Martial Morality (Wu De)

Martial morality has always been a required discipline in Chinese martial arts. Before you learn any martial techniques, you should first understand this subject.

In Chinese martial arts society, it is well known that a student’s success is not determined by external appearance, nor by how strong or weak that person is, but rather by the student’s way of thinking and morality. Chinese martial artists have a saying: “A student will spend three years looking for a good teacher, and a teacher will test a student for three years.” A wise student realizes that it is better to spend several years looking for a good teacher than to spend the time learning from a mediocre one. A good teacher will lead you to the right path, and will help you to build a strong foundation for your future training. A teacher who is not qualified, however, will not help you build a strong foundation, and may even teach you many bad habits. In addition, good teachers will always set a good example for their students with their spiritual and moral virtue. Good martial arts teachers do not teach only martial techniques, they also teach a way of life.

From a teacher’s perspective, it is very hard to find good students. When people have just begun their studies, they are usually enthusiastic and sincere, and they are willing to accept discipline and observe proper manners. However, as time passes, you gradually get to see what they are really like, and sometimes it’s quite different from how they acted in the beginning. Because of this, teachers frequently spend at least three years watching and testing students before they decide whether they can trust them and pass on to them the secrets of their style. This was especially so in ancient times when martial arts were used in wars, and fighting techniques were kept secret.

Martial Morality is called “Wude.” Teachers have long considered Wude to be the most important criterion for judging students, and they have made it the most important part of the training in the traditional Chinese martial arts.

Wude includes two aspects: the morality of DEED and the morality of MIND. Morality of DEED includes: Humility, Respect, Righteousness, Trust, and Loyalty. Morality of MIND consists of: Will, Endurance, Perseverance, Patience, and Courage. Traditionally, only those students who had cultivated these standards of morality were considered to be worthy of teaching. The book The Essence of Shaolin White Crane explains these moralities in greater detail.



(Chen Changxing and Yang Luchan)

Of the two aspects of morality, the morality of deed is more important. The reason for this is very simple. Morality of deed concerns the student’s relationship with master and classmates, other martial artists, and the general public. Students who are not moral in their actions are not worthy of being taught, since they cannot be trusted or even respected. Furthermore, without morality of deed, they may abuse the art and use their fighting ability to harm innocent people. Therefore, masters will normally watch their students carefully for a long time until they are sure that the students have matched their standards of morality of deed before letting them start serious training.

Morality of mind is for self-cultivation which is required to reach the final goal of training. The Chinese believe that we have two minds, an “Emotional mind” (Xin ) and a “Wisdom mind” (Yi). Usually, when a person fails in something it is because the emotional mind has dominated their thinking. The elements in the morality of mind are the keys to training, and they lead the student to the stage where the wisdom mind can dominate. This self-cultivation and discipline should be the goal of any martial arts training philosophy.
Author: Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming

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One thought on “Martial Morality (Wu De)

  1. Excellent blog post, I will be sure to save this in my Furl account. Have a great day.

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