The Martial Arts of Wudang

The ancient Wudang Mountains, their contours softened by time, are the spiritual home of Chinese Daoism and of Daoist Martial Arts. Their natural beauty and majesty have made them a popular destination throughout Chinese history for people seeking solitude and space for reflection.

Daoist Meditation at White Horse Mountain Temple

Many who came to Wudang were the great and talented men of their age and, who left their mark and enriched Wudang's heritage through poetry, scholarship, medicine and martial arts, united together by the common theme of Daoist philosophy.

Wudang martial arts developed into a very distinct family of styles under its association with Daoism. They are characterised by emphasis on developing internal energy, flowing, graceful movements with sudden changes in speed and direction. They are considered by many to be the root of all the famous Chinese internal styles.

All of the Wudang masters Wushu Scholar met stressed the important link between Daoism and Wudang martial arts. After reaching a certain level, it is impossible to improve your technique without a deep appreciation and dedication to Daoist work, because you will not have the purity of mind necessary to improve your kung fu. Spirit, qi and shen are all key areas to develop for a martial artists, all of which come from Daoist work.

One of the great symbols of the link between Daoism and Wudang Quan is the importance of the straight sword (jian) in local martial practice. The sword is a sacred weapon to Daoists, used in rituals to defeat and exorcise evil spirits. Wudang sword patterns are often intricate and flowery and considered by many to be the pinnacle of swordplay in all of Chinese wushu. Traditionally when a student finished their training and 'leaves the mountain', their Master would give them a sword and to kill their 'soul devil' and cut away remaining links with the human world. The sword is seen as a symbol of a Daoist's detachment from the world and serves to remind adepts of their commitment.

Masters Du Xin De and Cai Xing Sheng with traditional weapons (Flute and Duster)

The stories of two masters we met in Wudang offered two different yet equally engaging pictures of Daoist practice today. Although following different paths, they both embody the spirit of Wudang Daoist martial arts.

Master Cai Xing Sheng is a scholar and teacher of Wudang Quan. As the Vice Chairman of the local Wudang Wushu Research Association, he has spent many years educating the public about the methods and mysteries of Wudang wushu (RELATED VIDEO: One Door Pattern).

Master Du has chosen the Daoist door. As the head priest of White Horse Mountain temple, the only other official Daoist temple in the area alongside Wudang Shan itself, he has dedicated his life to Daoism and the private pursuit of meditation and Wudang wushu (RELATED VIDEO: Wudang Internal Art).

Master Cai Xing Sheng posing against the background of Shiyan City

Master Du Xin De explained to us that although intimately linked, the combination of Daoist and martial practice is not always understood by the lay public. One of the main tenets of Daoism is non-violence - how can that sit alongside practice of martial arts? For Master Du, he feels that martial arts is part of the process of reaching deep understanding of the dao. The human body can not take prolonged meditation - a vital facet of Daoism. Martial practice provides the body with a way to recuperate from its tiredness after meditation. In parallel, as meditation provides insight into the rules governing Daoist life then you understand that you should not fight back if people fight you and should not respond when people criticize you. Struggle of any kind is contrary to Daoist philosophy, and yet martial arts, he believes, is a way to realise this idea of non-resistance.

Master Du Xin De and Master Cai Xing Sheng both in their own ways are trying to educate the wider world about the mysteries and treasures hidden away in the misty mountains of Wudang, among the pine trees, mountain orchids and darting humming birds. One of the greatest of these treasures is Wudang Quan, a Daoist path for a thinking martial artist.

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