Yield without giving up your root
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 and followed by a crane’s beak attack nearly missing as the snake has already returned for a strike of his own. The snake wants an egg and usually gets one despite the valiant effort to protect. Fair enough as smaller snakes are a favorite delicatessen of the crane. The harmony of nature is portrayed in this one bound relationship. 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 the 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. 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. Outside the ring there are many times when you feel you can no longer just yield without giving up something really important. To balance this 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, yielding without giving up their roots.
The reason we need such deep roots is because the martial arts are about life and death. The master knows that only life is worth fighting for and dedicates her practice to the development of power rooted in a deep reverence for life. This dedication leads to the ability to yield to negative forces without giving up her rootedness and core principles. May there be no end to our yielding and may we never be uprooted! We must do everything in our power to end the cycle 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. Sometimes 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? Win-win scenario leading to a potential lifetime and beyond of friendship and support.
We can see a need for this kind of mindset throughout our culture and 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 forms of governance, and resistance. Harming another because they harmed you creates a negative spiral that may last generations and is ruining lives everyday. It’s hard to do right when there’s so much wrong.
Somebody has to be brave enough to reject the culture of shame and rooted enough in the community to do something about it. We need to recreate systems that understand people make mistakes, especially those living in environments that are prone to make them. We must help those who have done wrong to do better. We need to teach emotional and spiritual wellbeing. We need adults to model these behaviors for our youth. Uber-competitive hyper-productive is the problem. We need to practice practicing slowly. See the benefits of smelling the roses and being kind to one another. Grow a garden and raise chickens. Share. There is no value in the capitalist system for sharing. Growing your own food lowers the GDP. There is no tool to measure the aroma of 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 easy to do good.
I was recently in discussion around how much those in power must “force” people to behave a 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? Here’s what 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 carbon emissions, agricultural abuse of animals, deforestation, toxic and excessive waste including plastics, 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 sun will be darkened to the point of no return. Wake up people, wake up!
Now let’s move slowly and settle-in, for the journey is long and meant to be enjoyable. It feels good to stand up for your principles and awaken to your highest self. So while we yield to the system and give it room to breath (no shame) we will no longer give up that which is most sacred to us. We will stand our ground and help this runaway train to not runaway any more. The villain that tries to stab you and steal your money is running away from the system. It has destroyed his life, maybe his parent’s, and grandparent’s too. The gangster pulling the trigger has no choice in his eyes. Part of a system that arms a young man and loads him up on drugs, and that’s after a childhood of abandonment and abuse. There are victims on both sides of the gun.
I do not want to hurt this man. In another life he was my brother. 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. I can take a punch though and I will for the right cause, but I’m not stupid and I’m not willing to take any chances playing nice. I will use my body and my voice to boldly show that I can feel pain too and that I don’t think I’m better than anyone. How? By making eye contact and connecting with a softness that overwhelms the hardness in the world much like a rushing river carrying a boulder downstream. Yeilding without giving up my root.
We are products of our environment. It is not mine to judge the individual. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. How can I approach a difficult or dangerous situation without forgetting all 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. This can only be accomplished if she is successful at giving him another chance. No shame and no desire for revenge as the villian has only gained and can see for himself something better. This is “the more beautiful world” that a Taijiquan master knows is possible. What does this human technology show us as possible when an attacker is not present? What’s it look like to yield without giving up our root at home, work, and places in between? I have found that there is always more room to yield and that the stronger my foundation, the further I can go. The lesson for me is to “be the change” by doing the work necessary to grow deep roots and by embodying these principles with a softness, flexibility, and adaptability that says, “love is the answer.”