Essence of Chinese Martial Art—Virtue

Li Youfu

PureInsight | October 22, 2013

[] Just like some other cultural developments (such as traditional Chinese faith in personal and social morality advancement) in China, Chinese martial art has gone through a process of changes and degradations.

1. A brief review of Chinese martial art history

What has happened to Chinese martial art in recent history? As a unique cultural heritage in China, why have martial art in China degraded that much nowadays?

First of all, it is a result of the overall degradation of social morality. History tells us that human civilizations, arts and cultures have all originated from the development of human morality. Morality is the common thread within different cultures, arts and civilizations. For example, physicians should follow the morality requirements in the medical field, people practicing martial art should follow the morality requirements in the field of martial art—called martial art virtues; Businessmen should follow the morality requirements in the field of business transactions, they should engage in fair trades; politicians should follow the requirements in politics, they should serve the people and never become corrupted; In every walk of life, people follow the moral requirements in their own professions. If a particular arts practice or a particular profession lacks its corresponding moral requirements, it can be sure that sooner or later that particular practice of arts or profession will lose its value.

Chinese martial art originated from the ancient past in China. It is unique how Chinese martial art masters hand down their knowledge and skills to the next generation. In ancient times, people lived simple lives and they had high moral standards. Martial art practitioners used to gather in remote mountains surrounded by lakes, they might run into masters with super skills and get inspired thereafter. Such martial art practitioners would usually follow stringent guidelines and keep practicing the arts until they reached a state of “Tao”. These people then became the founders of various martial art forms or swordsmanship. At that time, a genuine martial art practitioner could wave his fists simply following his heart’s desire; a genuine swordsman could yield his sword as if it was just part of his own physical body. Martial art masters would appear in the society now and then might wander everywhere. Under the moon and at dawn, such masters might guide their disciples. Such disciples were usually hand-picked by the masters themselves through a strict process. Only people with high morality would have been chosen. It is said that one should never reveal one’s skills to anyone unless one ran into a person full of virtues.

After a few years, those disciples might become masters themselves. If such masters were not able to find people with high morality, these masters might start opening martial art schools to the public. Students would be engaged in the cultivation of morality while being taught the martial art. For those students who had developed high moral standards, the masters would reveal the secret of their martial art to such students. As a result, two methodologies have been adopted for teaching martial art to the public: hand-picking students to teach or teaching the students martial art while demanding the students to follow high moral standards.

The ultimate goal of these two different ways is actually the same: morality is the most important requirement for any martial art practitioners.

The passage of Chinese martial art from a master to a disciple has thus had its origin in the morality cultivation. The high demand on virtue for martial art practitioners originated from social morality requirements. Nowadays, the social morality in China has been completely destroyed; everyone can witness such destruction. Chinese martial art has also followed the same self-destructive path, that’s why we are witnessing such a degrading development in Chinese martial art.

If one loses one’s faith in spiritual developments and if one starts to refuse to believe in gods, Taos, or similar divinities, one will soon be easily led by materialism and hedonism. Anything performed by such an atheist individual, be it some cultural event, arts forms or technical skills, will lose its essential values. If an individual with a very low morality standard is performing arts or technical professions, the end result is even worse.

Lao Zi once said: “A nation with lethal weapons should not resort to such weapons.” Sun Zi once said: “Capturing the whole enemy army without any casualty is the best strategy, destroying the enemy army is only the second best strategy.” Both Lao Zi and Sun Zi advocated not to use lethal forces even one possessed such power. For martial art practitioners, their virtues have developed from their faiths and moral requirements. With virtues, one can easily distinguish wrong from right, and one’s virtues will definitely be praised by the society. Such martial art practitioners will definitely punish evils while upholding righteous movements.

With the decline of social moralities, martial art masters also started to seek fame and interest; gradually, the virtue demand on a martial art practitioner became less and less. This is also a result of the so-called rule-by-law social developments in human history. Moral requirements have thus been put aside. Yes, martial art competitions can win gold medals for a nation, and martial art masters can attack those evil elements in the society and protect innocents. However, the ability to distinguish evil from righteous, good from bad, justice from injustice is always the most fundamental and important requirement on a martial art practitioner.

In ancient times, people focused on faith and morality and took light views on fame and self-interest. Any student chosen to learn must have a high moral standard. As a result, such students would definitely reach a high level in martial art due to their emphasis on one’s morality development. As the human society gets to the Fa-ending period, the overall social morality has declined so much; martial art practitioners are also lacking in virtues and their skills can hardly reach any significant master level.

If a person loses his faith in gods, such a person will not be able to serve the people well and stay away from corruption if he is a politician; such a person will definitely follow only the profits if he is a businessman; such a person will definitely not practice the basic medical requirements if he is a physician. If an industry is started without any moral constraints, such an industry will definitely generate pollutions to the environment. If a martial art practitioner doesn’t follow the virtue requirement, such a person will definitely help the evils in attacking the vulnerable and will definitely degenerate into a ruffian. If there is no morality in any profession in the society, the society will definitely be in a terrible state, the nation will definitely be in a perilous situation. If the whole world starts to neglect morality, then disasters will soon appear and the human race will definitely be doomed!

To be able to distinguish good from bad, to be able to attack the evils while helping the righteous are the most important virtue requirements on martial art practitioners. If one doesn’t know how to distinguish the good from bad, one will definitely lose one’s reputation as a martial art practitioner if one happens to perform certain bad deeds. Such a martial art practitioner will sow the very seed for his own destruction later on. Any person that has lost human morality standards will soon be ruined, that’s the guaranteed end result. Right now, morality has declined so much that social awareness is lost. Chinese people as a whole have reached a state where many are lacking in human soul. How are we going to rejuvenate traditional Chinese cultures?


2. Understanding the universal characteristics

Ancient sages had already foretold us that in the Fa-ending period (that’s now) all the three major religions would be ruined. The human society would be in a danger of complete destruction. There would be an enlightened being appearing in the world, spreading the news of Dafa, saving sentient beings and uplifting moral standards once again for the human race.

In recent years, New Tang Dynasty TV station has sponsored three Chinese martial art competitions in order to promote traditional Chinese culture and rectify people’s minds. Advocacy of traditional Chinese culture will inevitably lead to the emphasis on the virtue requirements for people practicing traditional Chinese martial art. First of all, the ability to distinguish what is good from bad, to help the vulnerable and battle against the evil is the ultimate virtue requirement for martial art practitioners. How are we going to promote traditional culture, uplift virtue demand? We have clearly stated that the ultimate requirement on uplifting one’s virtue in martial art is to follow the principle of “Zhen, Shan, Ren” or “True, Good and Endure”. What is “Zhen Shan Ren”? The book “Zhuan Falun” explains: “It is an exposition of the characteristic of the universe, ‘Zhen-Shan-Ren,’ expressed at different levels with different layers of meaning. It is also what the Tao School calls the ‘Tao,’ or what the Buddha School calls the ‘Fa.’”

I have discussed this issue with some people from various religious groups. I asked these people: “Are there any conflicts between the principle of ‘Zhen Shan Ren’ and any other religious belief?” All these people replied with a no. Therefore, in today’s Fa-ending period , isn’t it a unique solution to help uplifting the virtue demand on martial art practitioners by placing the “Zhen Shan Ren” guideline on them?

If one follows the universal characteristics of “Zhen Shan Ren” to cultivate oneself, one’s morality will be uplifted very quickly, the virtue demand on martial art practitioners will be easily reached, and one’s martial art skills can thus reach an even higher realm.

Once one follows a high moral standard while practicing martial art, such a person will definitely follow the universal characteristics in his cultivations and martial art practices, such a person will be able to distinguish the good from bad, evil from righteous. Such a person will definitely endure any hardships and most probably, such a person will be picked by an understanding master. Such a person won’t get lost in the personal fights for gains and fames in today’s society, he will cultivate on his virtue, he will even start to disregard the competition result and take a very light view on one’s fame and power. Such a person will definitely start to focus on his cultivation. Most importantly, such a person will realize that his martial art skills can only be used to help the vulnerable and stop the evil. Following the principle of reckoning, such a person will definitely end up in a good outcome, because he is a kind-hearted human being. What I am talking about here is the genuine virtue requirement for martial art practitioners; every martial art enthusiast needs to follow such a requirement.

The requirement of virtue development on martial art practitioners also involves the skills that can be used to battle against the evils. Such skills include wisdom developed through cultivating virtue. The ultimate goal of martial art is not to gain battling skills. The fighting skills one needs to learn from Chinese martial art are not the most important features. The battling skills are actually the by-products of one’s cultivation on one’s virtue. The virtue requirement on a martial art practitioner involves much more moral and artistic cultivations. Through endurance, one will gain enlightenment and wisdom and thus develop superior skills in martial art. Such a martial art practitioner will uplift personal moral standards, such a person can be depended on to stop the evils and help the righteous.

As a matter of fact, the battling skills one learns from Chinese martial art are just natural exhibitions of one’s wisdom from one’s cultivation on virtues. A martial art master can easily dissolve the attacker’s power and stop right there; in this way, one’s virtue of stopping the evil while helping the righteous can be shown to the public. If martial art just focuses on fighting, then animals such as lions and elephants are the most vicious and powerful. Human beings can use wisdom to battle against such animals and succeed in capturing them. Just like the legendary story says, the Buddha himself easily got an elephant to yield before him without using any fist fights. We also heard stories of how Taoist cultivators in the mountains captured wild beasts with their hands. Today, people can also win face-to-face battles against ferocious animals when one applies wisdom. This principle also applies when human beings engage in martial art competitions. Every martial art competition has its own rules. For example, wrestlers should never try to dislocate opponent’s joints while in arresting competition; one will try one’s best to try to dislocate the opponent’s joints. The rules of boxing are different from that of Karate while Thai- style boxing again has its own more flexible rules. Chinese style wrestling is most elegant and the rules are more reasonable. If traditional Chinese martial art competitions can adapt certain rules out of Chinese wrestling competitions, it will definitely help Chinese martial art practitioners both in their skill and wisdom developments. Zhang Sanfeng (the founder of Chinese Taiqi) had never tried to use his Taiqi skills to engage in battles, he simply used Taiqi as a form to help cultivating his heart. Today, Taiqi has already lost its original features; there is no cultivation of one’s heart anymore. Nonetheless, simply from the perspectives of one’s arm and fist movements, Taiqi can still be used to dissolve the opponent’s strong force into nothingness; one can thus face a physically strong opponent and win the battle over the opponent by applying the skills of Taiqi. One’s wisdom out of one’s cultivation on virtues can thus be seen.

Therefore, cultivating one’s virtue is the only hope that we can have right now to try to bring back the magnificence of traditional Chinese martial art.

Virtue of martial art includes many elements and one of them is that, with a high moral standard, one can be picked to learn the skills from a master. A person of virtue can also endure hardships in the practices of martial art; such a person is usually quick to get enlightened. As a result, such a person can gain wisdoms and can then naturally know how to distinguish the good from bad. Such a person will never help the evils. The ability to distinguish the good from bad, to stop evils and help the righteous is the essence of the virtue requirement for martial art practitioners.


3. Taking a light view on fame and interest

One of the virtue requirements for martial art practitioners is that one should possess the courage to fight to death for a just cause and this is called righteousness. Meng Zi said: “Life is what I desire; righteousness is also what I desire. If I can’t gain both, I’d rather lose my life for the sake of righteousness.” Throughout the Chinese history, righteousness has always been regarded as one of the virtues among people who practice martial art. Ancient dynasties such and Yan and Chao were famous for their numerous righteous people at those times. The righteousness of famous people such as Jing Ke and Ling Xiangru was once said to be more powerful than an army of thousands. Lu Zhonglian was another righteous individual. After Lu helped Pin Yuan win the war against its enemy nation, Lu decided to leave. Pin Yuan asked Lu to stay and promised Lu some lands and lordship, Lu refused with a strong determination. Pin Yuan then held a bouquet in the name of Lu and during the ceremony, Pin Yuan suddenly stood up from his seat and approached Lu; Pin Yuan wanted to give thousands of gold pieces to Lu, Lu smiled and said to Pin Yuan: “People respect righteous persons because such a person can help others overcome difficulties and rid others’ disasters. Yet, righteous people will never take any rewards for their deeds. If they take rewards, they might as well become businessmen. I don’t want to be a businessman.” Lu then said goodbye to Pin Yuan and left the city forever, he was never seen in the public ever since he departed Pin Yuan. During the period of Three Kingdom’s time, Guan Yunchang put aside the army command signet and kept the gold pieces that Cao Cao had given to him intact, he then left Cao Cao’s camp and started his journey of thousand miles to try to get to his master as soon as he learnt of his whereabouts. Guan’s righteousness was said to reach the high sky. Zhang Sanfeng was interested in practicing swords when he was a young lad, he eventually succeeded in his Taoist cultivation, but he never revealed himself to the public. Once a ruffian tried to attack Zhang, Zhang simply used Taiqi to get the ruffian swerve to the side and fall on the ground. As the moral standards started to decline, Zhang never passed down his real Taiqi cultivation essence to later generations and people just learn the superficial Taiqi movements. At the Ming dynasty, Wu Dang fist fighting arts founder Wang Zhennan would always succeed in escaping from various attacks on him by many strong forces. Qing dynasty scholar Wang Chongxi wrote an epitome for Wang Zhennan: “Superb skills, yet, never applying them in battles; Keeping the skills to himself, what a determination! The lake here is shallow, the mountain yonder is aged, and who’s attending this lonely tomb?” As a matter of fact, Wang Chongxi was praising Wang Zhennan’s superior martial art skills, and admired Wang Zhennan’s determination to lead a simple life without being dragged down by fame and interest; even though Wang Zhennan became penniless in his later years, he refused to sell his skills just for money.

Nowadays, people who practice martial art are interested in fame and interest, they seek money, and they fight for fame. Isn’t it a shame when compared to those ancient masters? So, it can be concluded that righteousness is the sacrificial spirit that a righteous person possesses; it is also the personification of one’s wisdom and bravery. How can a martial art practitioner lack such an essential element? When ancient people watched martial art competitions, they didn’t simply pay attention to how ferocious the fight was. Guan Yunchang was looked upon as a martial art saint because of his righteousness. Another character at that time period named Lu Bu was despised by the public even though this character also possessed superb mastery of combating skills. Why? Because Lu Bu was not a righteous individual, he sold himself to three masters whenever he felt he could gain certain benefits from such servitude. During the Qing dynasty period, three prominent martial art masters were known by the public, these three people respected each other and often talked to each other to help improve their skills, they never cared who the best was, and people called them the founders of the internal fist fighting martial art. One can easily see how high those ancient masters had cultivated themselves on the virtue aspect for martial art.

4. Unity and morality

In conclusion, the essence of the traditional Chinese martial art is the virtue requirement, that is, one learns martial art in order to stop the evil and help the righteous. For example, a physician can make a living curing diseases for people, but his medical skills are not solely used to earn money, he has the virtue to relieve the pains for patients. A businessman should help the public in providing the public with what they need in their daily lives; he should not solely be seeking profits. A businessman’s virtue is to provide the convenience for the public. A politician should serve his people and not seek power and gain. We need to develop such morality notions among all the people. The virtue of martial art that I am talking about here is only a tiny part of the overall social morality requirements. After all, if everyone follows the principle of “Zhen Shan Ren”, and if everyone places a strong emphasis on morality development, human beings can then walk out of this path of mutual destruction, and a bright future will reveal itself before us.

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