li mao calligraphy 1WUDE – VIRTUE

When Gransmaster Li Mao Ching visited South Africa, he delivered a lecture and presented us with some Chinese calligraphy he had written. Grandmaster Li’s message was clear and drove to the heart of the learning and practice of Chinese Martial Arts. He conveyed to us the deeper meaning of true traditional Wushu and his wisdom is key to the survival of our precious art.

Grandmaster Li Mao Ching’s Calligraphy. From left:  Yong – Bravery; Ren – Benevolence; Lian – Integrity  &  Xin – Reliability

Master Li was talking about ‘Wude’, this refers to the virtues of Chinese Martial Arts. The term ‘Wude’ is a combination of the words Wushu and Daode.  Wushu refers to all Chinese Martial Arts, and Daode may be translated as ‘with virtue’. Wude therefore signifies the virtue of martial arts. The concepts of Wude include elements from Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism.

Everybody who is willing to learn Chinese Martial Arts should be concerned about understanding the virtue of martial arts (Wude) and to act accordingly. Whoever does not comply with these virtues, will never be a true master of the martial arts. He or she will at most be an athlete copying certain movements without understanding the true sense of wushu exercise.

Learning Chinese Martial Arts goes beyond learning the bare movements, it does in fact require a certain attitude in life. Exercising Wushu thus ideally becomes an important part of one’s life. Those who do not strive to reach this level of learning will always remain more or less superficial in training martial arts. Learning martial arts is like any other attempt to master some skill: it requires patience, endurance, a strong will and a good teacher.

Wushu is not just about overcoming an adversary, it is about overcoming oneself. Wushu is not only a sporting activity, but a training of one’s character and mind. Every student of Wushu should use regular Wushu exercises and compliance to the principles of Wude to elaborate the own character and to cultivate the body. In China, this is called “Xiuxing yangshen” or “Wude xiuyang” (literally: “to correct the character and to cultivate the body” or “correct and cultivate with the virtue of martial arts”). In the Shaolin monastery, for example, six out of ten rules for the monks are concerned with “Wude”.

The saying “Xuequan yi wude wei xian” is widely known in China: it means that a student may be talented and hard-working, but without showing the readiness and ability for virtue and responsibility, no true master will be willing to truly teach the martial arts. Following the ancient Chinese tradition, a student had to prove being dignified of learning the martial arts. Another saying, “San nian zhao, san nian kao”, means “a student searches for years to find a good teacher, and a teacher will examine the student for years before really teaching her or him.”

According to the ancient Wushu tradition, the main criteria in choosing a student are the following:


Being devoted to martial arts, being willing to learn wholeheartedly

Respect and loyalty towards the teacher, but also towards all other students and people, the ancestors and all other martial arts.

Being ready and willing to “eat bitterness” (chi ku), that is to endure hardship

True humbleness

Wit and courage

Patience and endurance

Sincerity, because only those with a true heart can reach true understanding

Helpfulness and readiness for a friendly exchange with others

Standing up for one’s teacher and fellow students and being ready to subdue the own ego to the group

Grandmaster Li’s calligraphy depicts four Chinese characters:

Xin: Meaning reliability, the person must be true to their word, show trust, sincerity and openness, to truly believe in something, and also to keep one’s promises, be stable and engaged in things.

Lian: Integrity. Respectful, upright and incorruptible.

Ren: Benevolence. This implies kindness and compassion.

Yong: Bravery, to be courageous.


These are central to Wude or the virtue of martial arts. Being true to these principles will allow students to truly master Chinese Martial Arts and it will also ensure that our system flourishes.

The teachers have invested much time and effort to learn and pass on this great knowledge. And therefore students should be able to be relied upon to invest their time and faith in our teachers and our system. So together we can ensure Kung Fu grows and thrives.