Von Caroline Roblitschka

„Martial Arts in a Cultural Perspective: China and the West – And how to enhance the Popularization of Wushu in the Western World“. With the following summarized results of the doctoral research of Caroline Roblitschka, we will just give some food for thought to discuss Wushu among Wushu practitioners all over the world.

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Subject of the research

First, to talk about Martial Arts and their diversity we have to try to expose the different developments of Chinese and Western martial arts from an anthropological point of view and from the perspective of a comparison between the Chinese and the Western cultures.

Second, we have to try to seize on important aspects that have to be considered to enhance the popularization of Chinese Wushu in the West. The discussion of this subject is mainly based on the result of an extensive survey among Westerners (mostly Europeans) – practitioners and non-practitioners of Wushu.

Main results of the research

  1. The difference of Chinese and Western cultures is originated in their different natural geographic environment, in their different social structures, and finally in their different evolutionary process and historical course.
  2. These different cultural atmospheres not only took influence on shaping diverse kinds of living and fairly unlike modes of thinking, but also resulted in different developments of Chinese and Western martial arts.
  3. The survey shows that for the popularization of Wushu in the West, we should not stress the contrast of traditional and modern Wushu but have to make an effort to emphasize the harmonious unity of Wushu culture and technical skills.

Different geographic settings

Different geographic settings in combination with the historical and cultural backgrounds played important roles for the further development of The Martial Arts in China and Europe.

The natural geographic setting of ancient China provided good preconditions for farming, leading to the creation of a so called “agricultural culture” that is characterized by a harmonious unity of man and nature and, of course, also took influence on shaping Chinese peoples’ beings and their mode of thinking. These factors in combination with the historical continuity and the cultural background played important roles for the further development of Chinese martial arts, and led to the phenomenon that pure and brutal fighting techniques were gradually transformed to a folk-like martial art with systematized Wushu routines. On the other hand, the natural geographic environment in ancient Greece supported a “trading or maritime culture” which seeks for mobility, progress and expansion.

Different modes of thinking

The differences in the Chinese and Western modes of thinking may be summed up as the Chinese introversive, integrative and Western extroversive, analytical mode of thinking. Whereas the core of the former is “self-reflection,” the key to the latter is objective thinking.

Wushu_cultural_02The differences in the Chinese and Western modes of thinking may be summed up as the Chinese introversive, integrative and Western extroversive, analytical mode of thinking. Whereas the core of the former is “self-reflection,” the key to the latter is objective thinking.

In introversive holistic thinking, Wushu is not only regarded as a technique for attack and defense with the aim to win or kill, or as a means of strengthening the body, but more so as a practice of human morality, a perfection of inner personality, appreciating the art of cultivating morality in the sense of “Dao”. Extroversive and analytical thinking on the other hand, focuses on logic and analysis. It regards fighting skills simply as a means or instrument to overcome others, and it lays emphasis on the “warrior” and upholds the philosophy of the fittest, of conquering the adversary, seeking excitement and pursuing material gain.

The different Chinese and Western modes of thinking, seen under the aspect of philosophy, ethics, esthetics and the perception of the body, thus influenced and formed the requirements for the different developments of martial arts in China and in the West.

Different Philosophical Ideas

The Western dialectical thinking is reflected in Western fighting methods.

In the center of classic philosophical investigation in Europe, are the world’s reality and other questions of verification, as well as simple facts. So, one of its important philosophical standpoints is skepticism. Further, due to the revolutionary character of philosophical thinking in Western culture the relation between nature and human beings emphasizes the conquest of nature, and in the relation among human beings themselves it affirms competition and striving for survival. And also the Western dialectical thinking is reflected in Western fighting methods. Even though esthetic traits can also be found in Western fighting techniques, however they have not been studied in the domain of esthetics like in China, and the esthetic traits of martial arts in the West have only very seldom been regarded under the aspect of attracting spectators.

Chinese philosophy persists in the concept of harmony between heaven and man as a harmonious whole which is reflected in Chinese Martial Arts. And the concept of respecting tradition in terms of conservation and continuity forms the preconditions for the accumulation and conformation of Wushu culture.

Chinese philosophy builds on the principles of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements and the Eight Trigrams (bagua) to explain the course and functioning of the world. It persists in the concept of harmony between heaven and man and the philosophical standpoint of a harmonious whole. The concept of respecting tradition is related to thinking in terms of conservation and continuity. Consequently, it forms the preconditions for the accumulation and conformation of Wushu culture. Moreover, the Chinese traditional esthetics is rooted in the thinking of „the harmony between nature and man” and “the blending of emotion and scenery”. The dominant functions of display and judgment of art lie in an understanding through feelings and an intuitive, (in the western sense) non-logical experience.

Different Perception of Body and Self

Chinese Wushu pursues a combination of both, the body and the spirit, to achieve harmony between inside and outside. The traditional Chinese concept of „Wude“ is in mutual accordance with the Confucian ethics and morality, seeking for continuity and for the passing on of the self.

The difference between Chinese and Western perception of the body lies in the fact that in Western art, the nude body represents an ideal “form” (eidos) and expresses a kind of “beauty of static”. In Chinese traditional thinking however, the requirements of “form” may be described as a kind of “beauty of motions”. In consistence with traditional Western esthetics, people in the West first consider that in sport movements the human body form is the most important, most fundamental, most immediate and most noticable esthetic feature. What people mainly stress in the esthetic of Western martial arts is the physical appearance of the fighter that ought to be sturdy, healthy, clear in his movements, as well as strong and effective. In regard to the forms of physical expressions, traditional Chinese art does not attach much importance to anatomic features; instead it recognizes the energy, intentions and spirituality of the movement’s expression and its techniques.

Chinese Wushu pursues a combination of both, the body and the spirit, to achieve harmony between inside and outside, between e.g. firmness represented in Yang and softness represented in Yin etc., and a realm of rhythmic artistic conception. The traditional Chinese concept of „Wude“ (the morals of fighting) is in mutual accordance with the Confucian ethics and morality, seeking for continuity and for the passing on of the self.

From the traditional point of view people in the West emphasize the individual ego, they pursue freedom and individual power. As far as the passing on of those fighting techniques is concerned, it is mainly about learning how to attack and defeat somebody. Consequently there is neither need to seek for a dynamic and unpredictable combat body from the ancestors, nor is for technical patterns or routines that also benefit a healthy strong body and mind.

The Popularization of Wushu in the West

As for the popularization of Wushu the teaching of techniques is just one fundamental content, but at the same time we also have to attach great importance to transmitting the Wushu culture.

Although in the popularization of Chinese Wushu in the West considerable accomplishments have been made in the sense of public interest and attention, however with regard to the direction of the development of Wushu in the West, one should not neglect the Western apperception and their values of Wushu, as well as the confusion and worry about the status of teaching resources. The key to deepening the international popularization of Wushu lies in making Western people understand the theories of Wushu’s traditional and innovative properties.

In order to fully understand Wushu culture, we should not consider it equal to usual sports activities. As for the popularization of Wushu the teaching of techniques is just one fundamental content, but at the same time we also have to attach great importance to transmitting the Wushu culture. One should make its manifold functions and values, including the complete spiritual meanings, available in a global context. Only thus, we can receive the real benefits of Wushu.