We know the term “Wǔshù” (武術), refers to military or martial art. And the title of a philosophical book you’re no doubt familiar with is the Tao Teh Ching, or Dào Dé Jīng (道德經), which translated, roughly means The Classic of the Virtuous Way.
Broken down into its parts, Dao or Tao, means the way or path. De or Teh means Virtue and Jing or Ching means Classic, as in a “literary classic”.
Wu De (武德) then, means Martial Virtue.
Within the “Martial Way”, or wǔdào (武道), of old-world traditional Chinese Martial Arts, there has been often found the learning of virtuous behavior (xián xíng wéi 賢行為), principles of living an honorable life (gāo shàng de shēng huó 高尚的生活), etc.
Over time this has been refined, bringing us a sort of code of ethics within the wǔ lín (武林), or martial forest, setting us apart from (or sometimes within) the Jiāng hú (江湖), meaning rivers & lakes, alluding to wandering ones, or today to the triads.
We’re not merely talking about a code of ethics here. Obviously Wu De is also tradition and history – but it’s more than that as well.
Wu De is like a fine suit of clothes that tells the observer about the person before him. It’s like having a membership card to a niche organization. It’s like a skeleton key that unlocks previously inaccessible doors.
And as I mentioned in the first installment of the Wu De series, I’ve noticed that its understanding and proper usage is not as prevalent as it once was.