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Paint it black
It is tempting to regard taijiquan in the same way one might consider a conventional martial art. A dead giveaway might be the black uniforms.
Taijiquan students do not wear clean white cotton suits.
Taoism embraces all sides of our character; recognising that people are both good/bad, strong/weak and so on. We cannot be one without the other. The key is to find balance.
A harmony of apparent opposites.
Many martial artists think of Bushido and 'honourable' behaviour... Yet, The Art of War is not friendly; it is based on deception, not openness.
Misdirection, secrecy, inscrutability and mystery are fostered. See the contradiction?
was his nature, as well as his profession. The byways of espionage are not
populated by the brash and colourful adventurers of fiction. A man who, like
Smiley, has lived and worked for years among his country's enemies learns
only one prayer: that he may never, never be noticed.
Assimilation is his highest aim, he learns to love the crowds who pass him in the street without a glance; he clings to them for his anonymity and his safety. His fear makes him servile - he could embrace the shoppers who jostle him in their impatience, and force him from the pavement. He could adore the officials, the police, the bus conductors, for the terse indifference of their attitudes.
But this fear, this servility, this dependence, had developed in Smiley a perception of the colour of human beings: a swift, feminine sensitivity to their characters and motives. He knew mankind as a huntsman knows his cover, as a fox the wood.
(John Le Carre)
Secrets & lies
Chinese martial arts were never taught for the purpose of community spirit. They were fiercely guarded secret methods designed to defeat other schools who wanted to steal your art.
This is why taijiquan looks like dance. To the untrained eye the art is innocuous and the skills cannot be discerned.
Historically, it was not good practice to advertise your martial abilities. Broadcasting yourself invites challenges. People can see your strengths and weaknesses.
Keeping silent is better. The ideal situation is when nobody can tell what you are capable of.
A taijiquan student must embrace more unconventional role models:
Of course, we do not kill or steal.
But the attitude behind these approaches teaches important lessons.
An assassin can kill with precision and ease; they are not messing around. A thief is quiet, stealthy, cunning and observant.
The illusionist employs psychology and biomechanics to mislead your attention. Ronin are highly skilled warriors who serve only their own interests: without honour or master.
The final chapter of The Art of War deals with spying; it is an art that requires considerable ingenuity and nerve.
The dark arts?
In the distant past little was known about Taoism. Many of its adherents belonged to sects and esoteric schools. Others were hermits who lived in remote places.
Teachings from books with curious names such as The Way and Its Power, Book of Changes, The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings were treated with suspicion.
Secrecy, rumours of great power and deliberate obfuscation led to taijiquan being regarded with considerable fear and superstition.
Can you become a warrior/sage?
In our class there are 4 types of student:
Clearly an attender cannot expect to ever call
Although, to be fair, taijiquan people seldom think of themselves as being a
warrior. It is far better to be a sage.
Sages are wise.
The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which
lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typicalů and to him
the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping
the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze.
White & black
There are countless images of friendly tai chi people on the web. They wear white suits and smile a lot. That is 'friendly' tai chi; tai chi for health. It is not the martial side of the training hall.
The taijiquan student must learn how to be friendly, warm, sincere and compassionate yet recognise that in combat there is unfortunately a need to be ruthless on occasion.
Balance requires appropriateness. And restraint. The biggest danger we face is ourselves. We wear a black uniform and we train very dangerous skills... we also need control.
created 3 April 2007
Last updated 13 December 2019