Hi Bamboo Leaf and CheeFattTaiChi,
Thank you both very much for your responses! Thanks for the story about the samurai swordsman and the tea master.
The more I study, the more I understand that enlightenment, compassion, love, morality, and virtue are part of what's possible from the dedicated study of tai chi chuan. These things are possible from the dedicated study of any art. I can't help but admire anyone who shows any aspect of these things.
I love hearing stories about great martial artists like Morehei Ueshiba. He said a lot that tai chi practitioners could find useful, there are some quotes of his here: http://www-cse.ucsd.edu/users/paloma/Aikido/artpeace.html
I am trying to learn how to be more calm because I realize that when I am able to stay calm I obtain a much better result. I don't have to think about what I am doing, it just happens. When I was calm the other day, I caught a fly in my hand as it flew past, but did not crush it--just felt it buzzing there and let it go. It flew away and then later came back buzzing past a couple times, but I didn't have to catch it again.
That's basically what I want from my tai chi practice and I don't know how to describe what "it" is, but it's something about self-mastery, something about being calm and connected to the world and operating without fear.
I have one opponent I am afraid of, but when I think about holding him in my heart as though both of us were perfectly safe, then pushing with him goes much better, so I can understand that there is a practical reason for practicing love and compassion. It makes you a better matrial artist as well as a better person. When I practice this way, I am better connected, less easily surprised, and not frightened.
I had a chance to practice this a couple weeks ago: I saw some people practicing an art I'd never seen so I went over to ask if I could watch. It was hsing-i. They were friendly enough and I was invited to push with a student. We had a really good exchange and I learned something about how hsing-i people move, and was able to show him a little about sticking, yielding, and returning pushes.
It was all fun and games until the teacher learned who my teacher is and then I suddenly realized I was in very deep water and the teacher was behaving as though I'd challenged him! Suddenly, he was insulting Yang style tai chi as "not martial" repeatedly, insisting on teaching me the "correct" way to do push hands, and testing my structure for internal support by trying to push me around.
What to do? I admit it was tempting to try and prove him wrong, tempting to defend my teacher and the style I practice by fighting, but I am under strict orders from my teacher to not to get in fights with other schools no matter what they say about him or his family. Not to mention that the hsing-i guy probably would have wiped the floor with me. I was so glad my teacher had told us not to fight because it gave me the mental space I needed to stay calm enough to stay engaged and not fight or leave. Because I didn't need defend my teacher (he can definitely take care of himself!), I could focus on staying safe, learning from the situation--beacuse it really was interesting. I didn't want to fight, but here was this guy "fighting" me with words if not actions.
I think he just didn't want to lose face in front of his students and had no idea what I was doing there and really wanted to prove that his art was the best. He had the virtue to not beat me up, but it didn't stop him from pushing, pushing, pushing looking for holes and weaknesses. He insisted on pushing with me to teach me how to do it right ("you have to really push, it's not martial if you don't") but of course I wasn't about to start by really pushing a stranger. But then he seemed almost more upset by me not pushing so I pushed him rather slowly and gently a couple times until he understood that I know a little about covering, but it still looked like he was teaching and had shown me how to push him properly, instead of him being unable to evade.
I respect hsing-i and all its practitioners. I'm grateful to the hsing-i teacher I wrote about for being so generous with his teachings and showing me a very different perspective on how to train and what it means to be martial. I am grateful for his restraint and kindness. I don't think that any style is better than any other style--there are advantages and disadvantages to all and lots of different levels within styles.
Anyway, it was just weird. I'd never met someone like that before, but I think I managed to get out of it relatively Scot-free ONLY because I wasn't interested in fighting him. He definitely had the "flavor of gunpowder." I wasn't calm though. More calm than him perhaps, but I was pretty scared. So it seems that even a less than perfect calm is still useful so long as the other person is less calm than you.
Still, I'm going to keep working on being calm. I understand there are no shortcuts to learning inner peace and stillness--it's a daily practice--yet it seems to me that it's key and discovering an inner place of stillness is itself a shortcut to the entire art.
Tai chi is the style for me though--whatever the flavor, this is my bread and butter, this is my rice.
[This message has been edited by Kalamondin (edited 05-18-2005).]