Trixter Streetcat

the five excellencies

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hello bums,


i was wondering if any of you have ever heard of the "five excellencies" in a taoist context.


i first heard about them in the barefoot doctor's "handbook for the urban warrior". i purchased this book a while ago and I actually found it to be a pretty good overall description of the basic taoist exercises i.e. microcosmic orbit, three tantiens, grounding, posture, keeping the ba hui raised and "shiny" etc... I haven't heard anyone talking about either the author or the book in this forum so I'm guessing he's not "big" or "known" in "taoist circles", but the information in the book is good and relevant and well presented, so I am kind of fond of it.


he speaks of the "five excellencies" as the five arts or areas in which a (taoist) person should succeed in order to be considered an "accomplished" being. barefoot doctor presents it as the taoist "career". these five excellencies are, according to him, the five "m"s, martial, medical, magical or meditative, musical and mesmerizing. in other words, an "accomplished" man (I'm not talking about enlightenment here, I'm talking about a set of skills, occupations and/or abilities to develop), would be proficient in martial arts, a healer, with knowledge of the mystical and/or occult, able to entertain, through music or otherwise, and able to communicate beautifully and efficiently (poet, singer, teacher, etc...)


later research proved me that several people are considered "masters of the five excellencies", such as Lama Zurdwang or Cheng Man-Ch'ing, though the five excellencies differ (painting, poetry, martial arts, philosophy and medicine in some cases; chinese medicine, poetry, calligraphy, painting and Tai Chi in others). in other interviews, the barefoot doctor himself changes the five excellencies to martial arts, medicine, meditation, composition skills and presentation skills.


I was wondering what you guys thought about the five excellencies, whether you knew anything else about the subject or had resources to share for further research.


what do you think are the five excellencies? what set of skills and/or occupations do you think make a human being "whole"?


in my opinion, a human being wanting to develop a set of wholesome skills would need a physical activity, to keep the body strong and healthy, which could be a sport, yoga or a martial art. he/she should develop a martial art to protect himself, others and whatever is precious to him/her. he/she should develop internal energy basically for the same aforementioned reasons. he/she should be on an "advanced" (interpret as you may) spiritual quest. he/she should be fun and pleasant to be around, hence the need to develop any sort of entertaining/performance skill; the social aspect, be it music, circus, acting etc... to me, very importantly, it should be a person capable of perceiving and creating beauty, therefore the need to develop an artistic skill of any sort (poetry or words in general are my favorite), which in the end, is also a way of teaching and communicating on a very subtle level. healing is important as well, since it is basically removing suffering, and helping others on their spiritual path, be it through spiritual practice or any healing art.

in that sense, mine would be kung fu/tai chi, reiki, meditation, juggling, and last but not least, writing, though i do not consider myself any more than a beginner (not exactly the right word, apprentice, perhaps?) in each of these disciplines, and would certainly like to add/develop them, and many more, throughout my life.


I guess any rational being, especially the greeks, would add mathematics to all that. but I'm no good at math :P . I do like science though, it interests me when well explained.


how about you? what are yours, how far along are you? and also, what do you know about the actual, "historical" five excellencies?


thank you for your replies, and a very nice trip to you all...

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I'm glad that you brought this up. I often feel like a black sheep for having the wildly varied interests that I do. Notice the opposites that coexist on this list: Speak and be silent, move and be still; create, preserve, and destroy. A time and a place for all things under the sun.


It is indeed quite curious that the logical/mathematical ability is absent from this list. At one time, Chinese mathematics was far beyond Hellenistic mathematics, except perhaps in geometry. But the Greeks valued mathematics as they did because it was the prime example of the power of abstraction and pure logic/reason. The idea of necessary deduction from axioms did not develop in China, to my knowledge. Anyone know otherwise? Am I alone in thinking this is a profound cultural difference?


Xusheng, I agree that compassion is very important, but this is a list of skills. On a list of virtues, compassion should be right up there with humility, patients, self-restraint, and truthfulness. Off the top of my head, I think that's a good "five excellent virtues".

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i've read about those same five excellences and i think i tried to start a topic here about it eons ago ;)


i've been trying to attain some level of proficiency in the five....

martial: this is the one i have the least amount of work in

medical:my version of medical tends to be about listen to people and helping them with their problems

magical or meditative: trying to spread the word about how wonderful meditation can be

musical: i'm always trying to sing/dance/entertain the people around me

mesmerizing: words are my gift, so that was an easy one



you can also check out this british collective called the babylon project - they have a fun little article with a more socially conscious bent, which i'm always in favor of!



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conversely sherlock holmes disagrees in the following quote

"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. "


Sherlock holmes, actually seems to practice these excellencies


martial: he was a master of various fighting styles

medical: he contributed much to the field of chemistry.

meditative: he relied on drugs and contemplation for this area. he seems to be advanced in this area due to his precepticity

musical: he played the violin well.

mesmerizing: acting skills


possibly holmes objection was to useless knowledge, such as watching the bill o'rielly show and expecting to gain an accurate knowledge of politics.


It could be that the 5 excellencies are skills that will be useful to anyone

I guess i need to find a musical talent. piano or dancing seems to be the way to go there.

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