Martial Arts Ethics

Martial Arts Ethics

In martial arts, physical training makes us strong and skilled. Oral tradition trains our minds and hearts. We call this ethical training “wu de” in Mandarin or “mo duk” in Cantonese. All martial artists should follow the oral teachings from their instructors. Here are some do’s and don’ts that were taught to me by my sifu. 


1. You must pay respect to all your past masters.

Without the past masters, there would be no knowledge for you today. If you pay respect to them, your students and their students will remember you in the future and do the same for you. During your teaching hours, please speak respectfully about past masters in front of all your students. In our schools, we always bow to the past masters to begin the classes. 

2. You must pay respect to your sifu or instructor. 

Your teacher or sifu is the one who trained you to become a successful martial artist; without your teacher, you would not have any martial arts knowledge or ability. When you become skilled in your art, you might sometimes think you are better than your teacher, but you should be more thankful to him or her. 

A teacher is someone who is skilled at training students to be the best they can be. He delights in knowing his students might surpass his skill level. You should not disrespect your teacher because you can jump higher or kick faster; it was he who gave you that skill. If you disrespect your teacher, your students will do the same to you. A teacher who doesn’t want his students better than him is not a good teacher. 

3. You must pay respect to your parents. 

Your parents raised you and gave you an education. They worked very hard to get you going in life. Without them you would have not had a chance to train in the martial arts, regardless of whether or not they supported your training. You must pay respect to them and set good examples for your children. 

4. You must respect other martial art instructors and their sys­tems or styles. 

There is no such thing as the best master or the best style. There are many great martial artists and most all martial systems offer positive training and values to students. If you respect them, they will respect you, too. 


1. Do not use your martial arts to take advantage or bully someone. 

Martial arts are for health and self­-defense. At one time in southern China. martial arts were for patriotic fighting for the anti-Manchurian revolution. Traditional Shaolin teaching states that you must never use your martial art skills to conduct illegal affairs or business. 

2. Do not injure someone with your martial arts power unless it is for self-defense. 

You must learn to control your temper; don’t get angry and hit someone to injure them. Your martial arts training teaches you patience and gives you strength; sometimes you don’t realize how powerful it is. You can kill someone with a single blow. 

3. Do not intentionally injure your classmates during workout or train­ing time. 

Some people want to try their martial arts skill and apply it during class spar­ring. This is very dangerous. If your opponent is controlling himself and you are not, someone is going to be injured. Make sure you don’t do this. This is the worst example of bad morals in martial arts practice. 

4. Do not speak disrespectfully of anyone or his martial arts system.

Respecting other martial arts systems is one of the most important martial arts ethics you have to practice and teach students in your school. If you don’t have anything good to say about another martial artist, just don’t say any­thing. It is not necessary to praise oth­ers, but make sure no negative words come out of your mouth. There is no need for you to chop off someone’s head to make you look taller. 

I know many masters are teaching this principle in their schools. But from time to time you have new students and newly trained instructors who might forget about this teaching. It’s your duty as the head instructor to keep teaching them, especially if you are engaged in business competition between your school and the other martial arts school down the street. Make sure to teach your students not to physically or ver­bally attack their students or threaten them. 

If they say bad things about you, it’s better for you to find a way to handle it in a non-violent situation. You don’t want other martial art schools to have something against your reputation. Everyone is always excited about what they have in their martial arts system and their school. When you are marketing your school or system, you can say lots of good things about what you are offering, but there is no need for you to mention the competitor’s name and style openly in public or in any publica­tions. You must train hard and show good martial arts skills to keep yourself ahead of your competitors. Violence and slander isn’t good for anyone’s business.

This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Inside Kung Fu Magazine, “Training for Life” by Grandmaster Doc Fai Wong.

6 thoughts on “Martial Arts Ethics

    1. Thanks Joyce! This particular article is one of the staff favorites here at White Dragon Martial Arts – Clairemont.

  1. Thanks for compiling Dos and Don’ts of martial arts ethics in such a concise manner. Indeed, it’s as important to stick to these ethical values as it is to follow your fitness routine.

    Bullying is a growing problem at public schools and unfortunately, martial arts, which is supposed to teach young kids to be respectful towards their mates, are sometimes being used to harass and bully others. That’s why it’s critical for trainers as well to keep an eye on the behavior of their students as well. If a student is wonderful at martial arts but has rude behavior, it shouldn’t be overlooked for his martial arts mastery. Rather, high standards of respect, dignity, and empathy should be set up by students to ensure once they become skilled martial artists, they play a positive productive role in society.

    I am sure this article will be very helpful for martial arts students.

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