WǔDé – The Definition of a Truly Great Martial Arts Practitioner - Part One (Humility - 谦 – Qiān)

Saturday, December 08, 2018

We all spend an enormous amount of time looking at videos, demonstrations and competitive performances of Chinese Martial Arts practitioners. We think we see whether they are “good” or not; whether they display the correct techniques, whether we can see “quality in their movements”, “power and harmony”, “coordination”, “spirit, rhythm and style” but the fundamental thing we are not seeing and what truly defines whether they are masters of their craft or not is WǔDé (武德) – Martial Morality.

WǔDé should be the first thing we all learn as martial arts practitioners. It is the cornerstone of traditional Chinese Martial Arts, whereby we combine our thoughts and our actions in everything we do, and in so doing become better human beings. We should be a shining example of why everyone should practice some form of wushu and why everyone should embrace this amazing art.

So what does WǔDé involve and what should we be looking for in ourselves and others? Essentially, WǔDé is a combination of actions and thoughts.

In this instalment we will look at the first and most important of all the “Actions” we should seek both on and off “the floor”:
Humility (谦 – Qiān)
 Probably the single most difficult thing to achieve in today’s narcissistic world and yet the most important if we want to genuinely perfect anything in our lives. If you believe you are great, you will stop working on honing your skills, you will ride the wave of adoration, you will believe what others say, you will become complacent, and never move further than the point at which you considered you were perfect. For any genuine martial arts practitioner, you are never perfect, you will never know everything, you can always learn more, you are always working on how to improve on what you do. You should be ready to listen to anyone who can give you insights or that magical “golden nugget” to further your development.
The thing we must always remember is that those magic realisations don’t necessarily come from the greatest teacher or master... they can come from the most unexpected place. Listen, watch and above all think, about what anyone who is on the journey has to say. They may not have been studying as long as you, they may not have won a gold medal or been recognised for their achievements but maybe, just maybe, they’ve found a small piece of the puzzle that will fundamentally change how you approach your practice. So, make sure you take on board what they have to say, but most importantly, thank them for their insights. Don’t look down on people, look up! The sky is always brighter than the earth.
However, be wary of people who have too much advice to give you. Are they sharing their knowledge with respect or are they being egotistical in believing they know more than you do? If it’s the latter then they are clearly not your best teacher. Perhaps you should consider looking elsewhere for information. Some of the greatest teachers and masters will give you information with the caveat “in my experience”, “from my learnings”, “what my teacher taught me”, and pass on the information not as a dictum but as a gift for you to do with as you wish. Listen to them carefully, as they won’t give you a lot as they don’t necessarily believe they have a lot to give, but what they have got they will share with you unconditionally. Perhaps the Western proverb “The empty vessel makes the most noise” is something we should consider both in our own actions and in the actions of others.
When you think of humility in WǔDé, reflect often on the Chinese Proverb “The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bows”.

Next - Part Two