WǔDé – The Definition of a Truly Great Martial Arts Practitioner - Part Two (Loyalty - 忠 - Zhōng)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

We continue our understanding of what WǔDé (Martial Morality) is and why it is so fundamental to differentiating truly great martial arts practitioners from the not-so-great. Our first instalment looked at the first of the 5 Important Actions, being Humility. Here we look at the next one, Loyalty:

Loyalty (忠 - Zhōng)
This is a very traditional concept both in Eastern and Western culture, but for some, it is seen as almost obsolete thinking in the 21st Century. However, loyalty still has a role to play in the life of a wushu practitioner, even if it’s not in the form it used to have when Confucianist and Taoist philosophies dominated the Chinese Martial Arts in the West. 

It would be more appropriate to think of it as “commitment” as opposed to “loyalty”. When we think of WǔDé Loyalty we should think of being committed to the art, committed to the integrity of the art, committed to our practice and training, committed to our teacher’s instructions, committed to the philosophy of our teacher, the teacher being committed to our journey, and us being committed to our personal journey throughout our studies.
Once upon a time, Zhōng would necessitate an unwavering devotion to your teacher, no matter what: following instructions without question and being prepared to do absolutely anything a teacher asked of you, even if that teacher was “not of good character”. Clearly, times have changed. However, we seem to have gone too far the other way, where students feel they can “chop and change” teachers and philosophies as often as they change their social media feeds. The end result is that the student has a pastiche of knowledge that is in no way complete or cohesive. They think it’s complete but they haven’t stayed with one teacher long enough to learn what the teacher has to impart in the timeframe the teacher believes is of the greatest benefit to the student. A good teacher will always tell a student when it’s time for them to move on... when the student must continue their journey with someone else. Again, we come back to WǔDé. If a teacher truly embraces WǔDé then you know they will always do the right thing by you so do the right thing by them. You will definitely be the loser if you don’t; wasting a lot of time, money and effort chasing something you don’t really understand, being taught by people who commit to you as much as you are committing to them!

There is a famous Chinese Fable that may help you to understand why loyalty is so important in the martial arts and why, without it, you won’t learn all that you should:

“Once upon a time, in the depths of a mountain range, there lived a tiger. He was a very strong tiger, but, thanks to the fact that he was unusually clumsy, he could hardly ever catch any animals.

One day he went out from his cave to look for food. As he went along he saw a cat speeding towards him, coming down the mountainside. The cat's swift and easy movements were the envy of the tiger, who thought to himself, "Wouldn't it be fine if I were as clever as that cat!"

He went to the cat and said pleadingly, "Honored Teacher Cat, could you teach me how to climb the mountain as well as you do?"
 Knowing that tigers are wicked at heart, the cat was afraid that if she taught him all she knew, then probably her own life would be in danger. She therefore shook her head and said, rather hesitatingly, "I don't think I'd better. If I do, how do I know you'll not use your knowledge against me?"
 The tiger behaved fawningly, and kowtowed deeply to the cat.
 "Honored Teacher Cat," he said, "I am truly one of my word. If you will be so kind as to teach me, I will not betray your goodness. And afterwards, if anyone should bully you, I shall crush him to death."
 Hoodwinked by these honeyed words, the cat began to be sympathetic. She put her head on one side and said, "All right. If you really promise that, and are sure you will not be ungrateful, I'll teach you."
 The tiger was overjoyed. He waved his tail and knelt down in front of her, saying, "In future, when I have mastered all the skills of climbing hills and catching animals, I shall never forget you, my teacher. May I fall into the deepest gully and be crushed to death myself if I am ever unkind to you!"
 He kept his word for some time, and behaved to the cat as one should behave to a teacher. Every day from dawn to dusk the cat did her best to teach her pupil. Very soon she had taught him all her tricks except one. The tiger was very pleased with himself, and highly satisfied with the cat as a teacher.
 Then one day, when he came to his teacher for further instruction, he looked at the cat's plump body, and his mouth began to water. What a good meal she would make! But the cat was fully aware of his bad intentions. She decided to give him a test.
 "I have taught you all I know," she said. "You need no further lessons."
 The tiger thought his chance had come. "Aha!" he said to himself. "This fat little cat will not escape my claws now!" But he thought he had better make sure that he had not misunderstood her, so he asked again, "Honored Teacher Cat, are you certain you have taught me everything?"
 "Yes, everything!" said the wily cat.
 An idea flashed into the tiger's head, and his eyes sparkled. "Teacher," said he, "what is that there on the tree?"
 As the cat turned her head to look, the tiger, his jaws wide open and his claws out, threw himself upon her. But as quickly the cat ran up the tree.
 The cat sat up in the tree, and said indignantly, "Well! You ungrateful creature! Your word is worth nothing. It was lucky for me that I had been prudent enough not to teach you how to climb trees. If I had taught you that, I see, you would have eaten me by now."
 The tiger flew into a rage and flung himself repeatedly at the tree. But he did not know how to climb it. He tried to gnaw it down, but the trunk was so thick that he could make no impression on it. The cat skipped about in the branches, now and then tantalizing him by sitting down to wash, or look at him. The tiger grew angrier and angrier, and raged about, but there was nothing he could do. Finally the cat jumped easily to another tree, and then another, until she had vanished.
 All the tiger's wicked schemes came to naught, and all he could do was to make his way up the mountain again."

Source: Folk Tales from China, Second Series (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1958), pp.078-81. No copyright notice.

Think about it carefully and decide whether you want to be a Tiger or a Cat. If you show true loyalty as a student and have found a teacher who embraces WǔDé as a way of life, there will be no reason why you will not become a Cat. That said, in following your quest remember the Greek Fable “Beware of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”.