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Ottawa Chinese Martial Arts
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China, with thousands of years of history, has developed three main schools of thought: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The martial arts, as manifestations of Chinese culture, contain elements from each of those philosophies. In theory, the three philosophies seek to provide guidance for living, but, in practice, individuals must ultimately find their own path. Depending on their temperament and experience, individuals who keep an open mind will gain important insights into the complex realities of life from each of these great philosophies. Each person must find their own answers based on the wisdom and teachings of the past.

This section focuses on:

    1. Comparision Between the Three Philosophies


Three Great Philosophies



Confucian tradition can be traced back to 550 B. C., when the Analects of Confucius was first published. In this book, Confucius wanted to provide a guide for social harmony through the understanding of appropriate social and ethical behaviour. This philosophy focuses on the concepts of the external action of li (ritual / convention / tradition) and the internal attitude of jen (humanity / benevolence / goodness). He advocated a a simple moral and political teaching: to love others; to honour one's parents; to do what is right instead of what is advantageous; to practice "reciprocity," i.e. "to not do to others what you would not want done to you"; to rule by moral example instead of by force and violence. Self-control became a key virtue promoted by his followers.

Some of the greatest philosophers followed the Confucian tradition. Mencius (371-289 BC) stressed the inherent goodness of man. Ch'eng I (1033-1107) and his brother Ch'eng Hao (1032-1085) explored the metaphysics of this system. Chu Shi (1130-1200) and Wang YUang-Ming (1472-1529) are some of the other great teachers of this school. Their influence can be found throughout Chinese society.


(Lao Tzu)

Taoist philosophy as exemplified by The Tao Te Ching can also be traced back to 518 BC. The author, Lao Tse, was searching for an end to the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. The result of his struggles was an alternative system of moral truths and social conduct that contradicts the prevailing thinking of the times. The major guiding principle for Taoism is to "take no action that is contrary to nature". The other important Taoist philosophers include Chuang-tzu who advocated the pursuit of emptiness or hsü - a timeless state free of worries or selfish desires. The practitioner should be open to new ideas, but transcend all individual material objects.

Other important influences of Taoism include the works of Chuang Tzu (399 and 295 BC). He advocated the goal of absolute emancipation and peace. This is accomplished by knowing the capacity and limitations of one's own nature, nourishing it, and adapting it through a "universal" Tao. In this process, selfishness of all description is abandoned. The student is free from the cravings for fame and wealth, as well as from biases and even subjectivity. These ideas have had a profound influence on Buddhist thoughts.

There are also many different facets to Taoist thought. For example, Yang Chu (440-360 BC) promoted the idea of inaction rather than detachment as the goal in the practice of the Tao. He suggested that

"Men of great antiquity knew that life meant to be temporary present and death meant to be temporarily away. There they acted as they pleased and did not turn away from what they naturally desired."

Other views are more moderate. For example, the neo-Taoists represented by Kuo Hsiang (312) and Wang Pi (226-249) advocated that the sage must rise above all distinctions and contradictions. The practitioner remains in the midst of human affairs although he accomplishes things by taking no unnatural action.



Cuddhism was first introduced into China in 2 BC and reached its zenith by 460 with the founding of the Zen (Chan) school of sudden enlightenment by Bodhidharma (460-534). Buddhists are concerned with personal salvation rather than the affairs of society. Through constant practice, Buddhists seek to break the cycle of suffering by eliminating desire.

Buddhism arrived in China from India around 2 BC. It went through some changes as it was mixed with popular religious beliefs and practices, but still followed the Indian tradition. By 200, schools of Buddhism were essentially Chinese and no longer related to the Indian perspective. The Chinese posed relevant questions and sought answers only through an interpretation of the Indian scriptures.


Comparisions Between the Three Philosophies

Che three philosophies can be compared and contrasted in their approach to solving various problems of life. For example:

"What is humanity?"

Confucius :
"Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity (Jen)?"
Lao Tzu :
"When the great Tao declined,The doctrines of humanity (jen) and righteousness (i) arose."
Zen :
""… in regard to dharmas no thought is attached to anything, that is freedom."

"What is Virtue?"

Confucius :
"whether in counseling others I have not been loyal: whether in intercourse with my friends I have not been faithful; and whether I have not repeated again and again and practiced the instructions of my teacher."
Lao Tzu :
"Can you understand all and penetrate all within taking any action? To produce things and to rear them, To produce but not to take possession of them,To act but not to rely on one's own ability, To lead them but not to master them."
Zen :
"our nature is originally pure. All dharmas lie in this self-nature. If we think of all kinds of evil deeds, we will practice evil. If we think of all kinds of good deeds, we will do good. Thus we know that all dharmas lie in one's self-nature. Self-nature is always pure."

"What is the Tao?"

Confucius :
"A superior man in dealing with the world is not for anything or against anything. He follows righteousness as the standard."
Lao Tzu :
"The best (man) is like water,Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them … it is because he does not compete that he is without reproach."
Zen :

"All one has to do is to do nothing … The stupid will laugh at him, but the wise one will understand … One who makes effort externally is a fool."



Contributions to the Martial Arts

The contributions of each philosophy to the martial arts can be compared. There are also distinctive styles that are attributed directly to a particular philosophy.

Confucius :
  • Respect for you teacher
  • Focus on education
  • Be righteous and protect the country (Jen Chung Boa Kuo)
  • Influence on most styles

Taoism :

  • Do not react with force
  • Be natural
  • Importance of change
  • Strong influence on Taichi, Bagua and other Wudang styles

Buddhism :

  • Life is sacred
  • Discipline of the mind
  • Meditation
  • Strong influence on Shaolin, Fut Gar, Hung Gar and most other Buddhist styles

Chinese philosophy represents a source of strength and inspiration for the martial arts. It provides a firm foundation for building a philosophical and spiritual component in the study of kung fu.



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Last update: 12/13/2003