The Key Element to Understanding Chinese Martial Arts: Martial Virtue

Martial virtue directly relates to morality, and is the key element to Chinese martial arts. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Martial virtue directly relates to morality, and is the key element to Chinese martial arts. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Martial virtue directly relates to morality, and is the key element to Chinese martial arts. Laozi said: “Dao generates. De (virtue) nurtures.” The Dao is the way of the universe. To be virtuous is to follow the laws of the universe. With virtue, all things stay in existence. Without virtue, all things cease to exist.

One who has martial arts skills believes in karmic retribution, distinguishes good from evil, respects the Dao and values virtue, understands that good and bad are rewarded accordingly, eliminates evil, and promotes goodness — these are all a part of Wu-De (martial virtue).

Martial virtue is about preventing and ending conflicts. To analyze the creation of the Chinese character wu (武), take out the partial character ge (戈, meaning weapon) and put this sharp weapon aside in order to stop violence; then place a knife on top of the character component zhi (止, meaning stop) to make the Chinese character zheng (正, meaning righteousness).

Martial virtue is about preventing and ending conflicts. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Martial virtue is about preventing and ending conflicts. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Laozi said: “To have 10- or 100-fold capacity without the need of applying it.” Even if someone has the capability and weapons to battle 10 or 100, he would not act unnecessarily. Instead, he would use gentleness to conquer strength — this is the foundation of martial virtue.

Zhang Sanfeng founded Taiji (Tai Chi), and overtook the warriors of his time by being as gentle as water by conquering strength with gentleness. Laozi said: “The best quality to have is like that of water.

Water benefits everything, but does not compete, and it willingly goes to where others have fled; thus, it is almost like the Dao.” The practice of Taiji not only uses gentle and slow movements to benefit health and extend life, but it is also capable of conquering toughness with gentleness, and ending violence without hurting people.

Since ancient times, the laws of the universe have been carried by both the Chinese scholar-tradition and the tradition of martial virtue. Chinese scholars of the past used the virtue of literary skill to comply with nature and be at one with the world.

Martial virtue is the virtue of using traditional martial arts skills to follow nature and harmonize the world. Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist scriptures, and exemplary people during the Tang and Song dynasties, all stressed virtue when practicing Chinese martial arts or writing literature.

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Zhang Sanfeng founded Taiji (Tai Chi), and overtook the warriors of his time by being as gentle as water by conquering strength with gentleness. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Both Chinese scholars and martial artists traditionally stressed not bullying the good and not fearing the evil. In ancient times, when the Yellow Emperor battled rebel leader Chi You, he set an example for defeating the wicked with righteousness, and thus created a historic precedent of martial virtue.

The great Emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Tang Taizong, built Lingyan Pavilion to promote loyalty and courage. Martial virtue is lost when one fails to distinguish good from evil, bullies the good and fears the wicked, uses one’s power to take advantage of the weak, or helps the wicked perpetrate evil deeds.

Martial virtue is accumulated when one cultivates the heart and improves one’s moral standard, sets the mind on learning the Dao, takes fame and wealth lightly, and is kindhearted and steadfast.

In Chinese Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, one achieves extraordinary martial arts skills based on virtue, and cultivates his virtue when practicing martial arts. A prominent and respectful master of the martial arts cannot be without virtue.

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