There is a great deal of debate swirling in the Chinese Martial Arts Community about whether it is ethical to call out those in our community that would otherwise be considered frauds and fakes in any other community. For instance, among the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, there are frauds that are called out from time to time. If something makes money, expect someone to forego the natural skill-building and defraud those around them to get that money.
Recently, within the past few years a hero in China as arisen who has begun to expose the frauds within China. The first one that spread world-wide was the infamous fight with Wei Lei. Of course, I’m talking about Xu Xiao Dong. This fight brought the issue of frauds in CMA to the forefront of everyone within the community. Xu’s mission was not often communicated properly, though; many thought he was attacking CMA as a whole but he was doing us a service that many in our community are afraid to do out of fear of violating some unspoken (and ridiculous) code.
While Xu Xiao Dong and his mission are important to the cause of cleaning of traditional Chinese martial arts, his contributions have already been discussed ad nauseum. My deep question is whether it is acceptable to those within the CMA community to discuss and expose frauds. Do we have a duty according to Wu De to expose or protect them in order to protect CMA?
I think there begs some initial questions: What is Wu De? Why is it so important to follow it?
Wu De (武德) is a term that means “martial virtue” or “martial morality or “martial ethics” and refers to a code that is not clearly defined amongst CMA practitioners. While I would love to get into a deeper discussion about the meaning of the characters, I will express my limitations that I do not speak, read, nor write Chinese in any format. However, I will state that since this is the case, I can only express what it means from the perspective of a practitioner and not that of a scholar.
As a practitioner, how should we define Wu De? What attributes should we use? Yang Jwing-Ming who is considered the Head and Founder of Yang’s Martial Arts Association breaks down Wu De into nicely packaged, two categories: Morality of Deed, and Morality of Mind.
According to Yang (2007):
Morality of deed includes: Humility, Respect, Righteousness, Trust, and Loyalty.
Morality of mind consists of: Will, Endurance, Perseverance, Patience, and Courage.
Follow the above link to see how he defines and describes each virtue. If we were to use Yang’s as an essential framework for modern ethics within Chinese martial arts (traditional ethics may have been different due to each teacher, or tradition, and likely a more fluid concept), then it would be important to understand what they mean to you.
My big question of anyone is that if there was an individual regardless of having legitimate training in the martial arts or not, was knowingly misleading anyone regarding the martial arts; not only in respects to the historicity of the martial arts but as well as fighting techniques, should they be held accountable among their peers? Do we have the right to speak out against what they say or do?
I think we need to take into consideration the fact that much of what is out there amongst your common 1-2x per week student is likely not going to prepare them completely for any violent situation. However, teaching techniques that are overly complicated or border on the level of superstitious, are not just useless but dangerous and any instructor who does this, should be called out and held liable for it. The term ‘gross negligence’ would be the best to describe this, which is defined according to Cornell University Law School is “a lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety.” This would apply even outside a liability waiver.
The next question is, by what criteria do we go by to assure that we can assess frauds and their shenanigans? I have thought a great deal about what criteria I use in assessing a person’s legitimacy in Chinese martial arts. I have boiled it down to three criteria.
- Movement, more specifically in how they move.
- A leaning to more scientific and specific explanations of what and how they do the martial arts.
- Historicity and the eschewing of myths and legends.
Movement is an important aspect of the martial arts. If you do not move well, chances are that you will not likely do well. This is not always the case, but I think they have a high correlation between the two. When we look at a person’s movement in any of the Internal Martial Arts of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, or Taijiquan, does the movement follow the basic principles of posture, alignment, and structure set down by the particular system? Does their movement break down when it’s pressure tested by hitting equipment? Does it break down when they do partner drills? Spar? This is where we need to start. I think examples are important, here are some case studies:
Often in the martial arts, especially the so-called ‘internal’ styles, things are explained in esoteric terms. Explanations of Qi or energy, Shen or spirit, Dan Tian or elixir field, etc. are often used as fillers when the understanding of how martial arts works from structural and leverage principles is not well-understood, or at all for that matter. Not every martial arts teacher needs to have total knowledge of human anatomy and biomechanics, but at least a basic understanding can help.
Using modern scientific terminology as opposed to archaic pre-scientific terms is unnecessary in this day. It’s also important to understand what certain terms mean. Such as Yao and Kua, they are not mysterious but terms for functional anatomy of the body used in CMA. Yao refers to what we might call the waist, it essentially runs from the bottom of the rib cage to the iliac crests (commonly referred to as the “hip bones”), where as the kua refers muscles and femoral-acetabular or hip joints. We can refer to this region as the lumbo-pelvic or core in totality. I need not go further into this as of now because it is outside the scope of this article.
The final criteria, and perhaps of least importance is to understand that the history of Chinese martial is fairly mapped out. As with the nature of dealing with anything in the past, there are going to be variations on the theme, and details that we may not ever be fully informed of, however, here is what we do know. Much of the martial arts in Northern China are predominately military in origin prior to the Qing Dynasty (ca. 1644). Style organization likely began in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and continued after Ming dynasty soldiers were disarmed after the fall. David Ross writes in his book, Chinese Martial Arts: A Historical Outline about Ji Jike (Longfeng):
While most myths and legends establish (or at least try to) Yue Fei as the founder and originator of Xingyiquan and others martial arts, who was a Song Dynasty (960-1279) general, often held up as a National Hero. It is common practice within the Chinese martial arts to have a long dead, and revered individual as some mythical founder of a style. Examples of this include Bodhidharma or Da Mo, Zhang San Feng, Chen Tuan, and in much of the case of Baguazhang a mystical hermit living on a sacred mountain in some Daoist Monastery. All of these myths fall apart under strict, academic scrutiny amongst the leading researchers in their area.
It is important to pay attention to where the research is coming from, some origins while possible are not probable. There are many great works of academic investigation that make use of understanding the history of Chinese martial arts in a logical, and scientific manner. While we can appreciate the information that comes from an enthusiastic rogue scholar, most trustworthy work will come from someone who has put in the time to earn an undergraduate, graduate, and/or doctoral degree in the area. Likely, this will mean a few things. First, they will be able to speak at least one dialect, likely mandarin; and, be able to read and write not just modern and simplified Chinese but traditional as well, which is vastly harder and not even your average native Chinese can understand. Secondly, they will be able to draw from and understand primary sources of information, and this will allow them to draw inferences of how we ended up where we are today or understand what was happening in the past and yet still remain in the realm of reality and science. Lastly, they will have an understanding of the scientific method and it’s use in understanding how to filter the truth from legends and myths.
For your more average CMA instructor, it probably is far more important to understand that he will likely gravitate towards one side of the spectrum or another. However, as it seems to be the case more often or not in my own experience, the more likely a teacher believes in myths and fantasies of the Chinese martial arts the more likely they will not be the most honest about their own training. This is not always the case, however, it should be quite a red flag.
In the Chinese martial arts, just like any human endeavor, it is important to remain grounded in reality. In this day and age, I think it is important to understand that we need to protect the Chinese martial arts not from change and improvement but from those who would destroy under the guise of “perserving tradition” yet they know nothing of such tradition. Personally, when it comes to Wu De, I sometimes get flustered when someone brings that in because often times it’s used as a smoke screen to shelter frauds and keep them from being exposed when that is exactly what we should be doing. In most other professions, it would be unacceptable to allow fake and fraudulent behaviors to continue, the CMA community should be no different.