Virtue, 德, dé, ἀρετή.
MARTIAL VIRTUE, 武德, WU DÉ
All things are generated by the Dao and sustained by virtue. Martial virtue directly relates to morality. The Dao is the way of the universe. To be virtuous is to follow the laws of the universe. One who has martial arts skills believes in karmic retribution, can distinguish good from evil, respects the Dao and values virtue, understands that good and bad are rewarded accordingly, eliminates evil and promotes goodness, cultivates virtue and longs for the Dao—these are all a part of Wu-De (martial virtue).
Laozi said, “Dao generates. De (virtue) nurtures.” The Dao produces all things and virtue accommodates all things. All things respect the Dao and value virtue in order to establish the foundation for existence. With virtue, all things stay in existence. Without virtue, all things cease to exist. If one commits evil and is completely void of virtue, he will be extinguished as a whole. This does not only apply to martial arts.
Martial virtue is the virtue of preventing and ending conflicts. To analyze the creation of the Chinese character “wu” (武), take out the partial character “ge” (戈, meaning weapon) and put this sharp weapon aside in order to stop violence; then place a knife on top of the partial character “zhi” (止, meaning stop) to make the Chinese character “zheng” (正, meaning righteousness). This is just what Laozi said, “To have ten or hundred folds of capacity without the need of applying it.” Even if someone has the capability and weapons to engage a person against ten or a hundred, he will not use them abusively. Even if he has sharp weapons and heavily armed soldiers, he will maintain righteousness and not use them. Instead, he will use gentleness to conquer toughness--this is the foundation of martial virtue.
Since ancient times, the laws of the universe have been carried by both literary and martial virtue. Literary virtue is the virtue of using good literary skills to comply with nature and be at one with the world. Martial virtue is the virtue of using good martial arts skills to follow nature and harmonize the world. A poem states, “A piece of literature is meant to last for ever. A country is armed with military forces.” A piece of literature passes the trial of time by writing about benevolence, loyalty, and morality. A country enjoys a long existence by not starting a war even if it is armed with military forces. If one is equipped with literary and martial capabilities and employ them for evil purposes, he loses virtue, and consequently loses all standing and reputation. He will therefore be condemned by both heaven and the earth, and will forever disappear from existence. For instance, we have yet to see, in history and at present, anyone willing to tarnish their pens or soil their mouths by writing articles to praise Emperor Jie and Emperor Zhou who were notorious for being corrupt and brutal. However, Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist scriptures; the respectable Emperor Wen, Emperor Wu, and the Duke of Zhou; and the talented characters in the Tang and Song Dynasties, all stressed virtue when practicing martial arts or writing literature. It was with literature and martial virtue that China established its five-thousand-year-old culture.
Martial virtue is the virtue of not bullying the good and not fearing the evil. In ancient times when Emperor Huang battled with rebel leader Chi You, he defeated the wicked with righteousness, and thus created a history for martial virtue. King Tang of the Shang Dynasty, and Emperor Wen and Wu practiced the Dao to conquer those who did not follow the Dao. The great Emperor Tang Taizong built Lingyan Pavilion to promote the martial virtues of loyalty and courage. Zhang Sanfeng founded Taiji, and conquered warriors of the world by being as gentle as water and conquering toughness with gentleness. Laozi said, “The best characteristic is like that of water. Water benefits everything but does not compete, and it willingly goes to where others hate, thus it is almost like the Dao.” The practice of Taiji not only uses gentle and slow movements to benefit health and extend life, but it is also capable of conquering toughness with gentleness and ending violence without hurting people. It therefore exemplifies martial virtue.
Martial virtue is lost when one fails to distinguish good from evil, bullies the good and fears the wicked, uses one's power to take advantage of the weak, or helps the wicked perpetrate evil deeds. One who is without virtue not only loses virtue, but also completely loses benevolence and righteousness; he will no longer be able to keep his martial arts skills, and will only receive bad karmic retribution.
One accumulates martial virtue when one believes in karmic retribution and distinguishes good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness. One cultivates the heart and improves one's moral standard, sets the mind on learning the Dao, takes fame and wealth lightly, and is kindhearted and steadfast. Although he has endured many hardships, he will not quit after being tested countless times. When facing powerful and vicious forces, or persons of evil nature, he is not scared and his skills are not compromised.
Without fear, the mind is calm and the spirit is focused. One's uncompromising skills can prevent violence and end conflicts. If he conducts himself according to the traditional Chinese virtues of loyalty, forbearance, benevolence, righteousness, filial piety, and honesty, he can develop outstanding martial arts skills, and naturally possess martial virtue. Among the martial virtues, distinguishing good from evil, righteousness from wickedness, and believing in karmic retribution are the most important. All other virtues derive from these. It is exactly like what Laozi said, “When virtue is lost there is benevolence. When benevolence is lost there is righteousness. When righteousness is lost there is ceremony. The rituals of ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty; It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder..” Accordingly, morality and goodness comes first.
To develop martial virtue, one achieves martial arts skills based on virtue and cultivates virtue while practicing martial arts. One practices both martial arts skills and moral standards simultaneously. Only by doing it this way can we prolong the martial virtue of China's five-thousand-year-old divine culture.
June 4, 2008
by Youfu Li