnings to the Indian Buddhist priest, Bodhidharma, and taekwondo is no exception. Since Bodhidharma's influence on the martial arts actually occurred in China, rather than in India, he is discussed in detail after the following section on China.