People often ask if me it if people of other religions can study the Wudang arts. The answer to this question is rooted in the relationship between the Wudang martial arts and the Daoist arts.
“Wudang Arts” is a very broad category that could include any practice found on the mountain. But at Wudang we practice different kinds of things. Some of these are Daoist arts and some are health practices.
Health Practices & Wudang Martial Arts
The health practices that can be found on Wudang Mountain, including herbal medicine, qigong, massage, acupuncture, and Chinese martial arts. These are elements of traditional Chinese culture, not Daoist religious practices. Wudang style martial arts and Shaolin style are temple styles. They were originally practiced in a religious setting. Because of where they originated, these styles of martial arts are compatible with Daoist (or Buddhist) religious practice. However, belief in a particular religion is not required.
The Wudang martial arts can be practiced by people of other religions or independent of any religion.
I have Atheist, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim students in my classes, and that every week I teach tai chi at a Jewish Temple!
The Daoist Arts
Wudang is a Daoist mountain, so “Wudang Arts” also includes elements of the Daoist religion, including ritual, chanting sacred texts, internal alchemy, bowing and offering incense, and the devotional study of Daoist scripture. These are practiced in Daoist temples around the world.
Of course, anyone can study about these practices and learn about Daoism as an academic subject without believing in it. A handful of universities now offer Daoist Studies classes that are open to everyone. This is similar to how you do not need to be a woman to enroll in Women’s’ Studies classes, and do not need to be African American to learn African American Studies. However, there is a difference between studying something and practicing it.
My opinion is that belief in the Daoist faith is needed for practicing the Daoist arts and that these arts should not be practiced together with another religion.
You may be surprised to hear how difficult it is to begin practicing the Daoist religious arts. Daoists do not proselytize. We do not try to convert people to the Daoist religion. Of course, some people may choose to believe on their own. There are thousands of people all around the world who identify as Daoist. A very small percentage may even choose to become a Daoist priest or nun. However, becoming Daoist clergy is not an easy path. Even for a Chinese person, it is difficult to find a teacher or be accepted into a temple, and it takes years of learning before a disciple can take their vows as clergy. If you did not grow up in China, it is even more challenging. There are only a handful of non-Chinese people who follow this path. I will discuss this more in a future blog entry.
Spirit and Body Cultivated in Balance
Daoists believe that spiritual health and physical health are linked. We call this xing ming shuang xiu (性命双修) which means cultivating the spirit and body in balance. Balanced cultivation is rooted in Yin and Yang. The spiritual self is Yin, and the physical body is Yang. Yin and Yang are equally important and can not be separated. This is similar to the Western idea of a “mind-body connection” which explains that your feelings and beliefs affect your physical body and your health and physical activity can affect your mind. The mind and body are in fact two parts of the whole, which is you.
For this reason, I recommend that students of the Wudang martial arts find balance by following the religion of their choice or developing a spiritual practice. I also recommend that no matter what your religion, you find an exercise routine that will improve your physical health.
Of course, you are welcome to make the Wudang martial arts part of your life!