The Central Lesson of The World of Martial Arts: 武德/Wu De – Martial Ethics

A standard plot point for many Martial Arts movies goes like this: A person masters a powerful Martial Art; this person takes one or more students; a student turns out to be evil or corrupt; the teacher expels the wicked student; high jinks ensue. The basis of Chinese social mores is Confucianism, another well-known fact. Many Chinese are Buddhist, as well. But how does any of that relate to our Kung Fu plot outline? It’s a matter of morality. In the World of Martial Arts that morality is called “Wu De”. Now, I know I just called it morality, but I’m not a Confucian type of guy, so I usually go with: 武德/Wu De – Martial Ethics.

Martial Ethics consists of two parts: Behavioral Ethics & Character Ethics. Behavioral Ethics detail the proper way to behave toward others, whether or not they’re Martial Artists. Character Ethics detail the personality traits that practically guarantee a student’s success. When these two are combined, many of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of society disappear. It turns out every Grandmother who ever lived was right: manners go a long way toward improving the quality of social interactions.

Below, I’ve listed the contents of both sections of Martial Ethics. I’ll be examining them in more detail in subsequent posts. You might also be interested in this piece on The Code of Conduct of the Wandering Xia, the heroic “Knights Errant” of Ancient China. Thousands of years of social change has resulted in some noticeable differences between the two.

•行德/Xing De – Behavioral Ethics

謙虛/Qianxu – Modesty

尊敬/Zunjing – Respect

正義/Zhengyi – Righteousness

信用/Xinyong – Trustworthiness

忠誠/Zhongcheng – Loyalty

•品德/Pin De – Character Ethics

意志/Yizhi – Determination

忍耐/Rennai – Endurance

毅力/Yili – Willpower

恆心/Hengxin – Perseverance

勇敢/Yonggan – Courage

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