May 23, 2024


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The Confucian Philosophy on Becoming a Warrior

Hello, I am Instructor Ma

I am the World Martial Arts Congress, Language, Culture and Character Development Teacher.

Today my topic is: The Confucian Philosophy on Becoming a Warrior

The Confucian Warrior: 3 Pillars of Martial Virtue
Confucianism, though not solely focused on warfare, offers valuable insights applicable to the life of a warrior.

While the philosophy emphasizes peace and social harmony, it acknowledges the necessity of a strong military for a nation’s well-being.

Here, we explore three key Confucian principles that shape the ideal Confucian warrior:

  1. Li (礼) – Propriety and Ritual
    Li, often translated as “propriety” or “ritual,” forms the bedrock of Confucian thought.
    It dictates proper conduct in all aspects of life, including warfare.
    This translates to:
    • Discipline: A Confucian warrior adheres to a strict code of conduct, both on and off the battlefield.

They prioritize self-control, maintaining composure even in the heat of battle.

• Respect for Hierarchy: Confucianism emphasizes order and respecting established hierarchies. 

A warrior respects their superiors, follows commands without question, and upholds the chain of authority.

• Moral Conduct: Li dictates ethical behavior even during war. Unnecessary cruelty, harming civilians, or breaking faith with prisoners are considered dishonorable.

Li ensures a well-oiled military machine.
Discipline fosters order and preparedness, while respecting superiors guarantees smooth execution of strategies.
Moral conduct, though seemingly at odds with the brutality of war, serves to maintain a sense of righteousness and prevents the descent into barbarity.

  1. Wen (文) – Civilian Accomplishments
    Confucian philosophy doesn’t solely define a warrior by their combat prowess.
    Wen, which translates to “civilian accomplishments,” emphasizes the importance of: • Education and Knowledge: A well-rounded warrior is not just physically adept but also possesses intellectual capabilities.

Strategic thinking, understanding history and military tactics, and the ability to make informed decisions are crucial for battlefield success.

• Cultural Refinement: Confucian ideals promote the cultivation of the arts, literature, and music. 
• Exposure to these pursuits fosters a well-rounded individual, capable of critical thinking and problem-solving beyond the battlefield.

• Leadership: Wen emphasizes the importance of honing leadership qualities. 

A Confucian warrior understands the need to inspire and motivate their troops, fostering a sense of unity and purpose within the ranks.

While physical strength is essential, a warrior grounded in Wen possesses the strategic mind and leadership qualities necessary to navigate the complexities of warfare.
Their education allows them to adapt to various situations, and their cultural refinement fosters a sense of responsibility and understanding beyond the immediate conflict.

  1. Ren (仁) – Benevolence and Humanity

Ren, often translated as “benevolence” or “humanity,” stands as the cornerstone of Confucian philosophy.
It applies to warriors in the following ways:
• Courage with Compassion: A Confucian warrior displays bravery and determination in battle. However, this courage is not devoid of compassion.

They strive for victory with minimal bloodshed and avoid unnecessary cruelty towards the enemy.

• Protecting the Innocent: Confucian teachings emphasize the importance of protecting civilians and upholding the well-being of the community. 

Warriors strive to minimize collateral damage and prioritize the safety of non-combatants.

• Seeking Peaceful Resolution: Confucian ideals advocate for resolving conflicts through diplomacy whenever possible. 

A skilled warrior understands the gravity of war and actively seeks peaceful solutions to prevent unnecessary loss of life.

Ren ensures that warriors are not mere instruments of destruction.
Their courage is coupled with a sense of responsibility towards the greater good.
They strive to minimize the human cost of conflict and actively seek peaceful resolutions whenever possible.

Confucian philosophy equips warriors with more than just physical prowess.
Li fosters discipline and ethical conduct, Wen emphasizes intellectual development and leadership, and Ren ensures a sense of compassion and responsibility.

By embodying these principles, the Confucian warrior becomes not just a formidable fighter but also a leader who understands the gravity of conflict and strives to maintain a balance between strength and humanity.

It’s important to acknowledge that Confucian ideals primarily focused on societal harmony and governance.

While applicable to warfare, the emphasis lies in minimizing conflict and maintaining order.

Confucius lived in a period of constant warfare, and his teachings aimed to create a society where the military might serve the purpose of maintaining peace and stability.

By integrating physical training with moral development, it fosters individuals who are not only skilled fighters but also virtuous citizens, contributing to a more harmonious and just world.

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About the author: Instructor Ma is a 3rd Degree Black Belt in the Korean self-defense art of Hapkido and a 2nd Dan in Traditional Taekwondo. She is a licensed Healthy Life Tai Chi Instructor, professional sports and fitness model and full-time Nursing student. She is the Language, Culture and Leadership Development Teacher for the World Martial Arts Congress.

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