To the uninitiated, the story of “Blade and Soul” might look simply like an excuse to beat people up with Kung Fu, but it is actually a tale of loyalty, morality, revenge and redemption. Anyone familiar with eastern literature or movies would recognize it as a Wuxia (“woo-shya”) tale, a modern storytelling genre with roots deep in Chinese culture but a reach that extends to westerns and modern day action movies. Trying to play “Blade and Soul” without understanding Wuxia is a little like trying to play an FPS without understanding military culture; it’s possible, but you are probably missing a lot. So with that in mind, here’s a quick primer on what it means to exist in a Wuxia world.
Jianghu & Wulin
Wuxia takes place in the Jianghu (“Jee-AHNG hoo”), which translates literally to “rivers and lakes”. Jianghu is not a specific location, but really a way of describing the state of the world. It is a place of complications and chaos, a place where society is falling apart under the pressures of corruption and war, a place beset by the worst qualities of man and yet a place where the best qualities of man may still prevail. Government authorities are too corrupt to trust, so codes of honor must be adhered to instead of the law.
In the Jianghu exists the Wulin (“woo-lin”), or the society of martial artists. This is no organized group, but a community that anyone who has dedicated themselves to a martial discipline belongs to. The Wulin consists of many factions, sects, and brotherhoods under many masters, and each may be aligned, neutral to, or openly hostile to another.
Neigong, Qinggong, & the Secret Scriptures
The wushu, or martial arts, practiced by the Wulin are as varied as their clans. Skills are passed from master to student as they prove themselves worthy. Schools can specialize in hand to hand, swords, staves and other weaponry, and even more supernatural skills. Neigong (“nay-gong”), or “internal skill”, is the ability to focus qi (“chee”) or energy to heighten speed, strength, and stamina and even grant healing powers. Another mainstay of Wuxia is Qinggong (“ching-gong”), or “lightness skill”, which nearly circumvents gravity, allowing martial artists to propel themselves high into the air, to run up walls, or to even run across water.
The greatest martial arts techniques are usually recorded in an ancient text – a Secret Scripture or Tome – that imbues the owner with superhuman combat abilities. The secrets contained in this Tome are guarded fiercely and can be quite dangerous. They may cause harm to the practitioner if they are used wrongly… and they can be even more dangerous for the world if used correctly.
Both heroes and villains come from the Wulin, and what separates them is Xia (“shee-AH”), a code of honor that borrows heavily from Confucian morality. Xia means both “honorable” and “swordsman”; it requires its followers to be loyal, righteous and to help the poor or oppressed by righting wrongs committed against them. Wuxia heroes must follow their Xia and remain loyal to their clan, their family, and their true love. Often, heroes in these tales are young and inexperienced, and the story unfolds as they mature, master their arts, and grow as people.
External conflict in Wuxia always occurs between a person following the Xia and one who has fallen from it and is hurting the world; but just as important is the internal conflict every character in the Wulin faces when trying to balance their loyalties. Often, the way one goes about addressing conflicting loyalties will be the only thing defining them as hero or villain. When asked to kill his cousin, a member of another school, to settle an old vendetta, a villain may not hesitate to betray his family or lie to his master and say he has done so. A hero will seek the path of righteousness, perhaps reasoning with his master after discovering the vendetta is based on an old and petty slight. And since Wuxia focuses on the development of oneself into a better person, a villain may even learn to seek redemption if they choose the true path.
However, not everyone is redeemable, and a hero must right the wrongs even if it means killing those who committed them. This is ultimately the heart of Wuxia, one person standing against all to make the world a better place, no matter the odds.