|In addition to complete physical and technical development, our program places a very strong emphasis on the theoretical foundation of gung fu, which includes philosophy, morals and ethics in martial arts. Thus, gung fu serves not only to develop the body, but also the mind and character of the individual. By applying these principles to daily life, one can enjoy greater achievements in all endeavours, and more importantly, gain a deeper level of self-understanding and of life itself.
There is an old saying pertaining to martial arts which states, ‘One must first learn civility before he learns the art, and one must first know his ethics before he knows his skills.’
Civility here refers to good manners, courtesy, respect and consideration for others. Ethics, on the other hand, is a fundamental set of acceptable behaviour which codifies the spirit of martial arts and which martial artists can rely on to cultivate their body and mind, and to guide their everyday actions and judgement.
Traditionally, the studies of martial art consist of both the practice of skills and the adherence to ethics. The practice of skills hones our physical bodies, sharpens our reflexes and strengthens our resolves. The adherence to ethics confirms our moral obligation to society and fellow human beings. Ethics are an indivisible part of the study of martial art and set the moral guidelines for martial artists. In ancient times, the three qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion are known as the Three Virtues. It was said that, ‘The wise are not deceived, the brave do not fear, and the compassionate have no enemy’.
The courage spoken of here is a higher kind of courage. It is the courage of self-sacrifice, of standing up for the truth, regardless of what the odds are or what the cost may be. It is not the petty bravery of proving one’s self-worth by engaging in meaningless rivalry, foolish stunts or the intimidation of others.
The goal in martial arts practice is to cultivate a person’s mind and body; not to use it as a means to vent one’s anger, frustration or emotional problems. The use of force is condoned only in self-defense or in the defense of those who are defenceless. It does not condone meaningless rivalry, foolish stunts, intimidation of others, violent behaviour, criminal activities, self-preening vanity, any vices or addictions. The martial artist displays this courage in the use of his skills to satisfy the demands of ethics, and in defense of his country or fellow human beings against unjust violence, to the point of supreme self-sacrifice, if necessary.
The martial artist also uses ethics as a frame of reference for his daily behaviour and activities. An instructor is therefore obligated first, to carefully select and screen his students and not simply regard the profit margin as the bottom line. Secondly, he is also obligated to teach such ethics to his students along with the martial skills so that they may develop the character of a true martial artist.
Looking at it from today’s perspective, ethics in martial arts manifests itself mainly in the following ways:
First, Humility. Being humble is not easy for a martial artist. This is especially so for those who have some small accomplishments already. It is easy to look down on others who are less skilled and become unduly vain and arrogant. It is also easy to become short-sighted and narrow-minded, often praising oneself and putting others down. The result is unnecessary prejudices that often exist between different styles of martial arts. The fact is, all styles have their own merit and all have individuals who have attained high levels of accomplishments. Determining which style is better than another is neither possible nor necessary. The study of martial art itself is an unending journey.
All who have great accomplishments also display great humility. This is because, without humility, no one is capable of learning. The more humble a person is, the more willing he or she is to learn. This is the prerequisite to the attainment of knowledge. ‘As an empty cup can be readily filled, an open mind is sure to learn.’
The second aspect is Courage. The willingness to stand up for truth and justice is a traditional virtue in martial arts. This is an important test of a person’s true worth. In times of danger or crisis, a martial artist must stand up and be counted. The willingness to sacrifice is the hallmark of a true martial artist. No human endeavour can ever be possible without some sacrifice.
The third aspect is Integrity. A true martial artist must have a high moral character, be open, forthright and honest. He or she should never be intimidated by power, corrupted by money, nor weakened by desire. A person must never be vain, but he or she can never be without pride. The true martial artist must have enough pride not to be used and corrupted by others, or lower oneself to grovel at the feet of the rich and powerful. He or she will never permit him or herself to be used by evil. The independence and integrity of personal character must be defended at all cost so that we may stand tall under any circumstance. In doing so, one will always have a clear conscience and righteous strength. This is the physical manifestation of martial spirit through the merging principles of the way and the art.
Fourth and finally, Respect. Respect for those who are senior and from whom you learn is essential to learning. Without this basic element, the teacher cannot teach and the learner cannot learn. This principle can be further expanded to include respect for other human beings, respect for society, institutions, other nations, cultures and all aspects of life and nature. Only when there are sufficient numbers of people who share this respect can we hope to change our world of violence and chaos into a world of peace and order.
This then, is perhaps the true spirit and ultimate goal of the way of martial art, to inspire all of us less than perfect beings to continually strive for perfection within ourselves.
Discipline is the exercising of self-control. In martial arts, this concept encompasses the emotions, actions, and mental activities of its practitioners. It is one of the cornerstones from which mastery is attained.
Any worthwhile accomplishment requires a certain amount of dedication, effort and discipline. This is no less evident in martial arts training. Every aspect of gung fu requires the harmonization of the mind and body. This harmonization is achieved through mental focus and concentration combined with proper respiration and accurate physical techniques.
At the beginning levels, discipline is nurtured by the instructor. With practice, the ultimate goal of self-discipline emerges. At this point, the student taps his or her latent potential and the body and mind begin to function in an integrated manner. With time, the student is transformed into a strong, capable, and confident individual. He or she excels not only in his martial art, but in all of his life’s endeavours.
Conduct refers to the manner in which one behaves in both word and action. In gung fu, this concept includes the attitudes, lifestyle as well as the social and moral behaviour of the practitioner.
The skills learned from martial arts practice must be counterbalanced by good conduct. Chinese martial arts have based their way of life and their moral and social behaviour upon Buddhist, Confucian and Daoist precepts. Central to these teachings is the concept of non-violence, respect for oneself and others, loyalty to one’s family and country, and the following of the natural way.
Thus, a practitioner of Chinese martial arts is not only a superior athlete, well-versed in combat, but also an upstanding citizen with good moral and social virtues.
Etiquette is the socially acceptable mode of behaviour. In Chinese martial arts, great emphasis is placed on the learning of proper etiquette. It serves as the traditional, cultural and social standard by which practitioners are educated in gung fu. It is also a means of refining the character while instilling respect, humility and discipline.
The bow or martial salute serves as an example of proper etiquette. The student shows respect for past founders and current proponents and practitioners when he bows upon entering and leaving the training area. He shows respect, appreciation and humility when he bows to his teacher. He also shows respect when he bows to his fellow classmates and gung fu family members.
Discipline, Conduct and Etiquette form the unifying link between practitioners of martial arts. They are a prerequisite for mastering any form of gung fu. Chinese martial arts serve not only as systems of combat but also serve as an unsurpassed means to discipline the mind, achieve perfect health and embody proper virtues.