Why the Martial Arts Epic (Wuxia) Genre?

Three words.  I love it!  I love the code of honor in the fictional wuxia world, the equality between genders and wealth and status, and the inequality between people with differing martial arts skills.  That’s something my characters can work on, with diligence and intelligence and a little luck, my protagonists can get to the top of the world in martial arts and dethrone other bad asses without birthrights or cash inheritances.  It gives the underdog a clear path forward, and it gives me a chance to write strong women characters with distinct fighting skills, elderly folks who can still kick some ass, and both protagonists and antagonists who seek the next great martial arts book rather than fame and fortune.


Here’s what I understand of the genre itself:

The use of Chi

A mystical inner energy that can be used for healing, used as a shield inside the body, or sent out of the body to strike others with.  Chi also gives the practitioner superhuman stamina.  In modern times, Chi Gong is widely practiced for health and energy, even energy for combat.  But the ability to shoot chi out of your fingertips and kill someone from a distance is mostly seen in Wuxia books and movies.


The meridian system that transports the chi

Now understood as an electrical network that chi travels through.  The entire acupuncture system works on the meridian network, and particular entry points are known as acupuncture points (or simply acupoints).  In Martial Arts fiction, these points can be sealed by an accurate strike and would render the victim temporarily paralyzed.  Someone skilled in releasing these sealed points (most martial artists), can release the victim from paralysis by striking other acupoints, or with massage of the sealed area.  Or, if the victim’s chi is powerful enough, he can push through the sealed meridian in his body and release himself.


Martial Arts Techniques Practitioners are trained in martial arts techniques known as zhao, where each technique and sequence of moves are named, memorized, and practiced repeatedly.  When a character can recognize someone else’s technique by name, or better yet, call out their lineage by observing a single move, he or she is instantly respected as an adept.  The character whose skills were recognized is also respected for using a technique that’s attained worldwide fame.  In an ancient world with thin human population and limited means of visual communication, the use of fighting techniques as a means of facial recognition adds to the importance of martial arts in the wuxia world.


The World of the Martial Society

The Martial Society is a fictional group of people comprising of different schools of martial arts and of wandering warriors who dedicate their lives to attaining great fighting skills, and to fighting for truth and justice.  Other members of the Martial Society, through the use of force, seek fame and power and glory.  Equality exists between men and women in this world, as well as between social and economic classes.  People are respected or despised based on their martial arts skills, and sometimes based on their strict adherence to a certain code of conduct and honor.


In the wuxia genre, the primary conflicts are rarely about wealth, and more about power over each other.  The antagonist, in most cases, seeks fame in martial prowess, desires superior martial arts skills both for respect and for the right to call the shots, and with dominance in battle comes expanded territory in the Martial Society.  His House (a term I used for school or clan or secret society) would increase in size with the inflow of students and aspiring warriors, and his name would be feared across the land.


The Knight Errant

The knight errant exists in the genre as the vigilante who lives by, and protects the Confucian principles of virtue and chivalry.  They are normally skilled in martial arts, have attained recognition for their heroic deeds and martial prowess, and are mostly wanderers with no family or home.  Their role in the world is to right wrongs, to help the oppressed, and to seek retribution for injustice.


The knight errant, though a protector of honor and justice, is simultaneously a rebel of Confucian values.  He refuses to conform to society, defies laws or social customs, displays contempt for authority, and has no respect for social or government hierarchies.  His word, sometimes to a stranger, is more important than any other obligation, including filial loyalty.  He follows the Martial Society’s version of honor and street justice and would never refrain from using force against someone he has passed judgment upon.  Yet, the knight errant is heavily romanticized and portrayed as a hero, despite being a lawbreaker, and the fictional world that he is in glorifies his rebellious actions.


Martial ArtsFred Yu