The World Wushu Championships. How exciting, and yet scary at the same time. I had been chosen as one of the athletes to represent New Zealand at this event in November of 1999. Finally, I would have the opportunity to put all the training and effort to the test.
We arrived in Hong Kong, tired after the 10 hour flight, to be greeted with wide smiles from members of the Hong Kong Wushu Union, (the organisation running the event). Not a lot feels better than arriving in a new and strange country, than being greeted by friendly people who are there to help you and take care of you. These same people proved to be invaluable in lending assistance to the team the whole time we were in their country.
We arrived in Hong Kong two days prior to the competition start but our coach, Mr Orlando Garcia, made sure we spent that time productively, by ensuring we did our training. Each morning at around 6 a.m., the team met in the foyer of the hotel, walked to Kowloon Park, (around two mins away), and spent about 1.5 hours training. As a beginner at Taiji, it provided me with the opportunity to witness the large numbers of Hong Kong residents who practise Taiji and Qi Gong in the mornings.
On the evening of the second day, there was a welcoming dinner for all the teams who had arrived. This was great, as the Hong Kong Wushu Union also provided us with some entertainment. This included a traditional Irish dancing demonstration by one of our team members, and the male members of the New Zealand team, doing a Haka. What an awesome sight! They topped off the evening.
The third day in Hong Kong, we were able to actually go to the competition venue (Hong Kong Colosseum), to train. Walking into the stadium was incredible. The seating just seemed to go higher and higher and made the place feels incredibly large. That was the first psychological hurdle to get over. The second, was when you saw the other teams training. All of a sudden all that training you did, didn’t quite feel enough. After getting over that initial shock, focus was on what we were there to do. Try out the mats, and get the feel of what it would be like to perform on them. The afternoon was spent back at the Colosseum, watching the other teams training. Watching the China team was absolutely incredible. It is great to watch those whose National sport it is, do it with such ease. It also shows that time spent training and practicing, and the psychological attention that these athletes give to their sports, really does make a huge difference. They provided me with the incentive and motivation to push myself further, and to really strive to achieve something near what they have.
The evening of the third day was the official opening ceremony. It started with all the teams marching in, the official speeches, and the raising of the flags. Then came the amazing part – a display by the Shanghai Wushu Team and Tao Monks from Mount Wu Dang. If ever there was something to dream about achieving, what we saw here, was it! The skills these people showed us left me for one, dumbstruck! Then Andy Lau, (famous Hong Kong film star), sang a song, while the Hong Kong Youth Wushu team, did a display. Again, an inspiration. The time that these children must have put into their training could teach us all a few things.
All days of the competition were spent at the Colosseum, supporting and cheering on our fellow team mates. When we didn’t have any members competing, most of us went to watch the other events and the other teams. You need to watch them, to get a feeling of what really is entailed in this sport, and what it means to the people who are involved in it.
There were several things that I gained from going to these championships. One of these was the realisation that no matter what country you come from, or what languages you speak, we all have the common language that is Wushu. That is how many of us communicated with each other. Other things that I gained included the reinforcement of the importance of both physical and mental training. These go hand in hand, especially when competing at an International level. But if nothing else, the competition left me with an appreciation of just what the human body can achieve.
As a final note, I would like to express my gratitude to our coach, Mr Orlando Garcia. Without his skills, or his time and effort, and the considerable patience that he has with his athletes, I would never have got to go to Hong Kong, to compete in these Championships.
Let’s start from the beginning:
The character Wu pronounced Bu in Japanese or Moo in Korean which we now translate as “martial” actually breaks down to two radicals meaning “don’t use the weapon” or “no violence”. This character is made up of two radicals. The character zhi which means “prohibited” or “not to” and the character ge a weapon for chariot fighting dating back over 3,000 years.
The character gong as in gongfu (also known as kung for kung-fu) is translated as “effort” or “special skill”. It breaks down into the two radicals of gong – work and li – strength. The character fu (the second part of gongfu) indicates a man, but the philosophical explanation shows a person of higher learning or one who transcends the heaven – they have learned to dominate the three levels of Earth, nature and heaven.
It breaks down into da – litirally translated as “big” – the king of nature is a person, tian – “heaven” and the person who transcends heaven is the fu. (This fu is used in the word for priest in Chinese but different from the fu in Shifu or sifu – a Chinese term for teachers.)
These words are related to the origin of martial arts according to the Chinese and the history and development of Chinese martial arts.
These concepts of no violence and effort developed alongside the ethics and morals of the people involved in self-cultivation – what martial arts is about to me.
Take the Samurais, Japanese warriors, the Warang dos, Korean warriors or the Shaolin Monks of China. All of them with something in common beyond high levels of martial arts skills. All of them had a profound code of ethics, morals and conduct – The Martial Virtues (Wude).
Wushu follows these ethics and morals in the same way that Japanese, Korean and other martial arts systems follow theirs. To take a page from a book written by Wu Bin:
Chinese wushu embodies a profound philosophy and a sense of human life and values. (Some people therefore call it philosophic boxing). It emphasises traditions, experience, rational knowledge and wisdom. All of which are clearly reflected in the martial ethics of wushu. That’s why it can display the oriental civilisation via combat skills and become an inexhaustable treasure of the human body culture.
As a form of social ideology, morality differs in different historical periods. It is the summation of the code of conduct of a given society for the adjustment of the relationships between man and man; and between man and the society.
Generally speaking, it evaluates man’s behavior and adjusts each other’s relations with such concepts as good and evil, justice and injustice, fairness and partiality, and honesty and dishonesty.
Wushu for instance is a system of skills and theories the Chinese people have developed through their struggle with nature and in the course of their social life, for combat (protection) and to promote health and improve one’s temperament.
Combat in the usual sense means violence, bloodshed and death. For this very reason, few of the various combative techniques and skills in the world are combined with morals.
On the contrary, Wushu has been influenced ever since its birth by moral principles and has developed a complete code of moral behavior.
Martial ethics WU DE, formed in such a Chinese cultural enviroment, has become a distinct feature of Wushu and is an essential part of the study and understanding of Chinese martial arts.
The main points of Martial Ethics in Wushu are:
- Respect for Human Life;
- Emphasis on Moral Principles;
- Emphasis on Moral Conduct and Manners;
- Respect for the Teacher and Care for Each Other;
- Modesty and Eagerness;
- Freedom form Personal Grudges;
- Persistance and Perseverance.
Chinese Wushu masters insist that a student should learn to know the etiquette before learning martial arts. There are various rules for manners and behaviors before or after the skills. They embody the modesty and manners of the performers, mark a good start of a practice routine to be executed, demostrate the aims of the different schools of boxing, and give an outline of its soul and spirit.
(China Wushu Series – Essentials of Chinese Wushu)
Control and Energy
One of the main ideas which runs through these ethics is control. Freedom from domination by emotion. A martial artist may train in techniques, but the founding principle is that they must be able to dominate their emotions or reactions when choosing how or when to use those techniques.
In addition, wushu is not only ethics and martial skills. It is also about the stimulation and cultivation of internal energy. It is about putting your body, mind and spirit in harmony with Heaven and Earth. For that reason, wushu movements cannot be only fighting techniques. They must also be energetically balanced to get the level of skill we have heard about in stories of past masters, a level that only very few people achieve.
To answer the question …
In the modern world, martial arts is often mis-identified as something solely for self-defence or fighting, and many people started it for that. But after years of practise, those same people will say that they do not continue it for that reason, but rather because of the way of life it shows. So, are all fighting systems martial arts? I think not.