Taijiquan (“Tai Chi”) is translated as “Supreme Ultimate Fighting” and for good reason I believe. It has a long revered heritage originally said to have arisen from watching a crane and snake fight and has survived the millenia by adapting and diversifying to today’s more esoteric and health promoting aspects. That said, Taijiquan is at its roots a martial art.
In the battle between crane and snake, every strike of the snake is expertly shielded and deflected by the crane’s spanning wings swiftly followed by a crane’s beak attack nearly missing as the snake has already recoiled for a strike of his own.
The snake wants an egg and usually gets one despite the crane’s valiant effort to protect. Fair enough, as smaller snakes are a favorite delicatessen of the crane. Thus the harmony found in nature is portrayed both beautifully and tragically in this one bound relationship.
The art of Taijiquan goes on to include all kinds of moves from caring for a horse, to weaving a rug, to the nature of the sky, sea, and earth. The “Yang-style long-form” is 108 of these themed movements strung together like pearls. Each pearl requires precise boring and must be expertly connected, thus a lifelong practice is born.
An important skill of Taijiquan is best described as ‘yielding’. Yielding is when one gives way to another, allowing them to arrive at their destination without obstruction. This works really well for avoiding a punch and other conflicts in life as yielding can get you a long way toward dispersing negative energy and allowing the natural flow of things to bring about more harmony. In a boxing match it might look like playing only defense, getting out of the way and never hitting back. Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman before really throwing any punches as he yielded to a torrent of punches until Foreman could no longer throw them.
A boxing match, brutal as it is, has gloved opponents and referees to stop the fight. Even when failing to yield and being KO’d, you still receive prize money. Outside the ring there are many times when you feel you can no longer just yield without giving up something really important. If my family is behind me, I cannot let a violent perpetrator to pass or perhaps it’s fraud in my business or shady power brokeraging in politics.
To balance the equation the master’s ever-willingness to yield is matched by her establishment of firm roots. Think of a tree taking up even more space underground than it does above. The wind blows and the leaves and branches freely sway as they are safely anchored deep and wide underneath the ground thus yielding without giving up their roots.
The reason we need such deep roots in Taiji is because the martial arts are about life and death. Not only must we defend and stand up for what is just, we must also not lose ourselves to anger or rage and the resulting brutality of violence. The true master knows that only life is worth fighting for and dedicates her practice to the development of power sourced from a deep reverence for life. This dedication leads to the ability to give-way to negative forces without giving-up her sovereignty or compassion.
May there be no end to our yielding and may we never be uprooted!
We must do everything in our power to end the cycles of violence to others and to ourselves. This is why Taijiquan is the supreme ultimate form of fighting, because the only way to defeat an enemy is to make a friend.
Sounds soft, yet often times the softest things are best for overcoming the hardest. Like water wearing away at the stone to create great canyons, so too can be our love. What if I can stop you from hurting me without hurting you in the process? What if I can help you without giving up an inch of what’s right and good for me? A win-win scenario leading to a potential lifetime (and beyond) of friendship and support, similar to how the canyon walls hold the river and together they inspire awe while nourishing life.
We can see a need for this kind of mindset throughout our culture today. I suspect there is a reason age-old technologies like Taijiquan have survived all these years. Wars are waged, prisons over capacity, police brutal, mass shootings in our schools, terrorist bombings worldwide, and drones striking from the sky. These are punitive and desructive forms of governance and resistance. Harming another because they harmed you creates a negative spiral that may live on for generations of distruct, conflict, and hate.
It’s hard to do right when there’s so much wrong to undo. We have to be brave enough to reject the culture of domination and rooted enough in the community to do something about it. We need to redesign the old systems from an understanding that systems are often the cause or at least a part of it. We must help, not hurt, those who have done wrong.
Our uber-competitive, hyper-productive, and fast-paced culture is at the heart of the problem. We need to practice practicing slowly, like in Taiji. Allow ourselves to reconnect with the life affirming benefits of smelling the proverbial roses, being kind to one another, growing a garden, raising chickens, and sharing stories. There is no “value” in the capitalist system for sharing, growing your own food lowers the GDP, and we haven’t yet developed a tool to measure the ROI on smelling a rose. How we spend our time is priceless. Creativity, intimacy, community, collaboration, and celebration are the order of the day! In this kind of environment it’s easier to do good and doesn’t require some authority’s intervention…
I was recently in discussion around how much those in power must “force” people to behave better. In so many ways we can see how people have the tendency toward greed and are attracted to power. Can we not trust our fellow man?
I think it is us who have created the very thing we fear the most. Our promise of domination over the land, its animals, and its peoples is what’s placed us on the verge of making our home inhabitable. We are witnessing one of the greatest mass extinctions of ecosystems and species in the history of the planet. It is not because of extreme volcanic activity nor meteor impact. It is because of the way we treat the planet and all its inhabitants. We should be absolutely ashamed. I am not saying that we have to give up anything of true value within our societies. I am saying that we need to give up the things that are not serving us. It is pretty obvious that warfare, pollution, agricultural abuse of animals, deforestation, and other moronic human inventions are killing us. No matter how deeply rooted the plants and trees, there will be no more nourishment in the soil. No matter how high our branches might reach nor how many leaves we may birth, the sky will be darkened to the point of no return. Now is the time to yield to our past abuses and root ourselves home on planet Earth.
Knowing the long and bumpy road ahead let us move slowly and settle-in as, despite arrival not guaranteed, our journey can be both rewarding and enjoyable. It feels good to stand up for your principles and awaken to your highest self. Standing our ground to help this runaway train to not runaway any more. It feels good to give way to another so that they may find their own path to healing and purpose. Yeilding to changes that may not arrive quickly enough nor feel particulary comfortable when they do.
Releasing the constant striving to force change on our timing or controlling it in our way is very cathartic. What kind of foundation is necessary to adopt these ways of yielding to powers outside of our control without getting uprooted in the process?
The villain that tries to stab you and steal your money is cutting and running from a system that has destroyed his life, maybe his parent’s, and grandparent’s too. I do not want to hurt this man. In another life he was my brother and in this life I can feel his pain. I cannot let him hurt me though either. No self-righteous person would allow that to happen, but I know how to take a hit and I will for the right cause.
It is not mine to judge the individual. We are products of our environment. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. How can I approach a difficult or dangerous situation without forgetting all of this?
Perhaps the answer to that question is why Taijiquan is practiced so slowly. It takes time to grow roots. We must have patience and although we cannot see them grow, we must have faith that they will grow in the right conditions. Once established bio-pathways of connection exist that may elicit very rapid movement away from danger if necessary. By practicing slowly the completeness of each moment may be felt and the master feels connected from roots to fruits. Her form will be effortless, full without tension, anchored and free. In actual combat her form would become formless, yielding to the forces of energy and mass, lightly deflecting, and only needing to redirect when threatened. At that point redirection is not meant to cause harm, instead she uses it to disperse and sedate the hatred and pain of the attacker.
Taking the longview, healing and redemption, a second chance, can only be accomplished if she is successful at controling the situation without harming the attacker. Failing to yield she may be hurt. Failing to root others may be hurt too. A true ‘supreme ultimate fighter’ is willing and able to yield to any challenge without losing her root.