/ kung-fu

Creed of the Sinking Moon

Introduction

At the Sinking Moon School of Kung Fu, we teach Wu Chi Chu'an Kung Fu, but we also teach a certain amount of ethics and self-improvement. To this end, we've developed a creed that identifies what we believe and unifies us as being travelers along the same path:

As a student in the way of the Sinking Moon, I fight with my eyes open, strive for justice through peace and peace through justice, stand on mountains I did not create and climb towers I did not build, constantly seek enlightenment so I may conquer the darkness, sharpen fellow practicioners as iron sharpens iron, see crisis as an opportunity to better myself, test my mettle through fire but never lose hope, empty myself so that I may be filled, look beyond the obvious to see the interplay between chaos and order, seek self control because I realize that emotion is not the same as strength, allow my enemies to create my victories, face my fears for they are but shadows, and remember that I am, before all else, human.

Explanation

What does this mean? Some of what these words mean is left to the individual student to explain for themselves (think of it like a Zen Koan - the point of it is in meditating on what it means to you). What follows, however, is an explanation general enough for most students. Included in these explanations are also a series of motivational quotes relevant to the individual topic.

As a student in the way of the Sinking Moon

A student of life considers the world a classroom.
  ‐ Harvey Mackay

We are all students. Always. Regardless of how high of a rank you hold in the organization, you will always be a student. Note that this initial invocation doesn't say, "As a follower of the path of the Sinking Moon." Followers follow. Leaders lead. We don't necessarily train leaders at the Sinking Moon School of Kung Fu, but we also don't train those who blindly follow the will of another. Instead, we train those who can think for themselves, and analyze the data to find "true north" for themselves.

I fight with my eyes open

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  ‐ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This has a literal meaning: don't flinch when you're fighting. It also has a more internal meaning - go into situations with as much information as you can. Know that every choice you make has consequences. Accepting those consequences before you make the choice may lead you to a more correct choice.

It also means be observant of things around you. Pick up on the details that others miss, because being able to tell whether an opponent favors their right side or their left may someday save your life. However, you must also be observant of things on the inside. Know yourself - your strengths, your weaknesses, your past failures, your past successes, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, and your misgivings.

Strive for justice through peace and peace through justice

Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.
  ‐ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Justice is not the same as vengeance. In order to attain true justice, one must allow the system to do its work. Instead of being vigilanties and defining justice for ourselves, we should allow justice to progress without our personal interference.

Conversely, without justice, there will never be true peace, as there will always be conflict. If justice has been obstructed or corrupted by others, it is our duty as those who have cultivated strength to stand up for what we believe to be the true path.

Seeking internal peace is the forerunner to being able to achieve external peace. It should be the goal of all students to be able to cultivate internal calm while storms rage outside of one's mind and body.

Stand on mountains I did not create and climb towers I did not build

Teach what you know.
  ‐ Rev. Dr. Gary D. Cecil

You are not the first to learn these arts. You will not be the last. You are learning what you are because others have come before you and built the foundation on which you are able to erect your own establishment. You must contribute to the shared knowledge and help others to better themselves. It is expected that you will leave things better than you found them, and share the treasures with others so this art isn't lost to time.

Some things, however, are not built by human hands. Recognize that you are empowered not only by the things that you have learned from others or that others have created, but also by things inherent in the universe itself or created by a higher power.

Constantly seek enlightenment so I may conquer the darkness

A closed mind is the worst defense against the supernatural.
  ‐ Dr. John Markway, The Haunting (1963)

Knowledge will help you win battles. You must know about your opponents as well as yourself to ensure your victory. In order to learn to fight, you must first learn what good fighting looks like. This is knowledge that is passed down, from instructor to student, through generations of practicioners. There is also knowledge about the world, and about things unrelated to fighting, that helps make you a better person. One should never be content with what they know today, and instead strive to find what they will learn to be wiser tomorrow.

Sharpen fellow practicioners as iron sharpens iron

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
  ‐ Proverbs 27:17

We should always be striving to help one another. Often, in Kung Fu, fellow practicioners are called "brothers" and "sisters" to indicate that we are bound, as a family, by our training together[1].

It's important to be respectful of one another, but, with fellow practicioners, it's even more important to help each other train. There are things we can't train by ourselves. We must continue to help each other become stronger - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This includes not "giving away" the technique and deluding one's partners into thinking they are proficient at a technique, when really, it didn't work. It also means controlling one's strength and emotion when dealing with other students. It helps neither yourself nor your training partner if one of you is injured.

See crisis as an opportunity to better myself

You can't relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man, who, in times of crisis, draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs, but only after a struggle.
  ‐ Timothy Dalton

We all have crises throughout our life. There are things in this world we simply can't control. We can control how we deal with those crises, though. One thing my instructor said to me was, "I find that I make the best decisions when I keep my wits about me in times of trial." It sounds like a simple thing to say, but, I've found that it's something that is much more difficult to accomplish in practice than after the fact.

We teach full-contact sparring because we want our practicioners to be able to take a punch without losing their wits. Keep your wits about you, even in times of severe trial, and you'll find that you can keep your inner peace and make the right decision on how to handle the crisis.

Test my mettle through fire but never lose hope

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
  ‐ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's often the case among martial artists that they have a sense that they want to test their training. We should be seeking peace, rather than wandering around looking for fights to test our mettle[2], but it's not unreasonable to want to know if your skills hold up to your expectations.

The thing is, those who have had to use their skills for real tend to want to go back to not having been tested. Not necessarily because their skills are found wanting, but because once you see true violence, it's easy to become disconcerted with the nature of humankind. I've known more than one martial artist who, after having had to utilize what they've learned, have given up the art for good. We train and forge ourselves through this adversity, but we can't give up hope that things can be better.

When we test ourselves, regardless of whether it's in class, or if we are forced to use our skills in the greater world, we all encounter setbacks. We must not lose the ferocity we all felt when we first started, the thrill of all the things we can learn. We must let go of the frustration and know that, no matter the difficulty we currently face, it will get better.

Empty myself so that I may be filled

You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup.
  ‐ Zen Master Ryutan

One of the questions I ask students when they start is whether they've had experience in another martial art. Sometimes, having that experience helps get you from white belt upwards faster than you otherwise would have. It also shows you what to expect out of training (so getting hit isn't a surprise when you're sparring for the first time).

Unfortunately, one of the things I hear too often, when asking a student to do some technique a certain way, or when correcting their stance, is "But in Muai Thai, I was taught to do it this way," or, "Wing Chun teaches the stance like this." It's good to have experience in other arts, but sometimes one needs to learn how to forget the things already learned - at least temporarily.

I can't argue that you didn't learn to do something a different way, but, this class doesn't teach Muai Thai or Wing Chun. I'm often asked, "Well, which way is better?" This question, while seemingly relevant, misses the whole point. It doesn't matter which one is better - you chose this art, and, in this art, this is the way we teach you to do something.

I don't advocate that someone should blindly follow an instructor without asking why. Every instructor should have a valid reason for doing something the way they do. Often, though, it comes down to a matter of style. You have to unlearn what you have learned previously, so that you can begin anew. Once you have fully understood and been absorbed into the art of Wu Chi Kung Fu, then you may decide for yourself which technique you think works best for you. But, to get to that point, you must let go of your attachments and embrace the art you are currently learning.

Look beyond the obvious to see the interplay between chaos and order

Everything will be ok in the end, and if it's not ok, then it's not yet the end.
  ‐ John Lennon

As mentioned above, details are important. Paying attention to little things and being aware[3] are things you should seek to improve on every day. But, also important is taking stock of everything as a whole.

A phrase that is often used to describe the phenomenon of not being able to see things as a whole, but rather only the individual details, is "unable to see the forest for the trees". The thing is, you don't necessarily want to see just the forest, either. Instead you want to push yourself to see both the forest and the trees, and even more crucially, at the same time.

This is an interplay of chaos and order. The trees, as individual elements that have individual details of their own, represent chaos. The forest, as a single, unified whole, represents order. In many ways, this is similar to the concept of fractals in mathematics. At a certain level, chaos rules and the pattern underlying the image isn't obvious. But, as you look closer (or further), you see the order that is inherent in the image.

Fighting is chaos. You must break it down and bring order to it, and your place within it. But you can go too far, too. Not everything needs order. Sometimes that you took an action, regardless of whether you could do it again, is enough.

Seek self control because I realize emotion is not the same as strength

Breathe in, breathe out, move on.
  ‐ Jimmy Buffett

Anger, aggression, fear, cynicism, frustration, arrogance and worry are all things we, as humans, experience on a daily basis. Some of them, like anger and aggression, can be used to further your fighting skills, but within limits. Harnessing your body's influx of adrenaline that comes as a result of intense spikes in emotion can benefit you greatly - adrenaline can reduce pain, increase strength, and reduce reaction time. But, you can't hone and develop this like you can your other skills - there is a certain amount of randomness involved in how much adrenaline your body gets, and when.

Emotions can also blind you to subtle details in the fight. Is my opponent taunting me, or are they actually giving in to emotion? Is that really an opening, or are they feinting? Are they actually favoring their right leg, or are they baiting me? Emotion in battle will sometimes increase brute strength, but it comes at a cost - sometimes that cost is reduction in attention to detail, and sometimes it's in reduction of speed or reaction time.

Emotion gives you less room for error. Because your strength and stamina are increased, you have a tendency to overcommit yourself. You can't control the exact amount of adrenaline pouring into your system, so it's difficult to train yourself to work under those conditions. As such, all the muscle memory and reflexes you have developed are slightly changed from your training, resulting in overextension of punches, loss of balance, increased openings in your defenses, and more telegraphing. If your opponent is able to take advantage of these things, you have a better chance of losing the fight.

Anger and aggression also have an adverse side effect - they tend to stick with you long after a fight has concluded. They consume you and don't help you to make wise decisions. They are, in effect, like an ubiquitous drug (such as caffeine) - you can use them in moderation with some success, they are difficult to avoid, but they can also lead to overuse and dependency. Instead, strive for inner peace, and you will find that it's easier to keep your wits about you while the storm rages outside the confines of your mind.

Allow my enemies to create my victories

You must never draw until you know how many are against you, or you've satisfied yourself that you can never know, or you've decided it's your day to die.
  ‐ Susannah Dean, The Dark Tower

It's often said that patience is a virtue. Being patient and waiting to strike could be the difference between offering yourself up to an opponent's counter attack and ending the fight with a single blow. You should wait, not only for an opening to attack, but the right opening to achieve the most amount of success from your expense of energy.

While we train for combat, it's not always the case that must utilize our skills. Sometimes, being patient will result in your adversary deciding not to continue the conflict after seeing that you are prepared to handle them. Don't rush to action, but instead allow your opponent to give away their weaknesses. Pay attention to what they're telling you, even when you're not fighting, to decide if you'll need to strike, and if so, when the best time to do so is.

Face my fears for they are but shadows

I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship.
  ‐ Louisa May Alcott

Fear is often healthy. It dissuades us from things that may cause us harm. However, it can also be unhealthy if it prevents us from growing or developing.

A fear of fighting or getting hit is generally healthy - it incentivizes you to not incur bodily injury. During class, though, this fear is only healthy to the extent that it helps you develop the muscle memory necessary to avoid being hit. In other words, it's normal to have fear or anxiety in sparring or other full contact drills. But, it's also necessary to overcome that fear in order to advance. Often, the concept of what you're afraid of, in your mind, tends to be much larger than the actual result, even in the worst case. We tend to inflate our fears, especially when we don't face them, and instead let them fester.

Remember that I am, before all else, human

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility comes from being superior to your former self.
  ‐ Ernest Hemingway

Every human has bad days. Every human has limits to what they can and can't do. To better yourself in this context means to be slightly stronger, more agile, faster, understanding, accepting, wise, patient, or more humble than yesterday. To better yourself does not mean to be the best in relation to someone else.

The greatest teacher failure is.
  ‐ Yoda, The Last Jedi

To make mistakes is a fact of the human condition. We will never be omnipotent, nor should we seek to be. Seek goals that are attainable, but don't be afraid to fail.

This also means that we should understand that mercy and kindness are human traits as well as imperfection. Try not to miss an opportunity to be more merciful or kind to another creature. Be empathetic rather than pitying.

Conclusion

As the head instructor of the Sinking Moon School of Kung Fu, I expect all my students to learn this creed and to do their best to abide by it. This is a teaching tool we use to remind students how to act and, more importantly, how to overcome the roadblocks they experience in their training.

However, even if you're not a student of the Sinking Moon School, you can still use this as a tool to guide your life and outlook. Much of martial arts is mental, rather than physical. Of course, if you like our philosophy, and this post resonates with you, consider joining us for class, and take the first step toward bettering yourself in multiple ways.

Notes


  1. Interestingly, "Sifu", or instructor/master, is sometimes translated as "Lion Father". There are similar terms for one's training partners - in the case of a training parter that is a man, one would call him "Si Hing" or "Si Dai" (brother), and in the case of a training partner that is a woman, one would call her "Si Jie" or "Si Mui" (sister). You can see other titles here. ↩︎

  2. Looking for opportunities to fight outside of class is an excellent way to lose your membership in the Wu Chi Kung Fu Association. We do not tolerate the use of our teachings in unethical ways. ↩︎

  3. Be aware is the first of the seven tenets of Wu Chi Kung Fu, upon which this creed is based. ↩︎