Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Wu De" Will Make You a Better Fighter...

Not too long ago the topic of “martial arts morality”, or Wu De (lit. Martial Virtue) was a common one in martial arts schools of all styles. I’m sure this is still the case in many places and in many schools. However, with the rise in popularity of MMA we’ve also seen a rise in the “badass” mentality among martial artists. I feel as though this mentality is detrimental to those who train in the martial arts as well as to the martial arts themselves, because such an attitude gives the general public the wrong impression of how most martial artists (even those who train MMA) actually act and behave.


So, I think it is important that we revisit the concept of Wu De and make sure we are applying it in our training. If we do this, not only will it make us better fighters, but it’ll make us better people as well.

Now I could go off and list of a bunch of virtues and simply say “apply these to your martial art and life”. But that’s lazy blogging and it doesn’t do much for you or me as martial artists. Instead, I want to talk about how to really apply Wu De in a meaningful way.



How You Train –

In many discussions on Wu De only aspects of how you should conduct yourself in public are discussed. However, I feel like Wu De should start in the training hall.

There is an unbroken line of teachers and fighters who have preceded us. Each of these individuals has sacrificed something in their lives and added something of value to our respective styles and we are now privy to that information. It is our responsibility to show respect to those individuals by treating our training as though it is a privilege.

This means:

1. Showing up to scheduled training sessions on time.

2. Showing respect to our teachers and peers.

3. Giving our full effort when training and working out (“Train Hard”; no “half-assed” training).



How You Behave –

As martial artists we are ambassadors of our particular style and the Martial Arts in general to the lay public. As such, we have responsibility to act in a manner that paints the Martial Arts world in as good of a light as possible. Remember nobody likes an asshole. Especially if that asshole brags about being “The Best Fighter Ever!” or uses his/her martial arts pedigree in an attempt to intimidate or impress others.

So, we should:

1. Treat others with respect and patience.

2. Be outwardly humble (it’s important to have an inner confidence) and avoid bragging and “showboating”.

3. Remember that martial arts training is a personal journey and not everyone wants to hear about what style you train in or how long you’ve been training (I even know some guys who go out of their way to avoid talking about their martial arts training).



How you use your skills responsibly –

As martial artists we have training that is intended to be used to keep ourselves from being harmed by would be aggressors. This is the primary purpose behind what we do. Competition tests and helps us improve our skills and becoming fit and more disciplined is a by-product of our training – these are not the reason we train. We train, ultimately, to protect ourselves and those we care about. I would even go so far to say that due to our training and what we learn it is our responsibility to protect others who cannot protect themselves.

James Williams said it best in his article “The Virtue of the Sword”:

“The warrior protects and defends because he realizes the value of others. He knows that they are essential to society and, in his gift of service, recognizes and values theirs. This responsibility translates to children as well. When in a public bathroom, keep an eye on any children that may be in there. Even wait an extra moment or two to make sure that they are safely out of the restroom before you leave. It is an unfortunate fact that public restrooms are frequented by pedophiles and potential kidnappers. Being a father myself I feel a serious responsibility to all children and hope that other males will help look after mine when I am not present. I cannot count the number of times that I have seen nervous mothers waiting outside of a public bathroom for a young son. Make a point, even to telling the mother, that you will keep an eye on the safety of her child in an area in which she cannot go.

There are other ways in which we can be of daily use. For instance, take the extra moment in dark parking lots at night to make sure that a woman gets into her car safely before leaving yourself. Daily involvement in acts such as these are as much a part of training as time spent in the dojo, and indeed should be the reason for that time spent training.

The role and ability to protect and defend does not give the warrior-protector the right to misuse this strength and knowledge. You are not superior to nor do you have the right to take advantage of others by means of this strength and ability. If you breach this trust and your sacred responsibility then you are not a warrior-protector. Over the centuries this power has been misused all too often in societies to dominate and control others. This is the dark side of power and has no place in the life of the warrior seeking to live a life of virtue.

When faced with a woman or child in a situation in which they are vulnerable, there are two types of men: those who would offer succor and aid, and those who would prey upon them. And in modern society, there is another loathsome breed who would totally ignore their plight!...”

I honestly couldn’t have said it better myself. So, you have to ask yourself what kind of martial artist you want to be: the savior, the predator, or the person who does nothing? Now I’m not necessarily saying you have to put yourself in harm’s way but you should at least be “man (or woman) enough” to do the right thing.

So, when we look at from these three aspects the application of the Wu De concept can make you a better fighter and a better person. You’ll improve your training, your relationships, and (perhaps) even your community. These suggestions are a pretty simple guide to applying the concept of Wu De into your personal practice. Next week I want to look at some examples of (and the lack of) Wu De in (1980's) popular culture.


As always I want to encourage you to leave a comment. I’d really like to hear about how you apply the concept of “martial virtue” in your life and your art.


Train Hard,

Josh Skinner




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