My Art is Sustainable, Ethical and Green

Bamboo electric car
Bamboo electric car
Environmentally friendly, or death trap?

Looking at ridiculous news reports of bamboo laptop computers and recycled toilet paper, it would be easy to conclude that the so-called “green revolution” has gone too far.

I think it hasn’t gone far enough. While many embrace the concept on a shallow and symbolic level, fewer people are asking themselves difficult questions about sustainability.

What does it mean to be green? Surely there is more to it than purchasing a slightly different set of consumer products. In the days before the great greenwashing, we were given simple instructions, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, to be used in that order. As originally intended, “green” is an attitude and a set of behaviors—not just a list of organic ingredients.

The person with a genuine concern for sustainability or social ethics will reflect that concern in their every action, and the most basic human action is movement. Philosophical theories, reasoned arguments, and ex post facto rationalizations are all secondary; if you do not exhibit ethical movement, then you are not an ethical person.

Wasted effort is unethical. Excess physical tension is unsustainable. Inefficient movement is the opposite of green movement.

In public, Kung Fu teachers often claim that their art are not for attacking others. That is true, but Kung Fu is not about personal self-defense either. The basic meaning of Kung Fu is skillful movement.

My martial art is green. How about yours?


  1. Great point! Here’s how I see it: efficiency is ethical because efficiency requires awareness. Martial arts – the arts of skillful, efficient movement – require awareness of the interaction of our body and our physical surroundings. A green lifestyle is an efficient lifestyle that requires awareness of the interactions of our lives with our environment. Another connection comes to mind: efficiency in government requires awareness of the interaction of our lives with our community.

    Awareness alone does not produce efficiency. But without awareness, we cannot achieve efficiency or ethical action.

  2. FAD TO BROWN (a poem)

    Basic meaning, hhhmmmffff. (Skillful Movement-not!)
    The original meaning of gongfu was “meritorious action,” but I guess that wasn’t sustainable.
    Poo-poo whose gongfu is better, me or a tree;
    An “ecology,” is a metaphor for an algebraic equation in which various factors interact to create a cycle of living and dying.
    New factors added to this equation upset the cycle (now called a “sustainable balance”).
    What a crock.
    Kindergarten ethics;
    The Lord of the Dance is not amused.

  3. Action is movement. Scott, you are welcome to explain how, in the absence of skill and awareness, any human action can be consistently meritorious. I will accept either poetry or prose–constructed at a kindergarten reading level of course.

    P.S. Trees move, and not only by accident.

  4. I am pretty sure that gongfu means skill obtained through practice over time, and literally translates to “energy time”
    I’m pretty sure ecology directly translates as the study of ecosystems (ec-ology)which should not be oversimplified due to the reticulated interactions they entail.

    The idea that one persons gung-fu is better than someone else’s seems to betray a total ignorance of what gung-fu is. It is a personal thing having to do with achievement, there is no contest or measure of comparative value inherent in it.

    This relates to the ever present conflation of a contest of two people with a contest of two martial systems. If a karate guy and a shaolin guy fight the result is not a test of Karate verses Shaolin. Nor is it a test of the kung-fu of either person, that is tested by time and progress, not by pitting against other things.

    There is even an aspect to this where to have two people fight is not a test of their skills, but a test of their interaction via a subjective evaluation. The subjectivity of judgment renders such evaluation as irrelevant to the subject of kung-fu, kung-fu is not opinion based while evaluations are.

  5. The term “awareness” is context bound. Awareness of what? Chemical changes? Comets? Gongfu movie trivia?
    Simply put, the original meaning of gongfu had nothing to do with self-cultivation or narcissistic apocalyptic my-way-or-the-highway sermonizing.
    Gongfu was something you did as part of a group, for a group. It was building bridges, teaching children, and caring for the health of a whole village, or serving in the militia. Self-cultivation is a later idea.

  6. Scott,
    OK, awareness is context-bound, and the context of “awareness” here is awareness of context, facilitating recognition of any particular problem and the path (movement or action) to its resolution. “Awareness” is the personal measure of merit.

    Of what use are unskilled teachers, doctors and civil engineers? Are you proposing that skill and self-cultivation are unrelated? In ancient China, or here and now? This doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  7. The idea of self cultivation is as old as our species.

    Gung-fu pertains as it has always to individual achievement, that may relate in some cases to social causes, but in others it doesn’t.

    The noble virtue of gung-fu is some western mumbo jumbo, it is neither good nor bad. Someone with good martial gung-fu could easily be mercenary or a hired killer as many famous martial artists of the past have been known to be. The achievement of skill is unrelated to value statements relating to merits or ethics.

  8. Just wondering: does an action possess intrinsic ethical value, regardless of its effect? Is a perfectly executed strike “meritorious”, regardless of whether it strikes down a villain or a good man?

  9. NO! Self-cultivation in martial arts (or religion) is not universal. And No, it hasn’t been around forever. When it started is hard to say, but it became popular in China during the Ming Dynasty (1300-1644CE). Before that gongfu had another meaning (See Kristopher Schipper, Taoism and the Arts of China.)

    Chris, the smart thing for me to do now would be to say, “You are right about everything.” I was grumpy when I wrote that poem, but sometimes being grumpy brings out a kind of blunt honesty.

    I don’t think any action can be consistantly meritorious. And I’m not rejecting all skill. (Did I say either of those things?)

    From a tree’s point of view (you know, “Think Green”) it would be good if the world got warmer and there was a lot more CO2 in the air. I think the TREES would be happy if we set all the world’s natural gas and oil wells on fire and then slit our own throats (while driving our cars) in one last act of Efficient Movement!

  10. yovo, how can an action (of a living human being) possess any less intrinsic ethical value than a thought?

    Scott, the meaning of gongfu (like any other word) has changed over centuries. I get it. And as far as I am concerned, it is tangential to my point, which concerns the here-and-now.

    Nevermind the etymological icing, let’s chew the philosophical cake. Do you accept or reject the existence of ethical body movement? Why or why not? Your humble kindergarten student awaits the lesson. 🙂

  11. Yes, I accept the existence of ethical body movement. The bigger question is, from what source does your ethics arise?
    I’ve posted about the Xiang ‘er daoist body movement precepts from the 1st Century which are based on the Daodejing.
    There are also ethics that arise from loyalty to a tribe or a community.
    There are ethics that arise out of fear or hysteria or impotence.
    There are ethics that arise out hubris and ego mania. That would be the idea that human beings are significant on an earthly scale. But in truth, air and water are eternally self-purifying. No matter how badly we behave in our own cloistered human centric minds, it is not in our power to pollute the earth.

  12. You expect me to believe that self cultivation did not occur to chinese people until a specific period of time? That seems bordering on absurd.

    I’d avoid reading books on china and chinese culture by outsider experts. Better to let things speak for themselves then to presume to speak for them.

  13. Chris
    if we accept the notion of such intrinsic ethical value, I think we cannot distinguish between the ethical value of an action and the ethical value of a thought.

    if there is intrinsic value in a meritorious body movement that is executed with efficiency, clear intent, great skill and in perfect awareness of its physical environment, how is there not intrinsic value in a life lived that way? Regardless of whether we actually have the power to destroy our environment or not.

  14. Joshua, no I don’t expect you do believe anything. Self-cultivation on the scale of a popular religious movement, which is what we are talking about when we name it gongfu, arose at a particular time and place. Gongfu had another meaning before that movement took off. Self-cultivation probably did exist earlier, but it wasn’t a movement. And I think that what happened in the Ming Dynasty is that scholars started looking for justification for the self-cultivation movement in written history and did much to popularized people from the past whose story’s fit their ideas. (Much like we do today with Women’s History.)

    Vovo, my personal experience of intrinsic value does not give me enough information to make judgments about what is intrinsically valuable for others.
    I think that’s why I react to all the Green Sermonizing. What experience could other people possibly have that would give them insight into how I should live my life? The purer than thou, the Greener than thou, the more virtuous than thou; they all believe they are superior. They all have convinced themselves that they are superior. Believing oneself to be superior requires enormous effort.
    From my own experience, if I were to try it, I think I would be wasting a lot of jing and qi.

  15. Scott,
    so what is valuable to you? Efficiency? Skill? Awareness? Loyalty?

    I share your resentment for arrogant sermonizing, but that’s hardly an exclusive feature of the “Green Movement.” Some of my favorite environmentalist teachers are not talkers – they are doers. Not much jing or qi wasted – they don’t preach – they live what they teach.

    By dismissing anything “green” as arrogant you’re dismissing a huge portion of contemporary human experience (and science) as a wasted effort. It’s not a very efficient effort – I agree. But beyond the hot air about global warming, it is an effort to increase our awareness of our physical environment, hone our skills of how we interact with our environment and increase the efficiency of our interaction with our environment. And maybe this effort is a sign of loyalty to our tribe …

  16. Yovo, I’m basically a Truth and Beauty guy, so there are a whole lot of things I value.

    The drive for energy efficiency is largely driven by commerce. Industrial commerce is the process of making things more efficient.
    The major battles for Conservation have already been won. Especially in the hearts and minds realm. From here on out it is about governance, law enforcement mechanisms and policy priorities.
    What is happening now is that the emotional strength of the arguments for Conservation are being used for all sorts of social control agendas and experiments. People tell their kids to turn out the lights practice their gongfu and go to bed… because it’s good for the “Earth.”

    There is a strong political argument for ending our dependence on oil from countries that would like to destroy us.
    There is also an economic argument that commercial civilization worldwide is too vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of oil.

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