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The Double Edged Sword, Wude

Wude involves maintaining harmony within ourselves and the relationships that we have with others.

Grandmaster Lee Kam Wing corrects Sifu Wright's Horse Leg Cutter Form, (Photo courtesy of Black Dragon Magazine Archives)

By Derrick Wright, Editor In Chief

As part of my Martial Arts Training,

I will strive to learn PATIENCE


I will conduct myself with INTEGRITY


I will RESPECT those around me.

I will show HUMILITY,


and KINDNESS in both word and deed.

I will strengthen my WILL, ENDURANCE,


This is the school creed my students were taught when I was teaching full-time and operated a commercial martial arts school. Together we recited the creed religiously before each class, just as anyone would the national anthem before a major sports event. As a new martial arts instructor, I believed in these qualities and could see the importance of teaching them, especially to the youth. But the more that I interacted with adults and other martial art instructors, however it became clear to me that they needed Wude the most.

Grandmaster Lee Kam Wing teaching Sifu Wright palm techniques, ( Photo courtesy of Black Dragon Magazine Archives)

Wude ( ) is a common word in the Chinese martial arts community that defines martial morality. The character or “wu” means martial, and is “de”, which means morality. It is about morals, virtues, and ethics in traditional Chinese martial arts. Wude is supposed to separate traditional martial arts from other modern fighting systems whose main focus is competition.

According to Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming, Wude has always been an integral part of the Chinese martial arts and a prerequisite for selecting and training students. This may have been the case in ancient times, but in modern times it is quite different.

Today, as long as students and parents are able to read the contract, pay the installment, monthly dues, and graduation fees they are eligible to train. Likewise, many average students just want to receive what they pay for and are not interested in any other commitments. Asking students to do tasks such as clean mats, take out the trash or sweep the floor is now beyond their responsibilities as a student in many modern schools. But these tasks give students a sense of pride and belonging, and teaches them respect and responsibility.

When students join a traditional martial arts school it is expected that they will automatically learn the rules, and expectations. In many martial art schools, the salute, bow and addressing the instructor are the very first thing they learn as a new student, either during their introductory lesson or right after they sign their contract. Teaching students “Wude” is still just as important as teaching them martial art skills.

Instructors celebrates the inauguration of The World of Traditional Seven Star Mantis Style Federation in Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of Black Dragon Magazine Archives)

In the martial arts, students need someone to emulate and be an example for them. It starts in the martial arts school, just as it would at home. The average traditional martial art instructors might know what it is but whether they practice it is an entirely different conversation. If you want to know about a particular school or instructor, watch their students.

Religion and philosophy are major influences in most, if not all traditional Asian martial arts. Throughout the 5,000 year old history of Chinese martial arts, Eastern religion and philosophy have been a moral and ethical compass. In his book, ”Kung Fu Basics,” Paul Eng points to the importance of Wude and the philosophies behind it.

“Buddhism teaches compassion, nonviolence and to use force only after all other options have failed,” writes Eng. “Taoism teaches that any movement in harmony with nature, or with the Tao, flows freely, without resistance. Human happiness, peace, contentment, success, and immortality all lie in coming into perfect harmony with the Tao of nature.” Confucianism is also a part of martial art philosophy and teaches that the key to maintaining harmony in society is maintaining appropriate relationships. If these relationships are stable then there will be harmony in the community and throughout the nation.

Regardless of the style one practices or school they belong to, there are universal principles that are followed. According to Dr Yang, Jwing-Ming, they are categorized as the “morality of mind” and the “morality of deed.” The “morality of deed” consists of humility, respect, righteousness, trust, and loyalty. “Morality of deed” is important because it involves the martial arts family relationship between student, teacher, classmates, and the general public.

Traditionally, the teacher was able to evaluate the student’s behavior over time. Students who were considered to be immoral were not not taught martial arts. The teacher believed that they could not trust them and that they would abuse the art, and take advantage of others. In modern times, it's often the other way around, many martial art instructors abuse the art and take advantage of students.

Martial artists should have respect for human life and society, all martial arts, teachings received, teachers, and fellow students' devotion, honor and respect for parents and a sense of responsibility for those under you. The “morality of mind” consists of will, endurance, perseverance, patience, and courage. Dr Yang, Jwing-Ming says these five elements are the key to training, and should be the goal of martial arts training.

"Instructors should use their skills to develop others, not harm them."

According to ”The Sword Polisher’s Record,” and “Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life” by Adam Hsu, traditionally, the practice of martial arts was for more than just self defense and mental training, but ethics as well. When Wude is used to manipulate, take advantage of others for money, power, or to gain or maintain control of others, it causes relationships to become unstable, harmony can not be achieved.

In order to become a closed door student, there is usually a pledge a student must take to always be loyal and respectful to their instructor, follow the teachings of the style and to strive for excellence in their martial arts training and continue to develop the art.

They can’t teach it because they don’t have it.

Instructors should pledge loyalty and respect to their students and their juniors. Some instructors do not seem to abide by the same level of standards and expectations they require of their students, and juniors. It seems quite hypocritical, but it is because they themselves lack Wude. They can’t teach it because they don’t have it.

Grandmaster Lee Kam Wing corrects Sifu Wright's Horse Leg Cutter Form, (Photo courtesy of Black Dragon Magazine Archives)

There is a chain of command in the martial arts just like the military. The respect of the chain of command goes down just as much as it comes up. Instructors should not be arrogant, constantly commenting on their skills and belittling others. They should be honest, patient, humble, and practice to be an example. Instructors should use their skills to develop others, not harm them. Master Clark’s Martial Arts Success Systems included a creed specifically for instructors that addressed how the teachers should carry themselves.

“Never be unconstructively critical instead be constructively helpful,” reads his instructor creed. “Be a good finder, look for the good in all of the students and then tell them about it.”

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