I may have led you astray, since I was not trying to call attention to differences between Buddhism, Daoism, and Sunzi’s arguments. What I meant to convey is that I do not think that the 18th and 19th Century developers of Taijiquan were attempting to create a new philosophy with its own set of ethics, but rather were trying to distill the best of what they already knew to create a martial art.
Similarly, I would say that the American Founding Fathers were trying to create a new style of government, but were probably not trying to set up a new ethical framework that they would have perceived as distinct from such things as general Protestant views in Europe, ancient Roman republicanism, or ancient Athenian civic culture.
Psalchemist, you asked me the following in your post:
<<Even better, however, might be your own personal philosophy on the subjectJ.>>
I am not sure my personal philosophy is worth much in the context of this discussion, but here are my views in a nutshell.
I think that a martial art like Taijiquan covers a variety of pursuits that are sometimes best addressed separately. I personally would not alter any of the traditional forms, but would nevertheless train quite differently depending on whether my primary aims were health/fitness, self-defense, or combat. For me, the ethics of restraint take different form, depending on which pursuits are under discussion.
If we are talking about doing Taijiquan for health and fitness (e.g., friendly push hands), I think the ethics of restraint require that one take great care to avoid giving or receiving injury so as not to defeat the point of the whole exercise. If we are talking about training for self-defense, I think that the need to impart useable skills necessarily involves exposing oneself and one’s partners to a certain level of training risk. If we are talking about learning how to fight in combat, I think that practicing too much “restraint” in either training or in usage begins to become dangerous.
In self-defense, I think that the main aim is to preserve one’s own life. In combat, the main aim is to take the opponent’s life, even at the cost of one’s own. In self-defense, restraint means not using more force than is necessary to preserve one’s own life. In combat, restraint means not using more force than necessary in order to win victory. The level of “restraint” needed to achieve victory may well involve injuring or killing people who are not personally a threat to you. For instance, one hardly ever drops a bomb with the purpose of personal self-defense.
Speaking specifically to the meaning of restraint, I see it as a relative term, dependent upon circumstance. If I am fighting with fists, “restraint” means one thing. If I am fighting with missiles, it means something different.
I even take a relative view of terms like “friend” and “enemy.” I believe that even my “enemies” can be my allies in the right circumstances. If one manages always to wipe out one’s enemies, one may lack for allies on another occasion when a worse enemies shows up. Such thinking may not be relevant to a random encounter on a city street, but may be very pertinent in others. Sometimes it is hard to cultivate one philosophy for one environment and another philosophy for other environments. This difficulty is another reason why I distinguish between the various fields in which Taijiquan operates. Martial arts instructors, commuters, policemen, and soldiers operate in different worlds, where the resort to violence tends to have different consequences and different triggers. I am not sure one wants to cultivate the same instincts for all walks of life, even if a universal philosophy can apply to all circumstances.
Although I feel that my enemies may also turn into my friends, I also feel the opposite is true. I feel that just about everyone in the world, including myself, can be an enemy in the wrong circumstance. (Put a bowl of mocha almond fudge ice cream in front of me, and I must do serious battle with myself.) In this light, having restraint towards my “enemies” as a general goal again seems to make sense to me, even in a pure Machiavellian sense.
As I understand it, American legal tradition incorporates the idea of restraint into the concept of self-defense. If you are not at home and can “safely” retreat from a violent threat, my understanding is that you must attempt to do so. Otherwise, you can no longer use self-defense as a justification for your actions. While this doctrine is relatively clear, the juries that actually decide such matters often do not like what legal scholarship says. They often like to divide the world into good people and bad people and are usually pretty liberal about excusing “retaliation” or “excessive force” used by “ordinary” people against “violent criminals.”
I find that, for myself, throwing away restraint, ignoring the interests of others, and trying to overwhelm all opposition is all too easy an emotion to call up. As a result, I prefer to try cultivating restraint. One thing I did not like about the Karate I studied was the implied cultivation of ferocity. I prefer Taijiquan’s cultivation of “calmness.” Such cultivation is particularly easy in the practice hall, but probably not so easy in a dark alley late at night. How exactly I would act under life-threatening stress is anyone’s guess. Somehow imagining my conduct in such a circumstance brings up more of an image of a headless chicken than an island of calm amidst turbulent water.
In talking about the specific ethics traditionally taught by the Yang Family, I think that one must make enormous adjustments for differences in culture and historical context that make comparisons difficult. For instance, the ethical norms of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many of the Founding Fathers reputedly included things that everyone on this board would find quite repellent. However, I, for one, refuse to see them as the moral inferiors of current Americans. In short, I find such comparisons to be terribly complicated.
From what I have read, at least some of the historical masters of Taijiquan were involved in warfare or as bodyguards against highway marauders. Also, as I understand it, the Chinese “gentry,” including some of the suspected authors of the Taijiquan classics, were often expected to lead the defense of their communities against outside threats. Although I may be mistaken, I see the origin of the Saber and Spear Forms in this context, not as elements of personal defense in an urban setting.
I am not sure that I have enough knowledge to judge when and under what conditions it was appropriate to use lethal force in such circumstances as the many irregular and “regular” conflicts in 19th Century China. Many of these conflicts included three or more warring “sides” and attacks on civilians by all sides.
I have seen one fictional Hong Kong movie that casts the old Yang Family as using Taijiquan to rescue sections of the Chinese army and the local community from the ravages of opium addiction and stiffening the resolve of the local Qing authorities to oppose British abuse. This is in interesting contrast to accounts in the Taiji literature that try to laud, criticize, or justify the accounts of Yang Luchan’s training members of the royal court in Beijing. I do not have much confidence that I can properly understand the moral choices in such circumstances. Without a great deal more context, I am reluctant to draw conclusions about whether and why Yang Banhou may have killed one or a hundred people, whether and why Yang Shaohou was reputedly slamming students around the training hall, and whether and why Yang Luchan would have worked with various members of the Qing court.
Of all the stories, the one I can relate to best is when Yang Luchan had to spar in front of his host in Beijing and had enough skill that he could choose to neither win nor lose the fight, since either outcome might have been disastrous for him and his family. Again, there are many ways to understand this story.
If you and those dear to you live in a place where there are no police or where the police are behind much of the local crime, is it moral to show “restraint” and allow those with murderous intent to go free and remain in a position to kill others with fewer defenses than you? I have no easy answer to this. If you live in a place where the majority community is hostile to you, the “moral” choice in the face of lethal violence may even be to surrender to death in the hope those dear to you may be spared. From what I understand, such conditions still exist in many parts of the world, existed in parts of China within at least the last fifty years, and existed in parts of the U.S. within at least the last 100 years.
At the level of the art itself, my understanding is that Taijiquan works on the principle that you must wait for an enemy to initiate an attack. In that sense, “restraint” is built into the system. At a practical level, however, I think that when there is a great disparity in ability, it is relatively easy to force an opponent to initiate an attack or to give you enough energy to allow you to use it against him or her. In this sense, I think that Taijiquan is different from what I understand the philosophy to have been behind the creation of Aikido or Judo (as opposed to the sister arts from which they sprang).
Although I do not know enough to say much about the historical Yang Family’s views of “restraint” or judge many of the stories told about them or other historical masters, I can say that what has come down to us through this Association seems very much to value moral conduct in the context of martial arts. In fact, I believe “martial arts morality” is built into the Association rules. It has been mentioned before on this forum. Perhaps, this is a topic worthy of a thread all by itself.
Enough for now.