Wu wei ( 无为) is a Chinese word which is usually translated as “non doing”. This is a Taoist concept which has found its way into mainstream Buddhism via Zen (Chan). It is a fundamental principle in Eastern cultures and one which mystifies and at times frustrates Westerners.
The idea is that there are times when the best action is no action. We can best deal with a situation by not reacting to it. This is alien to most Westerners who feel that a reaction is always necessary. With wu wei we are as the water when it meets the stone in the river. It flows around without directly opposing the stone. Wu wei. The water way.
Wu wei wu（无为无）, alternatively is essentially ‘doing non doing” or “action without action” Bruce Lee talks on this during an interview when we instructs those to “be like water”.
“The Sage is occupied with the unspoken and acts without effort.’
So if it is asked: Why should we be concerned with the history of men and events so long ago? I suggest, with appropriate caution, three strands for an answer: The literary style is better; the bloodshed is further away; but the lessons are as enduring as the people of China. ―Rafe de Crespigny
[The Shaolin Monks] pursue spiritual peace through mastery of bare-fisted murder. – The Simpsons, 16x12 “Goo Goo Gai Pan”
To fightis a concept with which every person on the planet is familiar. From the impoverished bowels of third-world countries to the highest echelon of wealthy societies, fighting can almost be heralded as the true universal language. People fight for what they love, against what they hate, for change, for honor, for glory, for money, to stave boredom, to get fit. Every day, wars are waged against both mental and physical obstacles to success. The most personally successful individuals are the ones who brave adversity and courageously do battle with what threatens to block or distract them from their goals.
Challenging someone to a duel is not a foreign concept in the Western world, but conditions had to be met before making such a challenge was considered socially acceptable. Bound by a set of societal mores (the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community, by the dictionary definition), duels were usually made over questions of personal honor. At least superficially, the point of the duel (whether it be carried out with swords, guns, or mano-a-mano) was for each participant to demonstrate a willingness to lay their life on the line for the restoration of honor, either to themselves, their families, or some entity they represented.
In the Chinese culture (the birthplace of kung fu and by proxy many hundreds of styles of martial arts), such a challenge is called gong sau, or “speak hand.” Plainly, it is a challenge made by one individual to another to test the skills of that individual’s school or style. It was often enacted in private and under relatively civilized conditions. Bruce Lee himself notably engaged in such a fight with the still-living Wong Jack Man at Lee’s school nine years before Lee’s untimely death. The fight was unrecorded and, following tradition, held in near-complete privacy. Performed in good faith, gong sau is meant to enhance a student’s knowledge base and physical versatility, not to harm or disgrace the opponent. These days, many reputable kung fu schools will actually have written policies either barring their students from challenging other schools for the sake of martial morality or greatly restricting the circumstances under which a challenge can occur. Martial arts is a business, and while injuries are common, injuries acquired by way of an outside challenge can potentially irreparably damage a school’s reputation.
So what if the challenger wishes to challenge a member of his own school? Then it is not a question of style or the skill of instruction, but of skill. When does a match between fellow students cross the line of propriety?
Martial artists live by a code set forth by their masters and the school they are trained in. In a traditional martial art like Shaolin kung fu, the mind is trained as much as the body, and attitude is tantamount to effective absorption not only of the physical material, but of the headspace critical to becoming a respected member of the school community. Those students who embody every aspect of wu de (”martial morality”) are seen as pillars of the microcosmic society that is the kung fu school. Martial arts is indeed a sub-culture of the world-at-large, operating with its own norms, rules, traditions, and mores. There is a way a martial artist is expected to behave here, and while new students typically pick it up by power of observation, elder students have been known to correct them verbally when breaches of conduct are observed. It is the duty of higher-ranking belts to do just that, politely but firmly, to school them into the appropriate role of respectful, passionate student.
Enter the Tiger.
Tiger is the youngest third-degree black belt in the school, a few years my junior but two full ranks (and many chambers) my senior. I do not know the exact timeline or details of his martial arts history, but he began his kung fu training a few years ago as a child, and earned his black belt in Taekwondo before that. He is a champion wrestler and world-champion kung fu competitor numerous times over, cross-trains in groundfighting arts, and is a highly skilled sparring partner. His athletic abilities alone make him somewhat of a marvel to newer and seasoned students alike, martial skill aside. But what makes Tiger truly admirable is his humility, coolheadedness, and unwavering willingness to help any student who asks for it. About martial etiquette he maintains and encourages a historically “traditional” frame of thinking and it comes across very obviously in the way he shows deference to other instructors, treats his students, and handles conflict. Though quite serious when it comes to matters of martial propriety, Tiger is fun-loving, amicable, and always game for a round of sparring. The rest of us students love the uncommon occasions Tiger is able to break away from his personal commitments and come train for the simple reason that he is fun to watch and his great attitude makes him a highly respected, but highly accessible role model. I know of no one who has ventured to disrespect him. In fact, I know of no one who is not completely awestruck at him.
So when, one evening, a white belt walked up to Tiger and challenged him to a fight, I imagine even Tiger was himself was somewhat taken aback.
Enter the White Belt.
He’s a young man around Tiger’s age, give or take a couple years, with short, curly hair and big, shiny glasses. So fresh to the kwoon his perfectly black uniform still gleams under the fluorescent lights, he approaches Tiger and personally challenges him to a fight.
I was not present at the time, engaged in a class that was simultaneously occurring. The school was crowded with students that day, and once class ended at 7:30 that evening those who had attended flooded to the back of the school, on their way to locker rooms or the carpet to stretch. As I walked by, equally purposed, I saw Tiger kneeling on the floor, the white belt’s head between his legs, the rest of him all but immobilized as he struggled to buck Tiger off. Tiger, of course, looked as calm and collected as ever, if not slightly irked. Having no picture of what was occurring, as I had just entered the situation, I only got the impression that this wasn’t a usual sparring match.
Fascinated, I reached out to Tiger after the fervor had died down to try and figure out what had happened.
Goat (me): He challenged you?
Tiger: Yes, he did. The issue I had with him was that I specifically told him there was a difference between sparring and challenging someone. I made it clear that if he wanted to spar I would… make it a learning experience. But if he’s asking for a challenge, it’s completely different.
In a martial arts community, I agree wholeheartedly: vernacular is important. Challenging someone seems to imply that the challenger wishes to do the other person some degree of harm to prove a point, barring defense of honor, which was not the context here.
Tiger: I told him that it was inappropriate for him to actually challenge someone at the school, especially at his rank and lack of skill. Said that at this point, he should be seeking help and guidance rather than walking around challenging black belts.
Which is apparently exactly what the young man had been doing. Prior to making his fatal mistake with Tiger, he challenged Monkey, Horse, and a handful of other notable students. With no previous martial arts training except for some summers spent with a grandfather who was apparently proficient in some form of Aikido, he really never stood a chance.
Goat: Challenging someone to get better sounds exactly like some old-fashioned school-of-hard-knocks bullshit instilled by an overbearing (or at least misguided) father figure.
Monkey, Dragon, and I got on the subject of the challenge while hanging out at home a few nights later. It was then I first found out the white belt had been challenging other black belts; Monkey revealed he’d been issued (and accepted) a similar challenge, as had Horse. Monkey, naturally, prevailed in the match. I was surprised to hear that after losing to two successive second-degree black belts the young man would bother trying to win against a third-degree, but then, a lack of logic had already proven a recurring theme. Dragon, interestingly, had not been challenged, and expressed rhetorical curiosity as to why. To me, it was glaringly obvious: either he hadn’t gotten around to it, or (more likely), the student was shying from Dragon because, well, Dragon’s a big, scary-looking motherfucker. Tiger and Horse are both of average height and relatively unassuming standing a crowd of students. Monkey is tall but thin. I speculated that the white belt had shown at least some intelligence picking opponents with a body type most similar to his own. Tiger, Horse, and Monkey may have all presented the illusion of being equally manageable.
When I had the chance to introduce myself to the young man (I try to do this with all new students), he told me that Tiger reminded him of his grandfather, who was a “fighter,” but seemed hesitant to share more with me, perhaps still shamed from his encounter with the black belt. Still, he kept a smile on his face when I asked him if he’d learned anything, replying yes, I got a lesson in vernacular.Before taking my leave, I asked him if he was still on his quest to challenge black belts to fights and he shook his head abashedly.
Tiger’s account describes giving the kid a chance to rescind, or at least to re-consider what exactly he was asking for. As always, Tiger extended the offer to spar, to help coach the young man about technique while in a practice hand-to-hand scenario, but the white belt was relentless, insisting on a “challenge.” With his great reverence for martial etiquette at the helm, as well as the honor of the school in his hands, Tiger acted in defense of both and allowed the engagement. It didn’t last long, and while Tiger was not cruel, hurtful, or punitive, he did not show mercy with his technique nor offered any of the usual encouragement or helpful criticism that a student would be blessed to receive from him in the course of a training match.
Tiger: A challenge is a questioning. It questions my rank, my skill, my training and, most of all, my teachers. As a direct representative of their teachers, a martial artist can not take a challenge lying down. Some people might see that as an old-school mentality (the entire idea of someone challenging a martial artist is, by itself, pretty old-school), but I take it very seriously.
(Tiger, center, earning his third-degree sash last year.)
In researching modern opinions on gong sau (though this incident doesn’t completely align with the definition) I came across numerous opinions about the subject. Perhaps common-sensically, many martial artists advise against it unless certain criteria are met and rules set in place governing the fight. The best advice I read was simply this: just don’t go looking for a fight, because eventually you will find one and it will not end well. Moreover, it seems to me that if one’s mindset is so narrow and linear that it drives an individual to believing the best way to achieve the goal of becoming a great fighter is to continually challenge fighters of much higher skill, that student would be more suited to a Muay Thai or boxing gym than a kung fu school.
“The most dangerous time for any student of any discipline is when the student is at a point where ambition outreaches skill. This will serve to keep the student training, but can result in some harsh lessons.” - anonymous
Needless to say, I’m keeping an interested eye on the white belt’s development.
I don’t think a lot of people realize this, but the Eye of Dashi is basically a God’s Eye or Ojo de Dios. An Eye of God is a wooden cross with an intricate weaving of yarn around it, typically with a hole or small mirror at the center. This hole represents the path to the Spiritual world, while the four points represent the four elemental directions of earth, water, fire, and air. God’s eyes represent confidence in all-seeing Providence, as well as the power to see and understand things unknown. The spiritual power contained in a God’s Eye is why they are typically created as a part of extended meditation or prayer. A tradition among the Huichol Natives in Western Mexico is to have the father of a newborn make an Ojo de Dios. A new Ojo de Dios is added for each year of the child’s life until the child reaches the age of five. The God’s Eyes that are added after the initial one are smaller, and attached adjacent to the four points of the larger, central God’s Eye. This is meant to act as a symbol of protection and long life for the child.
What does this all mean for the Eye of Dashi? Well, with Dashi being the creator of Xiaolin, he effectively is like a god in a sense. Furthermore, he was able to see spiritual power and come to understand things unknown to the masses. After the events of XC’s finale, wherein Moonata, the spirit of the first Xiaolin Dragon of Water, showed how she created the famous Orb of Torpedo in a solitary setting, it is likely that Dashi–the first Xiaolin Dragon, and first to create a Shen Gong Wu–created the Eye of Dashi during a long meditation. Interestingly enough the colors of the Eye spell a rather intriguing story. Red (the central gem that produces lightning; the spiritual gate) represents Life, brown (the majority of the structure or housing) represents soil, and black (the trim) represents death.
Typically the Huichol gather and take Peyote to have visions, and then base the design of their Ojo de Dios off of that vision. Based on the design of the Eye, there are four out of five paths. Potentially Dashi mastered multiple elements, or opened himself to those elements, but was unable to attain the fifth. This is reflected in all of the Heylin affiliates who exhibit use of, or against, at most three elements. The crescent shaped prongs mildly suggest that the Eye was meant to be part of something larger at some point, but the crescents could also just be to make the Native American influence less obvious.
Remember the center of the Eye, and how it represents the Spiritual realm? It can also act as a path or portal to the Spirit World. Sound like another Eye-themed Shen Gong Wu?
While the Eye of Onyx was never shown in use, Tigress warned Kimiko that when combined with the Mask of the Green Monkey it would have the power to close all dimensional portals. It is a feasible stretch then, that on its own the Eye of Onyx can open and close dimensional portals, or simply create one at a time for the user.
Beliefs provide comfort and security, but no understanding.
They are the comfort and security of a pleasant dream.
In the same way as sleep overtakes you,
true wakefulness will also overtake you.
That is the end of beliefs.
There is nothing for you to do to bring it about
because there can be no “one” to do anything.
A candle in a painting cannot be extinguished by the wind.
A thought arises and the body reacts in accordance with its nature.
It is the Conscious Life Energy that acts
while you imagine that you are acting.