What is Self-Cultivation?

By Joshua Neuhaus

One of the Chinese terms for self-cultivation is xiu-shen (修身) which means to strive to raise one’s own standard of virtue and morality. Another phrase for it is xiu-xin yang-xing (修心养性), it literally means rectifying one’s mind and nurturing one’s character. The term is used in ancient Chinese philosophy and if viewed in more detail takes different shapes in the schools of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, even within one school of teachings it varies slightly from author to author. As this is just an introductory article it will take a less differentiated approach and try to give you a general idea about the term and – as it is the topic of our blog – will relate to the practice of martial arts.

Just as the schools share the motive of self-cultivation they also share the idea of a sage, a figure that has become the epitome of its schools moral and wisdom. Self-cultivation is an autonomous way of raising yourself to become much like such a sage. It is a process of self-finding and self-observation that will ultimately lead to the achievement of the perfect state of mind and body. Steps this might include are familiarizing oneself with the Chinese classics to the point of understanding their deepest meaning. In order to achieve this kind of understanding, you are expected to read those classics over and over at different stages of your practice and your life. Interestingly enough, another crucial step to self-cultivation is meditation – and that is valid even within the Confucian school, which out of the three might be the least spiritual.

Characters say: “Yijing”, a Chinese classic (Engl.: Book of Changes)

Just as writings of Chinese scholars show an awareness of the lack of language and words in conveying the deeper meaning behind their teachings, they are convinced that once you embark on this journey you will naturally come to see its value and necessity. The encouraging outlook on self-cultivation that Chinese scholars have given over centuries suggests that you will come to be in harmony with yourself and naturally will be able to interact with your environment in a way, that you are able to help others and bring health to the world, without harming yourself. One of the strongest arguments to encourage you to commit to self-cultivation might be how it really puts you first. Even a lost person that doesn’t understand their own unhappiness and is trapped within perpetually gasping for momentary escapes from this desperate state of self is supposed to grow to have a strong heart filled with enduring happiness, perfect emancipation, autonomy, and health. The Chinese teachings take this process of finding your middle and explain, that it goes hand in hand with becoming a cornerstone that will benefit the whole world.

Meditation and Qi

As for Chinese martial arts, they are deeply integrated into the idea of self-cultivation and can be considered one of its methods. In general, a practice that is common to almost every martial art is to calm the mind and to stop thinking. What this leads to is not numbness and stupidity as one might think, but rather it gives you nimbleness and the ability to adjust to any situation with unmatched ease. Things can be seen as what they are, and fear or other emotions will not cloud one’s judgment. Depending on the detail of each martial art, there are many more crucial practices. Any martial art will give you autonomy. Strength and skills achieved in martial arts will help you overcome fear and give you confidence, that there is something no one else can ever take away from you. If we took Tai Chi for example there even is the practice of being able to achieve one’s goals without exhausting oneself using force or going directly against others, these skills can be transferred to real life situations and are actually crucial skills of the sage.

If you enjoyed this article, I would be much obliged if you left a Like. Any comment you give will be answered by me and I really hope you do, because there is so much more to say and learn from each other.

About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

3 thoughts on “What is Self-Cultivation?

  1. Self-cultivation – this is automatically embraced by the one when he/she will be learning martial arts techniques as it calms your mind and improves your concentration and also makes you more conscious about yourself and your surroundings. When you become conscious of yourself, the people and environment around you, you become able to advance your skills to a higher level.


    • HI Olivia, I’m much obliged for your contribution. You mentioned an important term here, awareness. It is a very important one and often also associated with other recently more popular words, such as slowing down. And yes, slowing down and using your senses to be aware of your surrounding without prejudice is a great attitude for learning.


  2. I have been training for a long time now and what you wrote is spot on. I was not taught with scriptures or with virtues, but only with the physical and mental aspects of kung fu and I still reached a somewhat enlightened state.
    Could you please direct to to those scriptures? In English preferably cause my Chinese is elementary at best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s