WǔDé (武德) – Martial Morality, should be the first thing we focus on as martial arts practitioners and should be the benchmark of what we consider a great practitioner to be. If we don’t understand the philosophy behind what we are trying to accomplish, and focus purely on the physical act of martial mechanics, then all we learn as students of the art is empty of meaning.
WǔDé is a combination of actions and thoughts. We have looked at the five actions associated with WǔDé; Humility, Loyalty, Respect, Morality and Trust. We will now start to consider what the five thoughts are. This is where things can get tricky. Unless we are mind-readers how do we know what a person is thinking? I’m sure, as you study the five thoughts – Courage, Patience, Endurance, Perseverance and Will, you will come to realise that these thoughts quite often translate into actions or, more specifically, behaviours in the person who holds them. However, appearances can be deceiving so when studying someone, and more importantly, studying ourselves, we should be looking for reason behind the thought. Any thought devoid of rational process can lead to damaging consequences. The term that comes to mind, and is unfortunately becoming quite overused these days is “Mindfulness”. We should be mindful of all that we do in the Martial Arts and look for people who also exhibit this trait especially in conjunction with the 5 Important Thoughts of WǔDé. So with that in mind, let’s consider the first of them, Courage.
Courage (勇 – Yǒng)
Chinese martial arts have their origins in a time when one fought to save one’s temple, one’s village, one’s philosophy, one’s family, one’s honour and one’s life. It was a time when courage was paramount, when you needed to fight and defend no matter what the odds. You needed to be fearless in the face of the enemy.
However, time has progressed, and the definition of courage in Wushu is no longer as simple as “fight or die”. When we consider the concept of “courage” we automatically think of being fearless, and fighting to the bitter end, but in martial arts practice where you are not fighting to defend your temple, village or country, having no concept of fear is bordering on stupidity. You should be afraid of real threats and real dangers; approach issues with caution when you know you have a weakness or vulnerability. Humans have a “fear” response to protect them from harm, so to ignore that response can be extremely dangerous.
What we need to understand is that we can be brave in the face of danger and make a logical and rational decision about how to approach or retreat from the threat. We need to learn to rise above our immediate emotional response and look at exactly what we are “afraid” of. To do that requires an immense amount of courage and that is what WǔDé “courage” is all about.
There are three courageous actions that require great bravery. The first one is to assess the threat and despite how we would like to be perceived by others, acknowledge that to proceed is foolhardy, so we retreat to no accolades, perhaps some jeers and jibes but know, in our heart of hearts that to keep going would have resulted in harm to ourselves or, more importantly, someone else.
The second is to assess the threat, and despite feeling fearful, have the knowledge and skills to realise that the threat is conquerable, and proceed despite our emotions, and in so doing protect ourselves and others.
The third is probably the hardest of all and that’s to assess our own psychological fears and proceed in spite of them knowing that the outcome is vitally important to us, our family and friends. This is probably the hardest of all courageous actions as you aren’t choosing to run into a burning building to save a loved one, or run another 20kms with a heart condition, or defend your family against a military enemy. This is far more insidious than that. It’s far more personal than that. It’s a fear that can’t be seen by anyone else or understood by anyone else. This is fear of failure, fear of not being perfect, fear of ridicule, fear of strangers, fear of open spaces, fear of heights, fear of so many things that can’t possibly be listed here.
All courageous actions that are done with thought but in spite of fear are to be respected and revered, no matter what initiated the action. Anyone who is trying to overcome their fear to do their best and the best by the people around them are deserving of immense respect. This is the sort of courage that we should all aspire to and acknowledge as martial artists and something we should look for and encourage in others.
“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”