What Wu Means

What Wu Means

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Sep 16, 2003 3:14 am

Greetings,

Up until now, I have avoided discussion in the “restraint vs. none” thread. I have seen various versions of this kind of discussion on other forums in the past, and they tend to take a direction that becomes unpleasant, especially when participants begin to introduce personal testimonials about their defensive encounters. It is inherently an emotional issue, and I understand the emotions involved.

I think the question about whether or not traditional taijiquan teachings contain specific injunctions about appropriate restraint or action in defensive situations is a fair one. I can only speak from the perspective of my own training and study, and my conclusion is that there may not be any such formal injunctions. However, I do think that there is an identifiable taijiquan ethos that is rooted in a wider tradition of martial and civil virtue. It is contained in the various written classics, in personal guidelines transmitted from teacher to student by word and example, and, importantly, in the very body mechanics of the art itself.

I‘ve posted a few times on this board my thoughts on what I see as a clear influence of Sunzi and other early bingfa (militarist) ideas on taijiquan theory. One could easily argue that Sunzi’s influence pervades Chinese culture in general, but I think that a special case can be made for taiji theory, where almost verbatim quotes of material from the Art of War can be found, and where stratagems for troop management seem to have been appropriated into the somatic grammar of a martial art stressing individual self-cultivation. I would urge taijiquan practitioners to not only study the taijiquan classics to supplement and enrich their physical training, but also to study and ponder Sunzi’s Art of War. It was born in the crucible of a time of devastating, ongoing warfare in early China, and it is both a sober recognition of the reality of violence, and an assertion of the undesirability of war—that wasting of human life, even the lives of enemies, is to be avoided if at all possible.

Another thing one should be aware of is that from a very early time in Chinese culture there has been an impetus to negotiate and achieve a balance between martial (wu) and civil (wen) culture. This ideal can be found in the Confucian Analects, and in countless historical and philosophical texts. If anyone has any doubts about whether the balancing of wen and wu have anything to do with taijiquan, I would just suggest that they read the Yang Forty Chapters, where there are documents that explicitly express the need to achieve this balance as a prerequisite for genuine accomplishment. For example, in text #14, it states, “The spiritual [wen] without martial training [wu] is essence without application; the martial [wu] without spiritual accompaniment [wen] is application without essence.” (Wile, Lost T’ai-chi Classics, pp. 70-71)

Further, it’s important to understand that the concept “wu” has connotations that are rather different from the sense of the English word “martial” meaning “inclined toward war.” In fact, it’s almost the opposite. Consider this story from a very old text, the Zuozhuan, a famous commentary to the Chunqiu, the Spring and Autumn Chronicles. The reference to “prowess” in the account is the word “wu” as in “wushu.”

At the conclusion of a huge battle, an officer suggested to his lord, “Why should your lordship not signalize your triumph by making a mound, and collect in it the bodies of the Tsinites so as to form a grand monument? I have heard that sucessful battles should be shown to posterity, so that the prowess [wu gong] of them may not be forgotten.” The viscount responded, “You do not know what you are talking about. The character for ‘prowess’ [wu] is formed by those for ‘to stay’ and ‘a spear’ . . . Thus military prowess is seen in the repression of cruelty, the calling in of the weapons of war, the preservation of the great appointment, the firm establishment of one’s merit, the giving repose to the people.” (Legge, trans., The Chinese Classics, v. 5, p. 320.

I only discovered this story a couple of years ago, but I learned of this etymology of the character wu many years back. In fact, it was my first taijiquan sifu from whom I learned it. He made a point of teaching his students the meaning of this word, and explaining to us that martial arts were developed not to learn how to do violence, but how to avoid and control violence.

Another thought, regarding the notion of progressive response to attack. Before I found a taijiquan teacher back in the seventies, I studied another martial art, jujitsu. (The “bushido” of Japanese martial arts is in Chinese, “wushudao”—the way of warrior arts.) The lineage I trained in incorporated Karate as well as the more “gentle” avoidance, sweeping, and throwing techniques. My school also explicitly taught a very strict doctrine of “doing the least harm,” and of a progressive response of techniques that became more capable of doing harm in direct correspondence to the type of attack encountered. We therefore learned a variety of wrist, arm, and body release techniques designed to get free of an attacker, then an array of techniques for more serious grappling, should the attacker persist, and on up through progressively more serious and damaging strikes and kicks.

When I first began taijiquan, I wondered why we didn’t seem to be learning anything approaching the sort of systematic inventory of techniques that I had been required to learn in jiujitsu. Then one day my sifu was demonstrating the array of application possibilities in “Needle at Sea Bottom.” There, unfolding before me, I saw a beautiful progression of techniques, from a simple wrist release, to more involved joint locking, on up to serious disabling strikes. Moreover, they weren’t a bunch of inventory items that we had drilled in separate operations, but rather they were strung together in a logical series of responses to the actions of a persistent opponent. I was beginning to learn that taijiquan differed from those martial arts that taught inventories of techniques. The skill of taijiquan goes much deeper than that.

I’d also like to repeat the words of taiji master Shi Ming (who in turn was quoting Sunzi): “Self-defense that cannot avoid hitting and hurting people is an expression of martial art that is still not at a sufficiently high level. The highest aim of martial arts using fighting techniques is to ‘defeat the enemy without doing battle.’ [Sunzi, ch. 3] At the highest level, no one can even pick a fight with you. The effects of the highest techniques and principles are completely consonant with the highest morality.” (Shi Ming, Mind Over Matter, trans. Cleary, p. 101).

I don’t think Shi Ming’s statement is particularly remarkable. I’ve heard other taijiquan masters say similar things. He’s talking, of course, about the ‘highest level,’ which seems mighty elusive to this practitioner. Nonetheless, that’s the sort of thing I’d like to think I’m training for.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Michael » Tue Sep 16, 2003 6:18 am

Thank you Louis.

You ae indeed correct that in how you describe taiji as "different" than other martial arts. This especially in terms of "options" having to do with the level af violence delt out. Again this may have to do with our own level of ability, how crude or refined WE are, even more than the opponent.

In the other thread I spoke of "Doing no harm" as a Buddhist concept, not a martial one. I was relating this to the "raw" basic martial art. But on a personal level, Why else do TCC if the goal is not that which Ming speaks about? Though that may be (certainly is) a goal I will never realize, that is where I aim also. Though you say Shi Ming's statement is not "remarkable". I have heard this many times myself from different people. Simple "truth" often is not, nor does it have to be "remarkable".

Thanks again.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Sep 17, 2003 3:02 am

Greetings Louis,

Informative posting.

I found the definition you provided of the term 'wu' to be quite an interesting addition. I was a little surprised that the word 'martial' had such connotations of 'prowess' as you listed. This clarifies my thoughts on the matter to a certain degree.

One quote that you supplied, however, I find especially intriguing ...

<At the highest level no-one can even pick a fight with you. The effects of the highest techniques and principles are completely consonant with the highest morality>

Do you believe that they are speaking of the 'highest physical techniques' which would instantly end an attackers onslaught so as to be considered a 'non fight' due to it's speedy termination through one's amazing application of technique?

Or is there further evidence to allude to another force, perhaps non-physical(perhaps mental, perhaps other), which repulses attacks before they are even 'begun'? <No one can even pick a fight with you>

Could you please elaborate on this area of your presentation?

Do you believe they are representing the highest level of physical/technical skill or has the ideology surpassed the physical boundaries?

Thank-you
Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Sep 17, 2003 3:19 am

Greetings Michael,

I have been wondering how the origins of Taijiquan theories on the matter of 'ethical defense' were developed and where they were drawn from.

I always had the impression they stemmed partially from either Buddhism or Taoism, but am not very clear on this matter.

How do these religions associate with Taijiquan?

I found a nice quote the other day which I was hesitant to provide due to it's apparent non-Taijiquan aspects, but which I thought had a certain bearing on the present subject...

<Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them at least don't hurt them> - Dalai Lama(1935)Tibet Religious Leader.

Has anyone heard similar expression used in Taijiquan theories of martial arts?

Thank-you,
Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Michael » Wed Sep 17, 2003 2:42 pm

psalchemist,

Louis would be the one to ask here. His knowledge would be much greater than mine.

Basically taiji is a product of Chinese culture with the three main influences of "Confusionism", Buddhism, and Daoism. However general theory comes basically from Daoist thought. Listening/responding appropriately, yielding,....

Ethics? From Buddhism you will get the thought of "causing no harm", of doing "good" to/for others. From Daoism (Taoism) you get doing the "approriate" thing for any given situation. This means not forcing your will upon a situation. This really general and basic. Terms like "good" and "bad" are an interesting discussion in themselves, but rather a lengthy one. I do favor the word "appropriate" and most often "good" comes out of it, and also the "least amount of harm".

An interesting question.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Sep 17, 2003 4:44 pm

Greetings Michael and all,

I am sure that Louis could provide an appropriate response to my query. This would be welcome.

However, I am not always seeking solely textual, literary references, but also personal perspectives and interpretations.

I find your opinion and knowledge to be valuable sources for me to draw upon and ponder.

My questions are of course open for all to address in whichever manner they would wish to present their views and/or knowledge.

Everyone sees a different side(corner) of the issues. This is mind expanding and opinion developping.

I find that my opinions are always subject to transformation, be it minor adjustments or complete overhauls, depending on my processing and acceptance of the newest input received. I always review the latest input with thought and comparison and usually integrate it in part or in whole with the 'old' to arrive at a new more 'refined' opinion. Which ,of course, could change with the next stimulus to cross my path.

You said:
<...However general theory comes basically from Daoist thought. Listening/responding appropriately, yielding,...

I am trying to clarify the definition of 'yielding' in it's basic Taijiquan sense...

We were speaking, not long ago, about yielding to 'turn', in other words...The impression I received was that Taijiquan employs 'yielding' only as a temporary recourse for returning to one's primary objective.
In Taijiquan, if I am yielding, it is accompanied with the intention of 'turning' with the opponent, not turning to walk away, surrender or concede as the literal englih sense of the word implies.

Is this a correct interpretation of 'yielding' in a Taijiquan context?


I can appreciate that ethics would become a very legnthy subject indeed and was not expecting a ten page thesis in this vein. Image
Thank-you for your presentation of the rudimentary differences between Daoist and Buddhist ideology.

Also, You said:
< I do favor the word 'appropriate' and most often 'good' comes out of it, and also the 'least amount of harm'. > Michael.

I do agree with this sentiment. Interesting interpretation.

Best regards,
Psalchemist. Image


[This message has been edited by psalchemist (edited 09-17-2003).]
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Postby Michael » Wed Sep 17, 2003 7:22 pm

psalchemist,

Just have a minute, I'll ry to get back later if possible.

"Yielding", very big word. Yes it does not usually imply surrender. Yielding is not meeting force with force, it can be redirecting, collecting, and neutralizing---and/or all or the above. All depends on timing, distance, and angles.

"Approriateness" has to do with "the Way". Actions must be "appropriate" to be of "The Way"--or the Dao. "The Way" is not good or bad but "natural"--if one must try to use a word. The way of man, driven by ego, could be described as "bad" (I like "confused" better). To be "appropriate" is to be with the "natural order" hence results of actions cannot be "bad" in the purest sense, however, it may not be "good" either. But now saying this how can the natural order or "way" be anything but "good"?

If one lacks the ego and it's desires, what is, is. So for such a person, their actions will will result in the "proper" outcome. That is, if the the action truely is "appropriate" and not forced. This is true in TCC or day to day living.

Daoism teaches the same thing as TCC. One must first recognize what is happening as or before things unfold. Then one must respond in the correct manner. NEVER force one's will or intent. If one does, one fails. Better to head off, set up, redirect (yield) than meet force with force. That is how one survives.

Sorry this is really basic, general stuff. And by no means do I know anything. I'll try to gather some qoutes that say it much clearer than I can.

I must go!

Michael

Later. On "yielding" see in theory and...

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 09-17-2003).]

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 09-18-2003).]
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Postby Audi » Sat Sep 20, 2003 12:06 am

Hi all:

Louis, thanks for a great post.

Psalchemist, I am not sure it is entirely proper to think of ethics in Taijiquan as something separate from ethics in general Chinese culture. One of the theories behind the creation and dissemination of the Taiji Classics is that they were created out of a desire to crystalize the best of Chinese philosophy in physical form at a time when modern and Western concepts were beginning to threaten long-cherished principles.

Whether or not this theory is true, I think that the writer(s) of the classics viewed Taijiquan simply as the natural outgrowth of universal principles, rather than a separate system needing a new ethical framework. In other words, I think that the ethics of Taijiquan would be held out to be more or less the same as those of Sunzi/Sun-Tsu.

The devil, however, is in the details.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby psalchemist » Sat Sep 20, 2003 12:29 am

Greetings Audi,

Sorry Audi, I didn't realize I had confounded the facts...

Perhaps you could enlighten me by explaining the differences between the Daoist religion, the Buddhist religion and the Suntzu code of 'ethics'. I am hardly familiar with these quantities as represented in the art of Taijiquan as per the Suntzu texts.

Even better, however, might be your own personal philosophy on the subject. Image

Thank-you,
Best regards,
Psalchemist.


[This message has been edited by psalchemist (edited 09-19-2003).]
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Postby Audi » Tue Sep 30, 2003 12:44 am

Hi Psalchemist:

I may have led you astray, since I was not trying to call attention to differences between Buddhism, Daoism, and Sunzi’s arguments. What I meant to convey is that I do not think that the 18th and 19th Century developers of Taijiquan were attempting to create a new philosophy with its own set of ethics, but rather were trying to distill the best of what they already knew to create a martial art.

Similarly, I would say that the American Founding Fathers were trying to create a new style of government, but were probably not trying to set up a new ethical framework that they would have perceived as distinct from such things as general Protestant views in Europe, ancient Roman republicanism, or ancient Athenian civic culture.

Psalchemist, you asked me the following in your post:

<<Even better, however, might be your own personal philosophy on the subjectJ.>>

I am not sure my personal philosophy is worth much in the context of this discussion, but here are my views in a nutshell.

I think that a martial art like Taijiquan covers a variety of pursuits that are sometimes best addressed separately. I personally would not alter any of the traditional forms, but would nevertheless train quite differently depending on whether my primary aims were health/fitness, self-defense, or combat. For me, the ethics of restraint take different form, depending on which pursuits are under discussion.

If we are talking about doing Taijiquan for health and fitness (e.g., friendly push hands), I think the ethics of restraint require that one take great care to avoid giving or receiving injury so as not to defeat the point of the whole exercise. If we are talking about training for self-defense, I think that the need to impart useable skills necessarily involves exposing oneself and one’s partners to a certain level of training risk. If we are talking about learning how to fight in combat, I think that practicing too much “restraint” in either training or in usage begins to become dangerous.

In self-defense, I think that the main aim is to preserve one’s own life. In combat, the main aim is to take the opponent’s life, even at the cost of one’s own. In self-defense, restraint means not using more force than is necessary to preserve one’s own life. In combat, restraint means not using more force than necessary in order to win victory. The level of “restraint” needed to achieve victory may well involve injuring or killing people who are not personally a threat to you. For instance, one hardly ever drops a bomb with the purpose of personal self-defense.

Speaking specifically to the meaning of restraint, I see it as a relative term, dependent upon circumstance. If I am fighting with fists, “restraint” means one thing. If I am fighting with missiles, it means something different.

I even take a relative view of terms like “friend” and “enemy.” I believe that even my “enemies” can be my allies in the right circumstances. If one manages always to wipe out one’s enemies, one may lack for allies on another occasion when a worse enemies shows up. Such thinking may not be relevant to a random encounter on a city street, but may be very pertinent in others. Sometimes it is hard to cultivate one philosophy for one environment and another philosophy for other environments. This difficulty is another reason why I distinguish between the various fields in which Taijiquan operates. Martial arts instructors, commuters, policemen, and soldiers operate in different worlds, where the resort to violence tends to have different consequences and different triggers. I am not sure one wants to cultivate the same instincts for all walks of life, even if a universal philosophy can apply to all circumstances.

Although I feel that my enemies may also turn into my friends, I also feel the opposite is true. I feel that just about everyone in the world, including myself, can be an enemy in the wrong circumstance. (Put a bowl of mocha almond fudge ice cream in front of me, and I must do serious battle with myself.) In this light, having restraint towards my “enemies” as a general goal again seems to make sense to me, even in a pure Machiavellian sense.

As I understand it, American legal tradition incorporates the idea of restraint into the concept of self-defense. If you are not at home and can “safely” retreat from a violent threat, my understanding is that you must attempt to do so. Otherwise, you can no longer use self-defense as a justification for your actions. While this doctrine is relatively clear, the juries that actually decide such matters often do not like what legal scholarship says. They often like to divide the world into good people and bad people and are usually pretty liberal about excusing “retaliation” or “excessive force” used by “ordinary” people against “violent criminals.”

I find that, for myself, throwing away restraint, ignoring the interests of others, and trying to overwhelm all opposition is all too easy an emotion to call up. As a result, I prefer to try cultivating restraint. One thing I did not like about the Karate I studied was the implied cultivation of ferocity. I prefer Taijiquan’s cultivation of “calmness.” Such cultivation is particularly easy in the practice hall, but probably not so easy in a dark alley late at night. How exactly I would act under life-threatening stress is anyone’s guess. Somehow imagining my conduct in such a circumstance brings up more of an image of a headless chicken than an island of calm amidst turbulent water.

In talking about the specific ethics traditionally taught by the Yang Family, I think that one must make enormous adjustments for differences in culture and historical context that make comparisons difficult. For instance, the ethical norms of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many of the Founding Fathers reputedly included things that everyone on this board would find quite repellent. However, I, for one, refuse to see them as the moral inferiors of current Americans. In short, I find such comparisons to be terribly complicated.

From what I have read, at least some of the historical masters of Taijiquan were involved in warfare or as bodyguards against highway marauders. Also, as I understand it, the Chinese “gentry,” including some of the suspected authors of the Taijiquan classics, were often expected to lead the defense of their communities against outside threats. Although I may be mistaken, I see the origin of the Saber and Spear Forms in this context, not as elements of personal defense in an urban setting.

I am not sure that I have enough knowledge to judge when and under what conditions it was appropriate to use lethal force in such circumstances as the many irregular and “regular” conflicts in 19th Century China. Many of these conflicts included three or more warring “sides” and attacks on civilians by all sides.

I have seen one fictional Hong Kong movie that casts the old Yang Family as using Taijiquan to rescue sections of the Chinese army and the local community from the ravages of opium addiction and stiffening the resolve of the local Qing authorities to oppose British abuse. This is in interesting contrast to accounts in the Taiji literature that try to laud, criticize, or justify the accounts of Yang Luchan’s training members of the royal court in Beijing. I do not have much confidence that I can properly understand the moral choices in such circumstances. Without a great deal more context, I am reluctant to draw conclusions about whether and why Yang Banhou may have killed one or a hundred people, whether and why Yang Shaohou was reputedly slamming students around the training hall, and whether and why Yang Luchan would have worked with various members of the Qing court.

Of all the stories, the one I can relate to best is when Yang Luchan had to spar in front of his host in Beijing and had enough skill that he could choose to neither win nor lose the fight, since either outcome might have been disastrous for him and his family. Again, there are many ways to understand this story.

If you and those dear to you live in a place where there are no police or where the police are behind much of the local crime, is it moral to show “restraint” and allow those with murderous intent to go free and remain in a position to kill others with fewer defenses than you? I have no easy answer to this. If you live in a place where the majority community is hostile to you, the “moral” choice in the face of lethal violence may even be to surrender to death in the hope those dear to you may be spared. From what I understand, such conditions still exist in many parts of the world, existed in parts of China within at least the last fifty years, and existed in parts of the U.S. within at least the last 100 years.

At the level of the art itself, my understanding is that Taijiquan works on the principle that you must wait for an enemy to initiate an attack. In that sense, “restraint” is built into the system. At a practical level, however, I think that when there is a great disparity in ability, it is relatively easy to force an opponent to initiate an attack or to give you enough energy to allow you to use it against him or her. In this sense, I think that Taijiquan is different from what I understand the philosophy to have been behind the creation of Aikido or Judo (as opposed to the sister arts from which they sprang).

Although I do not know enough to say much about the historical Yang Family’s views of “restraint” or judge many of the stories told about them or other historical masters, I can say that what has come down to us through this Association seems very much to value moral conduct in the context of martial arts. In fact, I believe “martial arts morality” is built into the Association rules. It has been mentioned before on this forum. Perhaps, this is a topic worthy of a thread all by itself.

Enough for now.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Michael » Wed Oct 01, 2003 5:33 am

Audi,

Can't argue with that. Very good.

"Ferocity" vs "calmness", been there. The latter is much preferred.

Concerning the word "enemy"---I do use this word, though I do not have any "external" ones. The truth of it is that there is only one "enemy" and that is oneself.

Mocha almond fudge? Tempting, mine tends to be Maple nut or anything butterscotch. A battle I do not mind losing now and again.

"...more of a headless chicken..." I love it.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Oct 01, 2003 1:47 pm

Greetings Audi,

Thank-you very much for accomodating my request of a personal philosophy concerning 'Restraint in Taijiquan'.

I can appreciate your views on the subject.

I maintain my original stance that you are an excellent writer,copious,diligent, and efficient in your expression.

'Twas a pleasure to read as well as a valuable point of view for me to consider.

I am a little pressed for time at the moment...

Best regards,
Psalchemist.

P.S. I liked the '...chicken with the head cut off...' portion as well....But I really liked '...the island surrounded by turbulent waters...' even better, very poetic Image .
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