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Conversation with He Jing-Han, on 1/7/01.

The Chinese martial arts are not for creating fighters but for training human ability (human potential) in the abstract. Actually the character wu is inaccurately translated as “martial.” The word “martial” in English has to do with war, but the word “wu” in Chinese is one part of the wen/wu dichotomy. This wu means the basic ability of the person. Then wen is the biaoxian, the “demonstration” of this basic ability.

M: Does wu have to do with the body and wen have to do with the mind?

H: No.

The general, the leader must have both. In the old time the training would begin with wu first, how to cultivate the body, how to jump, etc. But this wu training also included training of the xin, yi and shen.

Here is the split between modern times and old times. Today people do not begin by training this [general] ability, they instead learn skills first, specific techniques. Because the ability is not developed, they have nothing “in here” [patting chest]. A person trained in this way is controlled by the skill, they have no ability to go up to a higher level. For example, nowadays a kid is trained to paint. He can paint very well but he is weak in his body/mind [xin], so he can never be a great painter, he is too weak “in here” [patting chest]. In the old days, people were trained to be a great person first and then to be a great painter. Confucius, Laozi, Mengzi, they all followed this way. They were well educated, well developed.

Everybody can fight. The question is “what for” do you want to be a martial artist? Everything in life has a purpose. What is this purpose? The purpose is to make people live good. So the question is” “Will you live better if you are a fighter?”

If you are a fighter you will have enemies, you won’t have peace of mind, you won’t have good relations with others.

Everything in the world we create to make life better. In times of war, when there was the threat of bandits, then the purpose of martial arts was in the promise of a safe life. The purpose was not just to beat people, but to make one’s self have a better life.

The question is: “What can martial arts give us to have a better life?”

In America’s old west, people like John Wayne settled their problems with guns. But when law came to the west, then a good shooter was a dead man [i.e. taken out by the higher power of organized law enforcement]. It is the same thing now, so why do you want to learn to be a fighter? If we have a war, OK. [But now….?]

If you follow the training, you will know how to fight. You will know how to use your body well [in general].

These martial arts forms, they are a presentation of your ability. If you can open your body, then you have power.

Look at how the nobility of old would train their inheritance. They train their kids in this way [wu as ‘general ability’ first, then wen] to make sure they can keep the kingdom safe. They would only train their servants – their soldiers – to be a fighter. Even the army has the difference between a general and a soldier, why is there this difference?

J: But what about the idea that training to face the reality of violence is necessary to be any kind of a good person. The best general is the one who understands the reality of war through experience. It is also said that it is necessary to be able to fight in order not to have to fight. For example, they say dogs can smell fear, so the only way to not fight with a dog is to have confidence that one can beat him.

H: Violence. This is one way to face the situation. But it is not the wisest way. It is not the best way. For example, should we [in Taiwan] have a war with Mainland China? [NO!].

Most situations can be settled before they come to violence. Training wu is about training the quality of a person. A person can have confidence and courage, can control himself well, be calm and peaceful … that is what the person can use to deal with a barking dog.

J: Where can I find written discussions of the meaning of wu?

H: The meaning of wu is discussed in the Ming Dynasty text Wen Wu Lun. The most popular text is the articule Liu Hou Lun, which can be found in the [contemporary] book Guwen Guangzhi. Also you can read anything by Mozi. Every disciple of Mozi learned martial arts. Sunzi also has it.

Unfortunately, history doesn’t mention training. They are interested in what people have done, but not so interested in how they could do it. But in history we find people who in peacetime they were workers, salesmen, “little potatoes.” But in wartime they became great generals. Why could they do this? Because they have that kind of training. When you have that kind of training, no matter what you are, if you are a butcher for example, then you are the best one.

J: Is there any way to know if you are on this path or if you are not on this path?

H: If you reach the point, then you will know.

The difference is in the teacher, in what direction does the teacher lead the student to. A teacher can lead the student to a tree. If they are a carpenter, they can show the student how the tree can make a good house. If they are a painter, they can show the student how to see the tree as a painter …

The whole thing is there in the Chinese martial arts. I feel it is very sad that people now will use them in the wrong way, in the low-level way.

You can see in the biography of the general in time of the war with Japan, from their childhood they were trained in the same way as nobility. In ancient Greece too, from 10-12 years old there is the same thing, training the kids in running, how to throw a spear. Train the body first. Only when the Christians come in do they start to train the wen first.

When people are trained in wu, then the quality of those people changes. A cultivated person cannot easily be controlled. So there is no regime that likes the wu training.

When we train martial arts, we are concerned with how the movement influences me, not with how the movement influences the enemy. If you open yourself, you have the power.

J: But sometimes it is just a technical matter of fighting, and I want to learn to fight now. Life is short …

H: No! Life is long. And continuous. It is such a precious thing. What it is that we want to train is that thing that can be more and more throughout the whole of your life. This is a wisdom. It is the same as how you use your body. So the masters can fight very well when they are old. Maybe they can’t fight when they are 30 ….

The problem is: “What is your goal?” For instance, consider a lady who joins the beauty contest. She wins the Miss America crown. Is she the most beautiful lady in America? No. She is the winner of 20-30 ladies, she is not the most beautiful lady in America. To enter the contest does not prove anything. If you want to get fame, or win some money, it is OK, but …

There are some kinds of knowledge/ability, they melt into your body. They become yours.

J: I have a friend who was in the army, and he is a very good fighter. He can always beat me. But he thinks martial arts are just for fighting. How can I believe in the idea that martial arts are ‘bigger than’ fighting if someone who has mastered the ‘small’ art of fighting can always beat me?

H: To have that kind of ability, you have to become that kind of a person. If you are a lion (i.e. you can kill without concern), you can fight like a lion. And if you fight like a lion, you are a lion.

Did you see the movie Gladiator? He is a farmer first, then becomes a fighter. But he doesn’t lose himself. His quality is that of a general. The others, they are very easy to become a killer.

Some of the old teachers, they don’t have a very good old age. Maybe they are good fighters, but they don’t have good family relations, they don’t have good friends, they are isolated from society. They can’t trust people, they can’t have good relations with people, not even with their wife and kids. Remember, ONLY if you ARE a lion, you can fight as a lion. The hero of the movie Gladiator, he has a kindness in fighting. He won’t become a real lion. He fights with his wisdom, with his brain. He fights not as a lion but as a wise person.

So we are very careful about what we do. Because what you do will change your quality. If you sell drugs, then you will become that kind of a person. Now there are many girl students at university who earn money with sex. They think they will just do it for a little while then stop. They are wrong. Even if you can quit the job, the habit is into you. You become that kind of person. The behavior will change you. You join the context.

If you don’t have the intention to injure & kill, then you won’t win. The most important thing is intention, not skill. If your opponent has the intention to kill, then they will win.

As society has changed, the intention of the criminals has changed too. Before the police could arrest a thief just with simple techniques. Now the thief will have the intention to kill the police officer.

My teacher always told me, martial arts is not for beating people. Why? Because their intention is so important. You can learn the same thing, the same movement, but the intention will change everything. The intention will change your movement, it will change your quality, it will change your mind.

To give a punch with the intention to adjust yourself, this is one thing. To give a punch with the intention to hit a person, this is not the same thing. It only looks the same.

In a good training, a training for a disciple [as opposed to training for a servant/soldier], the intention to fight is wrong. Only if the training is for a fighter is this intention right. It all depends on what you want to do. The intention is key.

Intention to eat triggers the lion to kill. How he kills is not important. If you have the intention, you can fight. But the question is: “Do you want to be that kind of a person?”

A well trained soldier who has never been to war, they are never a good soldier in the first battle. But they will be in the second and third battle. Why? Because he has seen people die, so now he has the intention to kill (in order to protect himself).

They have the same gun, the same ability, so what makes a soldier lose or win? To be a fighter, to be a killer, the very first thing is to despise the other’s life. The army will teach you that the enemy is not the same as you.

J: But in submission fighting, two people can both have the same intention to beat each other, and yet only one of them will win. Doesn’t this show that some part of fighting is purely a matter of technique and skill?

H: Martial arts is a way to deal with a situation. Did you see the movie Home Alone? This is the solution. Violence is always the lower ability. To beat children is one way to train them, but we all know it is not the good way. A good martial artist can use the other way to cease the fight. This is why these martial arts were developed, the purpose is not to injure other people.