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Confucius, martial arts & society

Confucius is a Chinese philosopher whom we have all heard about, but is a topic that is least understood and often derided. We associate Confucius with wise man sayings and scholars who seem to contribute little. This is far from the truth and throughout Chinese history, Confucian scholars and confucianism have contributed greated to the common good.

Confucius (551–479 BC) was born in a time when there were numerous schools of thought in a China that was not as it is now. Though it was the time of the Zhou Dynasty, the power was split across various regions whom were ruled by dukes, who later became kings of their respective regions.

Confucian text such as the Analects, the Doctrine of Mean and the Great Learning have been essential reading for centuries. Confucius taught people to be benevolent and through order, good governance of the state. There is an order to all things and we must observe duty and obligations. However this is not to say there is no sense of joy and happiness. Confucius did not see his work into fruition through his lifetime. However, his work lived on through his students and Confucianism became an integral factor in how Chinese governments were ran. The Legalist ways that were popular in the Qin Dynasty never really died. The Han Dynasty which followed adapted a similar method of government. With the government body being legalist in framework, but outwardly Confucian in nature. This was much the same for most dynasties. Many of the non-Chinese rulers who ruled some or all of China found that they did not have knowledge or ability to govern people during times of peace. So they hired Chinese scholars to enable them to rule. Confucianism was also influential in many parts of Asia with Korea and Japan being most obvious.

Confucianism also plays a role in martial arts too. During the time Confucius lived, it was common for the the educated and the elite to practice the arts. Confucius was said to be a good swordsman and was known to practise archery. Archery is considered a Chinese martial art, but it is not as common as it used to be. We often have a perception of what is and isn't a martial arts. However, just because Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan never did it, it doesn't mean it isn't a martial art.

Confucius and his students practiced what is known as the six arts.

1. Rites (禮) 2. Music (樂) 3. Archery (射) 4. Charioteering (御) 5. Calligraphy (書) 6. Mathematics (數)

Of these arts, charioting was the first and only art to have lost importance. Archery was then a gentlemen's art and is an essential skill on the battlefield. That is up to the end of the 19th Century. Archery is about refinement in mind, body and soul. Modern archery is a sport and relies on science and technical abilities. But Chinese archery is not unlike Japanese kyudo. Judgement is made on the personal aspect of the art.

On a wider level Confucism heavily influence martial arts and the need for arms. The order and hierarchical set up, that is common in the family is replicated in martial arts schools. The juniors respect the seniors and the seniors help the juniors develop. The master is the father figure (even if the role of master is female). The moral dimensions, the rites during bai shi (acceptance into the school) or any festivals are still influenced by Confucianism. A similar set up exists in Daoist and Buddhist martial arts schools. As I mentioned before, there are no pure Daoist or Buddhist schools and nor are there pure Confucian schools either. Confucism is heavily ingrained in Chinese culture, in that even if you asked a Chinese Christian on the topic, they probably cannot say if they are free of Confucian influences or admit it. Confucism we know today is not the Confucism from the great Sage's time. Over time, Confucism evolved from classic Confucism to Neo-Confucianism. Popular Confucian philosophy we know was developed by Mencius and Neo-Confucian thinkers such as Zhu-Xi and Wang Yang Ming.

In terms of Arms, the need for benevolence meant the people needed to be protected. Confucism produced not just scholars, but also warriors. The concept of the civil (文) and the martial (武) are not entirely separate. A country cannot served by scholars alone. And nor can it be without. Many scholars may be warriors and warriors maybe scholars. In pre-Republic China.

Men entered the civil service as either scholars or soldiers. For the latter, it is not enough to simply prove you can fight. You need intellect too (I will cover this in another blog article). When your borders are under threat, then you know where your priorities should be and no country was ever without such worries.

A good example of how successful Confucianism was to key to the stability of a country is found in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). The first Premier of Joseon was Jeong Dojeon (1342 – 1398), a Confucian scholar who was the architect of then reborn nation. A nation was ruled by laws and there were bodies that examined the actioned of other government bodies. So corruption and unfairness can be investigated. One of the policies Jeong enacted was abolishing private armies. At the time, Korea faced Japanese pirates along the South Coast and the threat of invasion from the North (Liaodong, now better known as Manchuria). There was never enough men to fight effectively and conscription was not popular. The rich had the armies which were well trained, but rarely saw action. The move was painful for those who now don't have their personal armies, but was good for the country as a whole. Jeong's policies aimed to make things fairer for all. However, he was killed by his student who later became Taejo, the third King of Joseon. Jeong wanted what is now known as a Constitutional monarchy (like in the UK), with the Royal family playing a reduced role in the running of the country. Taejo wanted an absolute monarchy. Jeong's legacy lasted the entire length of the Joseon Dynasty. How many dynasties lasted more than 500 year? Korea saw the decline of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty as well as the rise and fall of both the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Stability is key and whilst there were bad Kings, most did contribute positively. It hasn't always been peaceful either as the Joseon Dynasty experienced the first and second Japanese invasion and occupation. The latter ended the Joseon Dynasty and like China, modernisation came too little too late. You can't really blame Confucius for what happened. Failure in this case happened when personal greed blinds individuals. Why gamble on the lives of your people? Don't believe me? Look at Brexit.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog.

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