The Ethics and Moral Virtues of Chen Style Tai Chi Martial Arts


Around the world today, there is increasing interest in martial arts. Competitions are commonplace. More and more people are realizing the advantages of practicing martial arts, such as improved health and development of self-defense skills. It is common knowledge that exercise is a key factor in maintaining physical and spiritual health. According to the World Health Organization, 55% of all morbidity is related to lack of exercise. The maintenance of good health is beneficial not only for the person, but also the family, and even the entire country. So exercising is very important for every person. With increasing participation in martial arts, it is vital to understand the ethical and moral conduct expected and required of the martial artist.

It is said that “Without standards, no advanced understanding can take shape.” It is for this reason that every profession has its own rules and regulations. Master Chen Zhaokui (1928-1981) always urged his students to “Understand the rules and abide by them.” Master Wang Xian ( 1944- ) also stressed in his martial arts teaching to “Guard your borders and not lose sight of your world.” This essay will discuss the ethics and moral virtues of martial arts practice.

The martial artists of past times have always emphasized the ethics of martial arts. Each school had its own code. These rules were shaped, in part, by the context of their time and place. Therefore, we must now rethink martial arts ethics in modern times. I believe that it is extremely important to teach the ethics of martial arts and not just the physical techniques. If martial arts are taught without instilling the proper ethics, martial arts as a discipline cannot develop in a good direction. Only by teaching the techniques in conjunction with ethics can the field move forward to a bright future.

Martial arts ethics are important to the success or failure of the individual practitioner, as well as to the study and development of martial arts. Without exception, a martial arts grandmaster will have a deep understanding of martial arts ethics. The ethics of martial arts is the guide by which a martial artist evaluates and interacts with the world. A deep understanding of martial arts ethics is a priceless treasure for the martial artist that does not diminish in value over time. Having good morals allows one to be tolerant, gentle, and noble-mannered in all situations. They also bring about a certain spirit, temperament, and propriety in the martial artist. In this way, having good morals benefits both the individual and the society.

The topics of martial arts ethics are abundant – below I will discuss the following codes in martial arts ethics:

I. Choosing a Teacher
II. Cultivation of a Virtuous Teacher-Student Relationship
III. Faith and Integrity
IV. Respect
V. Cultivation of Integrity of Speech
VI. The Virtue of Hand – Self-Control
VII. Cultivation of the Heart and Mind
VIII. The Virtue of Humility
IX. The Virtue of Peaceful Patience
X. The Virtue of Social Awareness and Responsibility

I. Choosing a Teacher

When learning martial arts, the first task is to find a teacher. Among the many styles of martial arts and a large number of teachers, which teacher should you choose? The 16th generation Chen Style Master Chen Xin (1849-1929) said, “If you don’t understand the theory, find a famous teacher; if you’re unsure of the path, ask a good friend.” Mencius (the second Confucian philosopher, 372-289 B.C.E.) also emphasized the importance of choosing friends and teachers carefully. When he picked where to live, he checked who his neighbors would be. Everyone recognizes that well-renowned teachers produce exceptional disciples; thus, it is often said that “Disciples reflect upon their teachers.” Every word and action of a teacher has a direct effect upon the students, so it is very important to choose the right teacher. If a student chooses the wrong teacher, his future development will always be adversely affected. If the teacher’s skills and his martial ethics are not good, the student will waste his time and his money. There is a Chinese proverb : “A second of time may be worth a gram of gold, but a gram of gold cannot buy back a second of time.” Americans also say that “Time is money,” – this is undeniable in modern life. Indeed, for many occupations, your paycheck is directly calculated from the time you work. Every person has the same amount of time in a day, but each values his or her time differently. Wasting another person’s time is unethical.

I have a student who, before coming to learn martial arts with me, had already studied Tai Chi for fourteen years with other teachers. When he started with me, I discovered that he did not really understand the basic principles of Tai Chi, and he did not understand correct breathing for Tai Chi. Because of this, the student had practiced for fourteen years without ever attaining higher levels of skill. Incorrect breathing was adversely affecting his health. It was not that the student was not sincere, but because he chose the wrong teacher, he had wasted his time and his money, a truly regrettable result. After I corrected his practice for two years, the student improved greatly, and his body returned to health.

Furthermore, some teachers learn Tai Chi from books, then go on to teach students their own misunderstandings, telling the students that they are teaching them the “secret principles” of Tai Chi. Such misguided practice of Tai Chi harms the health of the student, causing Qi to stagnate in the chest, leading to susceptibility to colds, chest discomfort, poor appetite, and a jaundiced complexion.

It is commonly said that “Entering into the art requires oral transmission, levels attained depend on practice.” Although reading books is a good thing, if you do not have the guidance of a good teacher, you will often misunderstand the principles and be led down the wrong path. Martial arts consist of layer upon layer of mysteries. At every level, the mysteries are different from the level before. Because books often cannot take this into account, a student who has not reached a certain level will have difficulty understanding or can misunderstand the principles outlined in writing. Furthermore, a martial art always consists of a unified theory – some aspects of the martial arts cannot be sufficiently described in words and must be taught in person. These things cannot be learned by reading books.

Learning martial arts requires having a teacher. Only by having someone to point out the way can you take the most direct route. By receiving the transmission of knowledge from a teacher, you can avoid being the blind man feeling the elephant, practicing without knowing what you’re doing. Therefore, when choosing a teacher, you must take special care.

If the teacher that you choose likes to fight, is unethical, boisterous, or likes to criticize others, then eventually these bad habits will be transferred to the students. Eventually, if these bad habits are severe, the students may do unthinkable things, or become the garbage of the martial arts world, sinners among men. This would be a waste of an entire life. If the teacher has only taught the movements incorrectly, there is still an unpredictable outcome for the student that may result in illness. It is well-known that learning martial arts movements is easy, but correcting martial arts movements is difficult. As soon as the incorrect movement has become a habit, correcting it is very difficult. It will take three times as much effort to correct as it would have taken to learn it correctly in the beginning.

It is commonly said, “If you want to know how to pass the mountain, ask the people who have just come from that direction.” So in choosing a teacher, you must not be careless. You must look at the teacher’s personal qualities, his background, his level of martial arts skill, see if his lineage is reputable, and see if he is a respectable person. These are all of the things that you must pay careful attention to when you are choosing a teacher. This is the first requirement when learning martial arts, and forms the basis of martial arts ethics.

II. Cultivation of a Virtuous Teacher-Student Relationship

The teacher-student relationship is very important and needs to be nurtured. A saying in Chinese goes like this: “Once a teacher, always a father.” Another saying goes like this: “If someone gives you a drop of water of kindness, you should repay with a full fountain of gushing water.” In today’s society, these standards have been diluted. But I believe it’s important to understand and reevaluate the correct conduct between a teacher and a student.

Why do I state this dilemma? In martial arts, respecting the teacher is especially important. Without instilling proper respect, teachers would create disreputable, arrogant students that disrespect teachers, parents, elders, friends, or other persons. This will pull down the martial arts industry and cause martial art tragedies of disrespectfulness.

There are many examples. Some teachers only emphasize the physical and ignore the ethical perspective. As a result many students, upon gaining fame, end up forgetting who taught them. Many might claim that they were born with these skills, or learned them from books and videos, instead of giving credit to their teachers. They also state that their teachers did not have a major role in their accomplishments. This is a very serious tragedy.

Some students would learn with their teacher for a few years, until they had gained a reputation as a martial artist. The teacher also would have taken special care of this talented student, even to the point of not taking tuition from him. Such a student, because he acquired his martial arts easily, did not understand its value, nor the teacher’s efforts in teaching it to him. After learning from the teacher for a few years, and believing that he had learned all of the teacher’s skills, he would feel that the teacher no longer had any value to him, and would cut all ties to the teacher. Even if the teacher happened to run into him unexpectedly, the student would turn his head away and pretend he did not recognize him. This demonstrates lack of virtue in not showing the proper level of respect.

Another student, when learning martial arts with his teacher, would tell everyone that his teacher was very great, but as soon as this student believed that he had learned all of his teacher’s techniques and his teacher was no longer useful to him, he would change completely, suddenly became like a mute, and would say not a good word about his teacher anymore. He would cut all ties with his teacher. This also is an indication of a lack of virtue and the proper level of respect.

In some cases, a teacher might introduce his student to his own teacher. As soon as this student had met his teacher’s teacher, he would no longer acknowledge his own teacher, but instead would believe that he was now his teacher’s colleague. This also is an indication of a lack of virtue and the proper level of respect.

There are still more examples like these. It is commonly said that “Teachers search for disciples, and disciples search for teachers.” A good teacher always wants to find a good student, and a good student always wants to find a good teacher, yet it is difficult for each one to find the other.

Of all accomplished martial arts masters, all of them have very virtuous relationships with their teachers in which they never forget their roots and never forget their teacher’s lessons. Not forgetting their teacher, they also will never do anything that is contrary to proper teacher-student relationships. For example, Master Feng Zhiqiang (1926- ), in the lineage level of Chen Style Tai Chi is very high, but he has never forgotten his first teacher, Master Hu Yaozhen (1879-1973) of Xinyi Quan. [Editor’s note: Master Hu Yaozhen is recognized as the father of modern Qi Gong.] Master Feng Zhiqiang often says, “I am always grateful to two teachers – one is Hu Yaozhen, and one is Chen Fake (1887-1957).” Hu Yaozhen is a master of Xinyi Quan, and Chen Fake is a master of Chen Style Taijiquan. Master Feng Zhiqiang’s cultivation of proper teacher-student relationships is a role-model example for everyone. We should learn from Master Feng Zhi Qiang. Chen Style practitioners should take Master Feng Zhiqiang’s attitude toward proper teacher-student relationships as an example, and work towards the cultivation of teacher-student relationships. Proper teacher-student relationships are also a basic foundation of martial arts ethics as a whole. I hope that Chen Stylists will practice the cultivation of teacher-student relationships in the same way that they practice martial arts, putting down effort on the foundation. If the root is stable, the tip can reach great heights. In this way, we can reach the peak of the mountain and attain perfect achievement.

III. Faith and Integrity

Faith also is an important component of martial arts ethics. Faith is the light that points the way for a worker in any business. After you have chosen the correct teacher, you must have faith. Let faith be the driving force in your enterprises.

Faith includes belief, trust, and credibility. To put it simply, it is the same trust in a teacher’s words, in a leader’s words, or in an elder’s words. Whether Lao Tzu’s (founder of Taoism, c. 600 B.C.E.) Tao Te Ching, Jesus’ teachings, Mohammad’s Qur’an, or the Buddha’s teachings, all must be realized through faith.

No matter whether you are learning martial arts to improve your health or to be able to defend yourself, in order to maximize the effectiveness of your training and accomplish your goals, you must build up your faith, and let it become the driving force for accomplishing your goal.

Faith is not simple belief, but deep and unwavering confidence, a faith that is integrated into your daily life. Examples of faith include trusting in your doctor’s competence, and taking medicine in order to cure your illnesses, having faith in the reliability of a car, and buying the car that you believe is reliable, or going to a restaurant to eat, or going to a store to buy things. All of these actions require having faith in the business or the product. It can be seen that faith is the prerequisite and support for people’s livelihood. If this mutual faith is not present in society, the society will not advance, nor will it be prosperous. Life would become empty, even meaningless, and full of suffering.

Faith is an important article of martial arts ethics, as well as a prerequisite to a martial artist’s moral development. Within the transmission of martial arts from teacher to student, faith includes the confidence that a teacher places in his student, as well as the trust that a student places in his teacher. I have a group of students who live in San Antonio and Austin, they have studied with me for six years now, starting in 1997. Over the last six years, these students have pushed on without faltering, despite having to drive for six hours round trip every time they come to take a lesson. The reason that they can continue like this is their real, complete, and unchanging faith. Because of this, they will surely succeed in reaching their goals, as well as receiving everybody’s praise and respect. This kind of continuous and unchanging faith is a great virtue. This kind of faithful attitude is worth emulating as an example. We should integrate this kind of faithful attitude into our own situations, and have as a goal to build up our level of faith.

Within both our daily lives and in learning martial arts, if our faith is not real, if we only believe half-heartedly, then it is easy for us to change course or stop midway, or train for one day and rest for six. As a result, we will show little accomplishment, and we will not be very successful in martial arts. On the other hand, if we believe in everything and act on nothing, today practicing this martial art, tomorrow training in that type of kung fu, blindly believing in everything without having any core beliefs of our own, this also is not in accordance with the requirements for the virtue of faith, and it does not count as real faith. This kind of faith, if met with obstacles, will result in stagnation and even regression, bringing you nothing. For a person to reach his aspiration, faith, unwavering trust and belief are all very important. In the process of realizing your goals and ideals, no matter whether your journey is all smooth sailing, or fraught with obstacles, you will always bravely push forward, without changing your own faith, letting your faith be your driving force.

In pursuing the Eastern cultural treasure of Tai Chi in the multi-directional setting of today, how can a student of Tai Chi go in the right direction, taking the shortest path and not straying, in order to develop a bright future for this cultural treasure and to benefit mankind? I believe that the virtue of faith is one of the primary requirements for a Tai Chi practitioner. Faith is the guiding light in the darkness. Once you have chosen the right teacher, you should have unchanging faith and diligently continue to learn, so that the virtue of faith can flower and bear fruit among lovers of Tai Chi.

IV. Respect

When learning Chen Style Tai Chi, one must first learn to respect people, respect your parents, respect the teacher, respect your fellow students, and respect authorities. Understanding how to respect people is a basic requirement in life and an important requirement of martial arts ethics. The 16th generation Chen Style Master Chen Xin said, “A martial arts student should practice respect. Anyone who does not practice respect should not be taught martial arts.” Chen Xin also advised martial arts teachers, “When accepting students to pass on the art, you must understand the student, observe whether or not the student regularly shows respect for his parents and for his friends. If he does not, it is best not to accept him as a student. If he does not even respect his own parents, he also will not respect other people. As soon as this type of person learns martial arts, his bad habit of disrespect will increase, and he may even do unthinkable things.”

Here I will tell a story about the 15th generation Chen Style Master Chen Gengyun (1799-1872). Chen Gengyun was an escort-bodyguard his entire life. He had a strong sense of righteousness, and always took care of all kinds of injustices. It is said that one day when Chen Gengyun was passing through a village in the North, he suddenly came upon a 30-year-old young man in the field hitting a 60-year-old woman. All the villagers were scared and running in every direction, and no one dared to interfere. The villagers looked as if they had seen an evil spirit.

Chen Gengyun walked a few steps closer and asked the old woman, “Madam, tell me, who is he, and why is he hitting you?” The old woman fearfully shouted, “Leave quickly! Don’t interfere, there’s nothing you can do! He is my son.” Gengyun said to the old woman, “Madam, don’t be afraid. I ask only because I can do something about it.” At this time, the young man rushed forward, cursing, to attack. Chen Gengyun, meanwhile, was talking to the old woman and did not even look up.

As soon as the young man punched, Chen Gengyun turned his body and his right hand came up to grab the young man’s wrist and twisted it, generating an “Aiya!” and the young man dropped to his knees. Chen Gengyun said, “Madam, I’ll take care of this – what is the whole story?” The old woman replied, “You are just a passerby who doesn’t live here. After you leave, he’ll still be the same.” Cheng Gengyun told the old woman, “Madam, go ahead and speak, I will definitely take care of the matter.” The old woman began to cry, and said, “It’s all my fault. I’ve spoiled him since he was young. I’ve been a widow since I was young, no matter what the hardship, I’ve always given him whatever he wanted, hoping that he would one day make something of himself. If he wanted to eat something, I would always give it to him, and if he didn’t like it, I would change it. If I was too slow, he would yell at me. Alas, from the time he was a kid, I spoiled him too much. I never said anything. As he got older, his demands became more and more difficult, and if I did not have the ability to provide what he wanted, he would yell at me, and later on he began to hit me. In the beginning, the others in the village tried to stop him, but he beat up anyone would who speak up. After a while, everyone was scared of him and left him alone. Even now, no one wants to suggest a wife for him.” As the old woman spoke, she became more and more dejected. “All parents are alike, even now I’m still thinking of a marriage for him.”

When Chen Gengyun heard this, he was angry and despised the young man. He immediately struck the young man on a pressure point, causing the young man to tremble from head to toe, yelling with pain and kneeling in front of Chen Gengyun and his mother, sweat dripping down his face. Unbearably, he cried, “Hero! Hero! I’ll never do it again!” Chen Gengyun sternly told him, “Ask your mother for forgiveness – if you are ever disrespectful and hit or yell at her again, every time I see you, I’ll beat you up. Today I gave you just a taste of what I can do.” The young man turned to his mother and begged, saying “Mother, please help me ask for the heroic gentleman’s forgiveness. I’ll never treat you this way again.” Speaking with the heart of a mother, she asked Chen Gengyun “Noble gentleman, please forgive him then.” Chen Gengyun then released the pressure point. Because of this matter, Chen Gengyun visited the family many times afterwards. After a period of time, the son fully reformed. This old woman was grateful with all her heart, and after asking around in many places, found out that the hero was Chen Gengyun of Chen Village.

This is an example of Chen Gengyun using his martial arts with an exceptional sense of morality to teach someone who did not respect his parent. A disrespectful person would never be able to become a disciple of Chen Style Tai Chi. To respect or not to respect, good or evil, justice or injustice, are very important to the martial artist.

Understanding how to respect your parents, your teacher, your colleagues, is in essence respecting yourself, because only by respecting others do you gain respect.

Respect and loyalty to your teacher is the foundation of a good relationship between teacher and student. The relationship between teachers and students is just like that of a family, it is harmonious and structured.

Throughout Chinese martial history each generation has viewed the teacher-student relationship as fated. There is an adage that states: a teacher for a day, a father for a lifetime. In essence, respect for their teachers reflects back on how students respect themselves. In Chinese culture this value is fundamental for becoming an upright person in society’s eyes. Therefore in the practice of Chen Family Taijiquan, respect is always first and foremost.

V. Cultivation of Integrity of Speech

Very few people mention the integrity of speech. I believe that the integrity of speech also should be an important component of martial arts virtue. Good integrity can bring everyone joy. In the business world, good integrity in speech can bring one financial successes. Integrity in speech can bring harmony and prosperity to a household. In being a person in society, and during one’s daily interactions, good integrity in speech will bring praise from everyone. Definitely, people also are willing to deal with someone who has good integrity in speech. A Chinese saying says that “Good words can warm up three winters” and “One should laugh often.” These all show the importance of good integrity in speech.

In daily lives, one should never speak indiscreetly. Indiscreet speech boosts the arrogant heart. Indiscreet speech causes irrationality in others and self, and creates emotional instabilities. It also will cause stress and pressure on others. That is why there is a Chinese saying that “Calamities fall from an indiscreet mouth.”

In Xi-You-Ji (Journey to the West), the noble monk said something very relevant to his disciple Sun Wukong (the Monkey King), which applies to us. He said, “Opening your mouth you can lose godly Qi; moving your tongue is the cause of all gossips.” It is said that in the northern part of China, there is an example of this. On a particular holiday, one village invited another village’s opera group to come to their village and perform. In the audience, a great sea of people congregated with a great holiday atmosphere. Suddenly, some people in the audience started fighting, and as they fought, more and more people joined in and the number of people involved continued to rise. As a result, the opera was a great failure. Village B lost two people and many people were injured, whereas Village A also lost one person, and many people were also injured. The people who joined in the fight didn’t even know the cause of the fight, but as soon as their friends or family members were getting beaten up, they joined in without knowing the cause. In this way, more and more people joined in, and the fight got bigger and bigger. From this incident, the fight developed into a village feud lasting for more than a year. From two villages, the fight grew to encompass multiple villages, then two provinces. People associated with Village A would not dare to go to territories of Village B, and vice versa. If either group ran into the other village’s people, there was a fight. This mysterious feud broke up many friendships and many young lovers who were planning to get married. If a couple was made up of one from Village A and one from Village B, they were forbidden from seeing each other as in Romeo and Juliet.

The development of the feud is mysterious. After investigation, it was found that it was all caused by indiscreet speech.

This is what happened. While people watched the opera, a Village B audience member made a comment about a Village A actress on the stage. The Village B person said, “She can kind of sing, but her tongue is too small.” It just happened that the father of the actress from Village A overheard the comment. The father got upset and immediately swung a fist at the Village B person who made the comment. That was how the fight started, and the people involved in the fight grew in number, with blood and gore everywhere. When the people in the audience saw that their friends or relatives or fellow villagers were being beaten, they joined in the fight without knowing the cause. A hundred audience members got involved and eventually two provinces were at war. It is almost ridiculously tragic that it all came from an indiscreet comment.

This story tells us that the integrity of speech is very important. In social life, speech with discretion is very important. So, to learn Tai Ji Chuan, one should learn how to be a good person first. One needs to cultivate the integrity of speech and follow the path of kindness and righteousness and respect for others.

VI. The Virtue of Hand – Self-Control

A person who studies Tai Chi not only should have integrity of speech, he or she also should have a virtue of the hand. A virtue of the hand means self-control, not using martial arts to hurt others, harm others, or to show off. The 16th generation master Chen Xin has said, “Those who learn Tai Chi cannot be arrogant, arrogance causes problems. Not only should the hands be modest, speech should not be arrogant either, and the outer appearance should be gentle, otherwise, problems will arise.” Master Chen Xin’s teaching is the expectation for all Tai Chi practitioners. All through the Tai Chi history, the true masters not only taught the movements but also the cultivation of integrity and virtues. Being the progenies of Tai Chi, we not only should learn the movements that are handed down to us, but we also should remember and practice the beautiful virtues of their teachings of integrity.

Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.E.) has said, “If you use reason to persuade others, others will accept with their heart. If you use force to persuade others, others will not accept with their heart.” Everyone should think twice before acting, and in dealing with matters one should be cautious and use reason. Use virtue to touch others. This is especially true for martial artists; when martial artists run into problems, they should especially control their anger and emotions. If marital artists use their physical force or skills to subdue others, the problem usually will not go away but will become worse.

There also are people, who once they learn martial arts, become very arrogant and belligerent. They are prone to fights, use their skills to overshadow others or to harass others, and are prone to be arrogant and unreasonable. They easily become jealous, and are arrogant in heart and hands. They dare to stir up trouble at any time. Therefore, to avoid becoming such, when one learns martial arts, one should be particularly careful about the virtue of hand, have self-control, and watch one’s speech.

In past Chinese martial arts history , there was a martial artist who was extremely accomplished in the skills and movements; however, he was arrogant, narrow-minded, and cruel. At the time his wife bore him a child, he left to travel the land for fame. He did not go home for more than ten years. When he felt he had reached the fame he desired in his martial arts skills, he decided to return home. When he entered his home village, he saw a young man practicing marital arts. He could not control himself but stayed to watch. As he watched, he suddenly saw that the young man’s martial arts skills in free form, sword, bo (staff), and other weapons were all at high levels. As he became amazed, he also became jealous and angry. So he provoked the young man into fighting with him. The young man was in the middle of practice and wondered how come someone would insult him so recklessly. But he went up to the challenge. They fought for rounds. After many rounds, the martial artist could not gain any advantage, so he became angry and used even more deadly force and moves. Suddenly, there was blood all over the floor, and the young man was on the ground. Before the young man died, he said, “My father will avenge me…” The martial artist asked, “Who is your father?” When the young man said the name of his father, the martial artist was shocked, because it is his name. He had just killed his own son.

From the above story, we have learned of the danger of arrogance of which Master Chen Xin warned us. The arrogance of hands without self-control can cause problems to self, family, or even to society. Therefore, I believe it is very important to emphasize self-control. All martial artists should cultivate integrity of the hands and heart to a high level.

VII. Cultivation of the Heart and Mind

There are many Chinese sayings about the cultivation of the heart. “If speech and action is the same, the wish of the heart will come true.” “When the heart and the mouth are different, then the mind is absent.” These sayings describe the nature of the heart. In Chinese, there is a saying: “It takes ten years to grow a seed into a tall tree, but the tall tree will shelter people for a hundred years.” Being a martial artist, I have found that it is not easy to find a disciple to accept the art. The Buddha talks of Nirvana. Mencius speaks of “Knowing the heart, knowing the personality, then you know fate and destiny.” Tai Chi is not just a movement of the limbs. It is really a cultivation of the heart. Of course the physical aspect is important, but if there is not a cultivation of the heart, the practitioner cannot grow into a strong-minded and strong-willed person who perseveres through hardships and possesses a strong and fit body.

Master Feng Zhiqiang said that practicing Tai Chi is a comprehensive cultivation beginning with the heart. The 16th generation master Chen Xin said, “If the heart is not cultivated, how can one be accomplished in martial arts?” A Zen master has also said, “The nature is empty, and emptiness is boundless. When the true heart illuminates clearly, it is Tai Chi.” After practice, one can discriminate right from wrong, then one can improve in one’s physical practices. To practice the heart, one should begin with emptiness and stillness. The heart becomes the master of the body. When the heart is still, the whole body is still. When the heart is empty, the whole body will be empty. When the body and the heart is still, then the spirit can be still, and the Qi will all be at proper places with no thought. One will be in nothingness. The inside and the outside will become one empty soul. The central Qi is at the abdominal Qi point. Movement causes yang. Stillness causes yin. One yin and one yang both have their roots, and the two mix and give rise to four faces. Four faces give rise to eight directions [Editor’s note: The eight directions correspond to the eight Trigrams of the Tai Chi Symbol or Bagua, the basic symbols of Eastern philosophy]. The yin and yang give rise to everything in the world.

Only when the heart and the mind are cultivated can one nurture both the body and soul. Through cultivation of the heart, one can develop an aura of righteousness, and not fall into evil or negative thoughts. Let me tell you of a story of the importance of the cultivation of the heart.

A long time ago, there was a martial arts master. He took in a disciple, who only cared about the physical aspect of the martial arts, but not the cultivation of mind or heart. In learning the movements he was always sincere, but he was always suspicious that his master was not teaching him everything. On the surface he was very respectful to the teacher, but deep inside, he was plotting to one day attack the teacher in the dark to force his master to show the secret move. The master was very kind. He already knew the disciple’s intentions, but he kept on trying to enlighten him and educate him. He said to the disciple, “Any move, once practiced thoroughly, can become the ultimate move. In any fight, if you win by a practiced move, that move is the ultimate move. You have to keep practicing that move over and over again.” But the disciple could not accept that. The master was getting older and older by the day, and he saw that his disciple had not changed his heart. So he told his disciple that he had to visit a friend. The master went to his younger brother, who was also a martial artist, and told his brother the situation. The master said, “If one day my disciple comes to you, please find a way to put him back onto the virtuous path, so as not to waste the time I taught him. By the time he comes to see you, I will probably be gone.” On the next day, the master returned. One night, the master was walking outside, suddenly he was hit and he fell onto the ground. He had major internal damage and was going to die. He told his disciple, “I cannot teach you anymore. You go find my martial arts brother and he will teach you.” After he said that, he died. The disciple left and went to look for the master’s brother. When he found him, the brother asked, “What happened to your master?” The disciple said, “I want to learn from you. He… he is …. dead.” The master’s brother knew what happened, but kept silent. The next day he invited the disciple to visit the master’s grave with him. The disciple, wanting to learn, went along. At the grave, the master’s brother found out the truth. He took back all the teachings his brother had given to this ungrateful disciple.

When we learn martial arts, we have to remember this story. The heart has to be sincere. Our outside and inside should be the same. We need to respect our teachers and know right from wrong. We should not have evil thoughts or do anything to damage or disrespect our teachers and predecessors. We should be respectful of everyone, to show the proud tradition of Tai Chi.

VIII. The Virtue of Humility

Humility and honesty are also pivotal virtues in learning Chen Style Tai Chi. The 16th generation master Chen Xin has said, “One cannot be arrogant when learning Taiji. Arrogance brings damage. There will always be people better than you. It is best to be humble when learning and others will help you.” One must be humble when learning martial arts (or anything else for that matter ) One should not be arrogant or aggressive. If someone is better than us, we should show respect and learn from them, in the hope of improving ourselves. If someone is not as good as us, we should still be humble and treat them with respect and not belittle them. The 17th generation master Chen Fake taught Taiji in Beijing his whole life. He had many students and friends. His martial arts skill was accomplished and respected. However, when he sparred with others, especially masters of other martial arts, he always stopped at the appropriate place, so as not to embarrass them in front of everyone. Everyone that sparred with him respected him and praised him in their hearts. He is a role model of a Tai Chi martial artist for us all.

When I was small, my father’s friend was a professional story-teller, and I remember this story about humility that he told.

There was this martial artist namedTong who was accomplished in the martial art of the Eight-Directions. He was praised at a martial arts convention by all, that “His wonder shakes the eight directions. He is the true righteous martial arts master.” Afterwards, some who were not at the convention did not believe Tong deserved the praise. One of them was the accomplished and renowned martial artist Yu.

One day, as Tong traveled into a village, he saw an old ,jaundiced, weak, and skinny beggar. Tong felt sorry for the old man and went to a food cafeteria and bought him a bowl of rice. The old beggar wantonly sucked in the rice, but suddenly, choked and spit out a whole bowl of rice into Tong’s face. Tong did not say a thing, but went to the cafeteria again to get another bowl of rice. The old beggar again swallowed the rice, but choked, and spit all the rice into Tong’s face. Tong again did not say anything but went to get a third bowl of rice. It was only then that the old beggar’s face suddenly turned red and glowed, and he jumped up, holding onto Tong, and said, “I am the renowned marital artist Yu. I heard you have great humility and I came to test you to see if it was true. Now, not only do I believe you deserve to be named as shaking the eight directions with your wonder, I will not have any second thoughts if others say that your wonder shakes the eight directions.”

From the story above, we can see the importance of the virtue of humility. If one maintains humbleness and humility, one can truly learn Tai Chi to the highest point. Only with this humility can you gain respect from others, even enemies.

Arrogance, superficiality, and dishonesty are the biggest enemies to improvement. It is the shadow leading to failure. In Buddhism, one speaks of emptiness. If one is arrogant, one is full. No matter what the master says, the student is not going to be empty to absorb any new teachings, and there will not be any improvement. Arrogance is like a cup already full of water. No matter how one tries to pour water into it, one cannot put anything more in. Therefore, it is said that arrogant people always lose out in the long run. Humble students will catch up with time. Therefore, to learn Tai Chi, one should always be humble, as if every lesson is the first lesson. Even master Chen Zhaokui has said, “As long as one is humble and careful to learn, knowledge is everywhere.” This is especially true in the Oriental treasure of Tai Chi.

IX. The Virtue of Peaceful Patience

The Virtues of Peace and Patience are also vital in learning Tai Chi. These virtues apply to one’s relationship to the teacher, to oneself, and to one’s parents. Almost all successful people embrace these virtues. They persevere with peace and patience in their endeavors. A lot of accomplished martial arts masters also do the same.

Master Chen Zhaokui has said, “Learning without practice disappoints the teacher’s hope for the student.” If after learning from the teacher, one does not practice with diligence, or one does not practice each movement to make it habitual, one will fail to learn the essence as well as forget the movements learned previously. It will also affect the classmates in the same class. If one does not practice, it is very difficult to improve and disappoints the teacher and the parents. It is also disrespectful to oneself.

With advances in technology, some people are affected by what they see in the movies. They do not know that those are special effects from cinematic technologies, so they become obsessed by them. They are also obsessed with the erroneous concept that one can improve one’s martial art skill with some kind of instant method. They think they can become martial arts masters in a few months, and that they can learn amazing martial skills in a short period. So they look for masters who claim to be able to teach that, and after a few months, they become disappointed. In order to fulfill their desires, they look for other teachers. They then perpetuate leaving a master and looking for another one who can transmit martial arts skills instantly. In this situation, they are easily cheated of time and money by liars in the martial art business world.

Some young students are sent by their parents to learn martial arts. The parents hoped to enable their children to be healthy, to be strong, to have the righteous aura of a respected martial artist, to have high aspirations, and to develop good martial art skills. However, these young people are very spoiled. They do not lack material things. But they are not diligent or sincere. When their parents are there, they practice. When they parents are not there, they slack off. They are, in fact, disrespectful of their parents and the art.

Chen Style Tai Chi has a philosophy that, “Once a movement is practiced ten thousand times, the essence will manifest.” Master Chen Zhaokui has also said, “If one cannot bear hardships, one cannot enter this door of martial arts.” When Master Chen Zhaokui was young, he practiced the moves twenty times a day. Also, when he was a bus ticket salesperson on a bus, he maintained his practice by lowering his stance. Tai Chi Master Yang Luchan (1799-1872) practiced even in his sleep. Therefore, when one admires a master’s skills, one has to be mindful of the sweat behind the success.

In the past, one master was very strict. He had three rules before he accepted a disciple. 1) He would not take in students who were not serious, so that they did not waste his time and depart in the middle of training. 2) He would not take in people with a bad temper, to prevent problems once they became accomplished for fear they would become social problems. 3) He would not take in slow and unintelligent learners, so he would not waste his time, or disgrace the school’s reputation.

In view of this strict master, we should cherish and value the art, and practice diligently, to honor our teachers and parents, and to respect ourselves.

There is no short path for martial arts. Master Chen Xin has said, “To enter one needs oral transmission, but improvement of kung-fu needs practice.” One should always practice diligently. There is a saying in the martial arts world: “There are thousands and millions of people practicing, but only one or two will become accomplished.” This saying tells us that, if we want to be close to success, it depends on our own hard work, so as not to disappoint our teachers. Thus the saying, “Practice without guidelines creates martial art illnesses, and learning without practice disappoints the teacher”.

Therefore, I hope all of you will respect your teachers, and practice with patience and hard-work. If you do not understand, ask the teacher. Practice will take a long time. Life is limited. Tai Chi is a profound knowledge. If one wants to learn, one has to be serious and be firm in his resolve, and practice without end to improve.

X. The Virtue of Social Awareness and Responsibility

I believe social awareness and citizenship is also a vital part of a martial artist. The link between a martial artist and the public is inseparable. Being a martial artist is like riding a boat in the water. The boat can float or sink. Therefore, a martial artist should have good public relations. One should know the importance of social responsibility and good citizenship, abide by the laws, and always be ready to help. These all will boost the image of a martial artist in the eye of the public.

Some people say that, “A good martial art virtue and good martial art manner is the most precious treasure of martial art.” I think this saying is very true. In order to perpetuate the martial art lineage, to benefit society and the public, the first thing is to show the world this precious treasure of martial art — the virtues and ethics of martial artists. This treasure should bear fruit in all martial art practitioners. This is very important for every martial artist.

In past history and in the present martial arts world, there are always bad practitioners that smear the name and reputation of martial arts. These people should be ostracized and denounced. They not only hurt themselves, they hurt others and society also.

The reason that Chen Style Tai Chi has stood the test of time and is loved by so many, is that every lineage master not only accepted the virtues and ethics of martial arts, but also abided by their social responsibility and good citizenship. They helped the elderly and protected the young, and they performed righteous deeds, upholding martial arts virtues and ethics.

Here, I ask all students and members to abide by the laws of society, and I ask all of you to abide by the morals and ethics presented in this paper, and to uphold yourself to the highest of expectations.

Written by

Cheng Jincai

March 24th, 2003