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What is sport?

Sport is a competitive event designed to entertain people. Individuals or teams compete against one another in order to score points, win prizes or gain acclaim.

The purpose of sport

The original Olympic Games were contests of strength, speed and agility in which soldiers could demonstrate their combat skills. The Greek soldiers tested themselves against other people.
Behind each apparent game was a martial skill - spear throwing, wrestling...


Modern sport is a little more abstract than the ancient Greek games. The skills required to perform the sport cannot always be used in every day life.

Chinese historians have always spoken of Taoism as "the art of being in the world," for it deals with the present - ourselves.

(Kakuzo Okakura) 


Sport seems to be a healthy social outlet until you consider it a little deeper. Rivalry, competition, taking sides and animosity are frequent factors in sport.
People exert themselves in order to accomplish a goal and frequently injure their bodies in the process.
Money, medals and fame motivate sports people to push harder and harder, in order to prove something. But prove what? And why?

Curing hunger, cancer, homelessness, poverty?

The money spent each year on sport is astounding. It is a major industry fuelled by the desire to see one person beat another.


Sport is concerned with the end result at the expense of the means. When a person swims, how often do they pay attention to the quality of their movement?
Are they interested in swimming with awareness, of accomplishing a whole-body action? Or are they counting lengths?
Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book wrote:

Swimming is an activity that can either create structural problems or release them depending upon the way it is taught and practiced. Professional swimmers are known to develop shoulder tendonitis and kyphosis. Overriding head/neck righting reflexes (as occurs when the head is repeatedly turned but the body does not follow) eventually result in overdeveloping shoulder muscles, pinching nerves and distorting the rib cage.

Martial arts

'Martial art' literally refers to a combat system that has been tried in battle/used by professional warriors/soldiers. A martial art is not a sport.
It is a system of combat designed for battle or individual protection.

Self defence

Remember that self defence is not the same as fighting. There is no winning or losing. Your aim is not to gain victory. Your aim is to survive and escape unharmed. If you can simply walk away, you should.
There is no competition involved and no rules.


Taoism sees no purpose in competition. It is regarded as being hostile, conflictive and ultimately without purpose.
Competitions serve to demonstrate something that has no real meaning or value in real terms. The notion of a 'tai chi competition' is a contradiction in terms.

After taking the high seat to preach to the assembly, Fa-yen raised his hand and pointed to the bamboo blinds.
Two monks went over and rolled them up in the same way.

Fa-yen said, "One gains, one loses."


Learn from sport

People who undertake sporting activities usually invest a lot of time in thorough training designed to promote good body use, muscle growth and recovery.
These same concerns apply to martial arts training, including tai chi. All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat.
Tai chi students train: massage, leg stretches, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.

A martial athlete?

Combat is not easy and there is a risk of injury if the student is unfit. This is true of any martial art. To reach a high level of skill, the student needs to take a lesson from sport.
They must become a lot fitter, but not necessarily a martial athlete.

The drawbacks of exercise

Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you. For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.

Ideal exercise

According to the book The Blue Zones it is important to think of exercise in terms of what you can reasonably do long-term.
The ideal form of exercise is moderate enough that you can do it for the rest of your life. It needs to be joint-friendly, provide a gentle workout and be sustainable.
This sounds rather like tai chi, doesn't it?

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 14 August 2023