On moral and martial virtue

Right then, back to the nominal topics of this blog.

It’s Monday night and I have a long list of things that I should be doing, but frankly I’m too tired. For the first time in ages, instead, I sat for a session of vipassana: not too successfully, I fear – the monkey mind is very strong at the moment! Never mind, keep going…

This weekend there was a change in the air; everyone could taste the Spring coming. Last Thursday morning, I left for work before dawn; before getting into the car, I took a moment to stand silent, listening to the birdsong build up. The air was very still and full of qi; it made me clap my hands and shout HA for the joy of breathing. As I had a bit of a time margin before I needed to be in the office, I stopped the car as I drove over the moorland towards the city limits, and parked on the side of the road. I’ve often meant to do this, but never actually did it. On this occasion, there was a heavy mist, fragrant with the smell of brine from the nearby sea. In the pre-dawn gloom there was nothing of the views that are there on clear days, but the sense of stillness and space was calming. Soon, it’ll be the end of winter; time for me to buy some hill-walking boots!

Since I last blogged about martial arts, Earle Montaigue has passed on. I gave my condolences to Eli, but of course I don’t know him well, and I never had the chance to meet Earle. I’m saddened by that. I suppose the best anecdote I can give is that I bought a copy of his dim mak book in Singapore. When I moved to Beijing, I lent it to a Shaolin-trained martial artist who was studying dian xue of the Yang taiji style; his comment was that “it wasn’t the real thing”… but he never gave it back, despite being asked!

The last couple of weeks have been super-busy at work, combined with more than a little insomnia. I’ve made it to Eli’s classes; bagua followed by taiji. I’m really getting into this. It’s great to study the two together, which is something I’ve never done before, and I’m really getting my bagua vibe back! Plus it is just great to finally have an English-speaking teacher. I’m getting very excited about neijia again πŸ™‚

On the other hand, I’ve missed the last two systema classes; I’ve been too tired, and basically didn’t trust myself to drive there and back without falling asleep at the wheel (oh, and I needed to work late at the office…). I should be able to make it this week though. There’s also an all-day seminar coming up at the end of this month; I plan to go to that, so I’ll finally get to meet Mark in person!

As for the title of this post… Having had a great time in the last class with Eli, I asked him whether he’d ever seen wulin zhi. It turns out that he hasn’t, so I’ll lend him my copy when I go tomorrow. That has motivated me to watch it again myself; it’s playing as I type (the famous scene with the pole circle is on right now!). As always, I love it – and yet, I feel saddened.

Those of you who know me IRL know why I left Asia, and I still think I did the right thing. And yet… and yet… I keep on being reminded why I originally quit Wales, and why I didn’t think I would return – until suddenly I had to. Hardly anyone has asked me what my life was like in Singapore and China; what I valued, and what I did with my time, or who I knew and why I valued them. It seems to be assumed that it was just a phase, and now I’ve returned to ‘normal’ life.

Not so, though. As I sit here watching wulin zhi, I’m reminded of how much I have internalized the values of wu de. To quote from that link, wu de stands for:

  • Ren: benvolence and mutual love
  • Yi: righteousness, justice, judging with the heart, having friendly feelings
  • Li: respect, rules of conduct, politeness
  • Zhi: knowledge, reason, education and learing
  • Xin: trust, sincerity and openness, to truly believe in something, and also to keep one’s promises, be stable and engaged in things
  • Yong: courage and braveness

I think of some of my teachers, especially of the older generation: Yao Cheng Rong, Zhou Yue Wen, Sun Ru Xian… These are men; men to be admired, men to be respected, men to be emulated. It’s important to me that though I never approached anything like their level, I was at least taken seriously. I find none to match them here; indeed, even today, I found some of the values that they and I hold were mocked by a colleague. Don’t get me wrong; there are other values. In my home town, I more and more feel a part of the community; it’s no small thing to be greeted from all directions by people old and young, from all walks of life, when you walk into a pub. But, and but… when the darkness falls here, Asia calls me.

I won’t be getting on a plane anytime soon, unless it’s for a holiday. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to be reminded of wu de, and that the values of the jianghu, the values of wulin are more virtuous, and more admirable, than those of the little people I sometimes have to deal with here.


  1. Well, wulin zhi has now finished… With my longing for Beijing, and recent thoughts about Egypt and hence Tiananmen 1989, there’s only one film to watch now: Yiheyuan (aka Une jeunesse chinoise). This was released in Singapore at the same time as the better-known Lust, Caution<, which was a source of disagreement between myself and my German friend, P. I preferred the verisimilitude of the former; she preferred the stylized eroticism of the latter. Hey ho. I think I need to go to Amazon, to order a copy of Bodyguards and Assassins in order to get back to the wu de πŸ™‚


    1. Hi Niti! Didn’t realize you read this πŸ™‚ I was thinking about you just the other day…. I never seem to see on Skype any more! We definitely do need to catch up…


  2. Hi Emlyn,

    I can say that Master Zhou does embody the virtues you mentioned. Very patient in correcting my movements and teaching with humour even though his standard is way up there and some of my movements must look really odd to him. πŸ™‚


    1. Hmmm… Those look very interesting! Do you use them yourself? In any case, I don’t see myself getting out onto the hills until the weather is rather warmer and dryer, in which case I’ll test out my Vibram Five Fingers…


  3. Emlyn, I was wondering if you still practice any Yiquan in your spare time? You seemed to really enjoy your time at the Yiquan Academy.


    1. Hi Prince, at the moment the best I’m doing is basic standing, and not much of that. I’m trying to reorganize my time to do more, though. My office has no curtains and is overlooked, so I haven’t been able to use that. Last Friday, though, I hung up Singaporean and Chinese flags to act as curtains, so from now on I can stand in my lunch break without having people staring in at me!


  4. Vivobarefoot is the only type of shoe I ever wear! It took a while for me to fully adapt my gait, and now I wear them every day. But if you’ve been wearing VFF for a while then you’ve probably already got the hang of it. I don’t have that exact pair cos I prefer no ankle support – I have 5 other pairs instead. I like the idea of VFF but they don’t match my feet so I can’t wear them. But the major advantage with Vivobarefoot is that they look normal so they can be worn in almost any situation without incurring disapproval from the unenlightened. I’m currently working on running in my Vivos.


  5. Also, in December I went to New Zealand and did 3 days of trekking in my Vivos, 4-6 hrs each day, over terrain that was pretty sharp (moraine-type broken rock) and fairly (not very) steep, carrying a small 8kg rucksack. It was perfectly fine. Maybe if I did 8 days in a row I’d need a couple of days off before doing the next 8, but for the 3 days it was no problem.


  6. Hi Emlyn,

    Yup will do that. I am currently learning the Ba Gua (short) pole form.

    Having a tough but fun time memorising all the different movements and directions πŸ™‚


    1. Thanks Kim – I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to watch them, but I will ASAP…


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