Philosophical Influences

Monk staff demonstration.

Monk staff demonstration.

The concepts and ideas surrounding wushu have changed throughout the history of China, and - as philosophical schools of thought waxed and waned - were in turn influenced by those philosophical teachings and traditions. Zhuāngzi (庄子) - a Daoist text whose authors are believed to have lived in the 4th century BCE, has several passages that pertain to the practice and psychology of martial arts. Zhōu lǐ (周禮) - a classic text of Confucianism - discusses how archery and charioteering (martial disciplines) were part of liùyì (六藝) or the "six arts" along with music, calligraphy, rites, and mathematics from the Zhou dynasty. Sūnzi bīngfǎ (孫子兵法, "The Art of War") written in the 6th century BCE by Sun Tzu is a text written specifically discussing the philosophies and psychology of warfare, but contains many concepts utilized throughout Chinese martial arts.

In later times - as early as the 16th century - evidence indicates that the monks of Shaolin had institutionalized martial practice, making it an integral portion of monastic life. Literary sources of the late Ming period do not point to any specific style originating in Shaolin. However, sources from the Tang period refer to Shaolin methods of combat, including the use of gùn (, staff), for which the monks became famously known.


Martial Morality (武德, Wǔ dé)

Traditional Chinese schools of martial arts, such as the famed Shaolin monks, often dealt with the study of martial arts not just as a means of self-defense or mental training, but as a system of ethics. Wǔ dé (武德) can be translated as "martial morality" and is constructed from the words wǔ (), which means martial, and dé (), which means morality. Wǔ dé deals with two aspects; "morality of deed" and "morality of mind". Morality of deed concerns social relations; morality of mind is meant to cultivate the inner harmony between the emotional mind (, xīn) and the thoughtful mind (; huì) [NOTE: 慧心 means "wisdom"].


(Qiān): Humility (lit. "modesty") - demonstrate modesty and respect

(Chéng): Sincerity (lit. "honesty") - be sincere and honest in your actions and intentions

(Lǐ): Courtesy - be polite, and practice good manners

(Yì): Morality (lit. "righteousness") - maintain integrity, honesty, and conduct yourself morally

(Xìn): Trust - act in good faith and be loyal to the martial arts you practice


(Yǒng): Courage (lit. "brave") - practice with confidence in the face of difficulty

(Rěn): Patience - control emotions and responses at all times

(Héng): Endurance - push through challenges

(Yì): Perseverance - continue to try after failing

(Zhì): Will - act intentionally and commit to those actions