The Shoveboat16/08/2009 10:59
By Robert Amacker, 1989
[As you can see from the above date, this article was written exactly twenty years ago, and I offer it here without alteration as evidence of my long and entirely unsuccessful struggle against competitive t'ui-shou tournaments. This was written in response to a tournament that was in fact won by one of my students, who entered against my advice and better judgement.]
THE SHOVE BOAT
Cruisin' for a Bruisin'
When I began teaching T'ai Chi Ch'uan, over twenty years ago, I realized that it faced several enormous problems in the realm of popularization, all of which stemmed ultimately from the same root cause: it just takes too damn long to learn. What I speak of now is not the formal movements, not philosophical understanding, not even the elementary skills of hand pushing; I am talking about the ability to maintain the principles of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in the midst of actual combat.
By this I do not mean necessarily victory. Every really trained martial artist knows that maintaining the absolute letter of one's technique when one is losing is far more difficult than demonstrating the same discipline when one is winning. On the other hand, training in T'ai Chi Ch'uan has a peculiar effect that is not found in most martial arts; its technique is most immediately dangerous to the opponent in the moment in which it breaks down. When someone skilled in T'ai Chi Ch'uan, which is fundamentally based in neutralizing the force of the opponent, loses control, his previous efforts of neutralization position him such that this loss of control is almost invariably more dangerous to the opponent.
This is a marvelous effect, and one which guarantees T'ai Chi Ch'uan a preeminent place among "streetwise" martial arts, but it has the unfortunate side effect of rendering competition among students indecisive and misleading. Certainly, every student knows that the only worthwhile skills attained in T'ai Chi Ch'uan are done so through practices which are at first completely ineffective against even the clumsiest attack, and yet the repeated effort of execution, though it loses every time, is the proper way to eventual victory.
This is a very difficult lesson for the majority of people to learn, even if they wholeheartedly embrace such a philosophy intellectually. The whole idea of advancement through losing is just too screwball to Americans. Everyone knows that you get better by practicing what works; that winners win and losers lose, and if you want to be a winner, you must practice winning, etc., etc. It would be a mistake to underestimate just how deeply this idea is ingrained into our consciousness, because it is the only explanation that I can think of for ill considered attempts on the part of T'ai Chi Ch'uan "promoters" to make hand pushing a competitive spectator sport.
I am not against these attempts in principle. It is not on philosophical, historical, or doctrinaire grounds that I base my objections, but upon practicality. In its need to forgo the practice of using the kind of strength which is called li in Chinese, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, despite some quite sincere protestations to the contrary, is a little like vegetarianism; one cannot be a vegetarian and also eat meat, as well. One cannot give up the use of li ‑ except when one is using it. Everybody does that. It is the habit of li which must be dispensed with, and this means never using it.
No one, of course, can completely avoid the use of li; we all have to occasionally take out the garbage or change a tire. But we can certainly completely forgo this practice whenever in contact with other human beings. If we wish this habit to ever be broken to any advantage in terms of our martial skills, we can at the very least break any association which it might have with any sort of formal practice of the martial arts.
For various reasons, the competitive tournament context is extremely dangerous to the future of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Regardless of what is advised and expected of students who enter these events, they will feel compelled to practice with each other the situation as it actually obtains in the competition. The abstraction imposed by the tournament rules will supersede the abstraction imposed by the traditional "rules" of hand pushing, which are far more subtle and indecisive, but which are the entire source of T'ai Chi Ch'uan's reputation and development.
There is possibly another, more cynical reason behind some of these promotional attempts. Many practitioners of Chinese Shaolin and Shaolin derived styles have traditionally resented the assertion that T'ai Chi Ch'uan cannot simply be added to their list of accomplishments like another form. To many this seems a kind of offensive hype, a glaring contradiction to the well known tradition of eclecticism in Chinese pursuits in general, and in the martial arts in particular. Having a high opinion of their own development, they readily assume that whatever they might achieve after practicing for ten or fifteen years must be it, even though they may have practiced other arts at the same time, or pursued the kind of rough and tumble competitive hand pushing which is endemic to these modern tournaments. They easily toss off phrases like "T'ai Chi Ch'uan is really just another kind of Kung‑fu," and "after learning to be soft then you can be hard." These are disturbing corruptions of ideas which are on one level true, but were never meant to be used to excuse a cavalier attitude towards development.
Implicit in these attitudes is the idea that T'ai Chi Ch'uan, as one fellow told me once, "is for dreamers," that, in its purest form, it doesn't really work, that it is somehow simply a foundation for the more traditional forms of kung‑fu, or a rejuvenation exercise for fading warriors, that it's a great idea, but nobody can really do it. This is dangerous nonsense. It is dangerous first and foremost, of course, because when you start making statements about somebody being unable to do something, you should make sure that he's not standing right next to you. But it is dangerous for a deeper reason. This kind of basically cynical thinking, which can possibly produce tournaments like this, can, by their means, eventually prove itself right, degrading the level of the popular conception of T'ai Chi Ch'uan so low that it does become the weak sister of the Shaolin styles, while so overshadowing and contradicting the real teachings of T'ai Chi Ch'uan that no decent teacher can make a living. Even more unfortunately, the same effect can be as easily produced by the most sincere and well meaning efforts to promote one's most cherished art.
This danger is not limited to T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The metamorphosis of any martial art into some kind of judgeable sport is almost certain to destroy many of its subtler qualities, and some that are not so subtle. Witness, for example, the complete inability of the practitioners of contact karate to maintain even the barest resemblance to karate as traditional purists would like to see it. The real fear is, of course, that in getting away from the more formal and apparently cooperative politeness of traditional sparring, by allowing the contestants to go "all out," within the context of our new rules, they will actually degrade its real effectiveness in combat, despite the apparent "realism" of its new venue. While I cannot speak with authority about any other martial art, I am sure that in the case of T'ai Chi Ch'uan this fear is more than justified.
In this regard it is of paramount importance to recognize the distinction between art and sport. Although many sports find their origin in martial circumstances, and are effectively some abstraction of these conditions, they have long since lost their need to relate to any semblance of "practicality." For example, although the game of tennis was originated solely with the intention of displaying the skills of the King's knights without endangering them (and thereby thinning their ranks), it has evolved over the years into something whose goals are defined by scoring and winning, rather than maintaining any relevance to combat. It is not coincidental that the modern serve was absent from the first tennis players' repertoire. Having no martial function (as any martial artist should instantly recognize) it would never have occurred to a knight to use it, and would have been an embarrassing misunderstanding of the purpose of the contest if he had. In the current age, on the other hand, it would be a most curious occurrence for a championship tennis player to be chastised for employing a stroke or move on the grounds that it would not be effective "in the street."
Boxing (Ch'uan, martial arts, whatever one wishes to call it) has, in the presumption of most of its practitioners, not lost its connection to practicality. What many of them do not seem to realize, however, is that this connection banishes it forever from the conveniences and commerciality that are associated with sport. It is entirely understandable that sincere proponents would decry the often misused mechanism associated with advancement in the traditional boxing arts, that is, the opinion and favor of the teacher. Most of the breakups and splits associated with the greatest boxing schools of history originated in the advancement of one student (frequently the master's son) over another who considered himself more accomplished.
Often these advancements were unfair, due to partisanship or blood, but the significant fact is that even when they were fair and correct judgments, they were easily misunderstood by other students. Boxing is an abstraction of fighting which emphasizes certain elements over others, depending upon the particular art. The assumption in all cases is that there are some fighting techniques which cannot be developed in the heat of combat, but must be studied in a more controlled situation. This implies that at every stage of development there will be some elements of study that, even when practiced correctly, may be defeated handily by practices that are not only cruder, but that might be easily dispensed with by the technique in question, when fully developed. It is only natural and correct for a teacher to favor that student whom he knows will eventually realize the highest level of the art. It is this wisdom, or at least the potential for such wisdom, that is sacrificed to the convenience of sport.
But how sick martial artists get of the endless haggling and hyperbole concerning the numerous technical points of their respective arts which can never practically be tested, unless we give in to a free for all on the street. (This too, of course, would be no proper test, for many reasons.) How it seems to clear the air when we just call a tournament, lay down some rules, set up the old round robin we all know and love, and declare the winner.
Not only that, but we have created a spectator sport. We are promoting our art, popularizing it, bestowing this priceless gift of the masters upon a grateful and vastly improved world. A bit of notoriety never hurt anyone, and (though sponsoring tournaments is certainly not the fastest way to get rich), even if we make some money at it, what the hell, look at the great service we are performing, look at how the sages of old would smile and approve. Doesn't every grand master of history have some quote lying around somewhere to the effect that his "greatest wish is to see this art benefit all peoples, everywhere, improving their health, elevating their morals," etc. etc.?
The key to this argument lies in the words: this art. What any master should wish is that the promulgation of his art not take precedence over its accurate preservation. This poses a conflict which seriously challenges the whole tournament pretext, and in no case more than that of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
It must be pointed out here that certain boxing arts lend themselves far more than others to the difficulties imposed by sporting competition. Western boxing is an obvious and notable example. The techniques which it employs, its recognition of the value of footwork, its strategies of offense and defense, all translate with considerable effectiveness to the street. At the same time, the rules of contest are such that it enjoys great commercial recognition as a spectator sport. Nevertheless, the proof of western boxing's inherent corruptibility lies in the fact that if a boxer were to employ a style of bulling and charging (as many do) which would be quite vulnerable to kicks, and to develop this tactic to the point of world competition, no trainer in the world is going to say: "Gee, Rocky, I can't let you do that anymore because you are habituating something which is going to get you kicked in a street fight." Rocky himself, no doubt, would be more than reluctant to trade the riches and fame associated with a world championship for success in any number of street fights.
Presumably, martial purists would be offended by such a sell out, and it is a great credit to the traditions of western boxing that its epitome of style is quite immune to such accusations. The annoying fact is that by completely giving up the definition of their art to the rules of the ring, the sages of western boxing have lost the ability to steer it away from simple expediency in winning. This puts the art in danger but, as I implied earlier, does not necessarily presuppose its demise. Western boxing seems to be able to effectively walk the tightrope between art and sport without falling decisively to either side. Because of this coincidence it is the envy of every commercially minded martial artist.
From this point of view, it is unfortunate that T'ai Chi Ch'uan involves subtleties which cannot be easily translated into rules of observable behavior. I am fond, in fact, of making the point to my own students that in any engagement in which T'ai Chi Ch'uan is used correctly by either party, it is impossible for an observer to tell who is initiating the action and who is following, and yet it is this distinction which determines who is doing T'ai Chi Ch'uan and who is not. Also, it is much easier to destroy, or to attempt to destroy the ability of one's opponent to do T'ai Chi Ch'uan than to do it oneself, for the simple reason that T'ai Chi Ch'uan does not occur in the presence of pressure. If someone can put pressure on you before the engagement is brought to a decisive conclusion, then you are not using T'ai Chi Ch'uan. If opponents are putting large amounts of pressure on each other, whatever they are demonstrating, it is not T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
Lightness of touch is the ultimate rule of engagement in hand pushing. Because of this rule, analogous in its simplicity to the rule of capture in the game of Go, all other techniques may be developed. As well, because of this rule, all the other prohibitions of the martial arts may be dispensed with, leaving the T'ai Chi Ch'uan practitioner free to explore the entire range of tactical possibilities (kicks, grabs, anything). Many mistakenly think that the golden rule of T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice is slowness; observable slowness should always be only in the service of lightness of touch, period. It is only from softness and lightness of touch that all of the fruits of T'ai Chi Ch'uan can spring.
There are many techniques in T'ai Chi Ch'uan, but all are based around this fundamental practice, this devotion to lightness and softness. The whole idea of "learning to lose" is not simple masochism, but the substitution of a higher priority for the normal one of "winning;" that priority is lightness. The fact is, lightness is a very difficult thing to base a tournament on, hard to measure, impossible to judge. Lightness, like pressure, is a mutual condition; it is impossible to tell who is creating it.
Lacking any practical way of approaching a demonstration of the real intent of T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice, those who wish to promote and commercialize it (and I do not question the sincerity and integrity of their intentions), are left with the need to distinguish T'ai Chi Ch'uan from other martial arts by way of some artificial rules of sparring, rules which T'ai Chi Ch'uan has never utilized, but which presumably will produce something vaguely resembling T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
Every martial art has what I would call its signatory technique. This is the technique that we all associate most readily with its employment against an opponent. Boxers, for instance, hit people with their fists; wrestlers grab them; karate experts are distinguished by kicking (witness the mandatory eight kicks of contact karate matches); judokas throw people on the ground; aikido experts throw them laterally. The signatory technique of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, as everybody knows, is the discharge, in which the opponent is propelled outward from a relatively motionless position. (The integrity of a discharge is to some extent a matter of degree. Yang Ch'eng‑fu was quoted as saying that he would not accept a discharge as legitimate unless the total movement producing it took place within a space of approximately one inch.)
Unfortunately, the discharge is easily confused in many peoples' minds with simple pushing, making them unfortunate dupes for anyone who wishes to pass this off as the highest technique of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Drawing a ring on the ground and seeing who can push whom out of it is, as anyone who cares to look at it objectively can plainly see, a variation of Sumo wrestling, not T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
A martial art is defined by only three things: the principles of its solo practices, which are intended to develop one's skill at sparring, the rules of sparring, which are intended to properly abstract the conditions of combat, and the tradition of wisdom which keeps the rules from superseding their purpose. One cannot simply make up a bunch of rules for convenience, design them so that they produce some sort of parody of a martial art's signatory technique, and then call what one is doing that martial art.
But this is exactly what has been done in the recent wave of T'ai Chi Ch'uan "hand pushing" contests. The result is an absolute travesty.
There are two grounds upon which I might be accused of being both mean spirited and counterproductive to the future of T'ai Chi Ch'uan for voicing such objections, and I would like to deal with those at the outset. The first is that these are the initial steps of a new and barely toddling tournament concept, and that the quality of hand pushing seen in them will naturally improve. This indeed is usually the case with endeavors of this kind, and in most cases it is wisest to wait and see what actually happens. I have no doubt that whatever it is that is being practiced here will, by some definition, improve. When people spend all of their time charging each other like bulls, they get better at it. But it will not be T'ai Chi Ch'uan that they are getting better at, of that we may all rest assured. Part of the reasons for this may be found in the answer to the next objection, which simply stated might be: so what if what they're doing doesn't fit your high and mighty definition of T'ai Chi Ch'uan; they're having a good time, they're doing some kind of exercise, and who are you to say it's no good?
I have no objection to anything one wants to do, but as a professional I somewhat depend upon the reputation of my art, and I feel that this current trend will go very far in the direction of destroying it. Before explaining exactly how this danger is manifested, one thing more should be said about the signatory technique, in a general sense.
The signatory technique of a martial art should not be regarded as some kind of weapon which martial artists turn on their enemies. Every martial artist of any experience knows that one must have no preferences of this kind in battle. In fact, if one wishes to suffer the consequences, even the most untrained person can completely thwart the greatest martial artist in any attempt to execute some certain technique. If I know in advance that my enemy is bound to defeat me in some definite way, I can at least guarantee that he will be deprived of this satisfaction. A Judoka cannot throw someone to the ground if he is already there, and the greatest T'ai Chi Ch'uan technique cannot discharge an opponent who would rather be injured.
Where, then, do these signatory techniques come from, and what is their significance? They arise from sparring with others who practice the same art, not from fighting those who do not. The assumption is that the technique arises as the last resort of skillful opponents. With very high level techniques, such as discharge, a certain skill of defense upon the part of the opponent is necessary for their occurrence.
While studying aikido many years ago at Yamada's dojo in NYC, I talked with a bright Japanese fifth dan who had just been the victim of an attempted mugging. "Did you use aikido?," I asked innocently. "No," he answered, "he not good enough for aikido. I show him my watch. I say: 'Here, you want a watch?' Then I just hit him and he fell down."
To fashion, then, a contest the rules of which continually emphasize this signatory technique, but at the same time render illegal all of the martial options which lead up to it, is to encourage the most cavalier and unrealistic behavior, and to corrupt the martial art in a most serious way. In legislating certain attacks out of existence, one also dispenses with certain realities which give logic and meaning to the rest of the technique. Sometimes, in fact, sophisticated ideas may be corrupted into a complete reversal of their meaning, their new interpretation getting ample support and validation from the tournament venue.
Most practitioners, for example, seem to seriously misinterpret Yang Ch'eng‑fu's admonition to not let the body lean in any direction. They most commonly consider this to be a prohibition against any tilt, however slight, of the vertical axis of the body. What is meant, however, is that double‑weightedness may occur along one side of the body as well as between the feet, and the former should not be mistaken as a solution for the latter. Double‑weightedness is a difficult condition to overcome because it is in fact the natural response of the body to imbalance. The body, if deprived of the stability afforded by two legs, seeks to regain it by bracing itself against the opponent. This, since the body is not stabilized vertically in any other way, is leaning, regardless of whether it is directly on the opponent or through the mechanism of a pull (leaning away from the opponent), and regardless of the degree of pressure produced, no matter how slight.
This mistake is compounded by the attitude that this is some kind of good advice on Yang's part, and therefore that not following it will lead to a simple and decisive recrimination by one's opponent. It is good advice, alright, but for precisely the opposite reason. If breaking the rule were easily punished by the opponent, then one would not need one's master to remind one of that fact. As I pointed out earlier, the function of the master is to instruct the student along lines which are not an obvious and simple expedient of the rules. The prohibition of leaning is just such an example of non-expedient advice. In fact, within the other established rules and customs of hand pushing, leaning is very effective, if what one wants to do is prevent one's opponent from doing T'ai Chi Ch'uan. But Yang didn't want a school where everyone practiced keeping everyone else from improving, so he forbade leaning as one's father would forbid cheating in class.
Leaning, in fact, is exactly what every martial artist in the world wants his opponent to do. The opponent who grapples with you and charges forward is the cliché bozo of every martial arts fantasy, the most embarrassingly easy opponent to dispatch. Once the prohibition of pressure is neglected, a leaning opponent is the simplest of all to deal with, simply by hitting him. He is completely unable to neutralize even the most amateurish blow. The threat inherent in these blows cannot be simply dismissed; this is the greatest of all violations of T'ai Chi Ch'uan's tradition, which is that of a "real" martial art, one which translates to the "street."
For this reason, in hand pushing Cheng Man‑ch'ing considered the contest over, the point made, or whatever, if he simply touched your chest, however lightly. T'ai Chi Ch'uan is made to function within the context of these considerations, not outside of them. It gains nothing from simplification that is simply naive. Every gunfighter would enjoy practice with a recoilless weapon, every swordfighter a weightless sword; but neither would constitute preparation for the real thing. Wisdom in the martial arts is knowing where the priorities of practice lie, and the higher techniques of T'ai Chi Ch'uan were never made to be practiced in a vacuum, or atop an ivory tower.
The irony is that the very producers of these tournaments seem to think that they are making T'ai Chi Ch'uan more "realistic." They are overly sensitized to the attitudes of people who have little understanding of the martial arts in regard to the slowness of T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice; they have heard for years the objections of well meaning folks who doubt the effectiveness of something so smooth and studied against somebody who was "really fighting." So they create a situation where people can bull each other around with great strength, a more than satisfactory facsimile of uncontrolled violence, and make rules against those many simple martial techniques which would destroy such behavior instantly.
As for the rules, every martial art does this to a certain extent; this is what makes them arts. It is only a question of the wisdom with which the process is applied. As a teacher of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, I have a right to be concerned that the loudly proclaimed "North American Grand Champion" of hand pushing might one embarrassing day get the shit beat out of him by some high school linebacker (who, as far as I can see, would be even more practiced at this sort of thing). I have a right to be concerned about the de facto alteration of the very definition of what T'ai Chi Ch'uan is by these tournaments.
I have for twenty‑five years been tired of defending myself to people who accuse me of not even knowing how to pronounce the name of my own art, and finally have come to accept that T'ai Chi Ch'uan (pronounced T'ai gee Ch'uan) is, in America, T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan (pronounced T'ai chee Ch'uan), which means, as nearly as I can render it: "Big Wind Boxing."
This much I can take, but when people begin coming to me and explaining to me that T'ai Chi Ch'uan is guys grunting and shoving each other around a ring while judges look on and score points, because this is what he just saw on the latest T'ai Chi Ch'uan Intergalactic Grand Championships, which were presided over by the Great Great Grand Master Somebody or Something, the only person "sanctioned" to teach by the Trans‑Universal T'ai Chi Ch'uan Association of China, the only "official" representative of blah blah blah etc. etc., then ‑ then I get really upset. I am afraid that T'ai Chi Ch'uan is in danger of becoming "Big Wind Boxing" in more ways than one.
In the recent tournament in San Francisco, sponsored by the T'ai Chi Ch'uan association of Doc Fai Wong and Jane Hallander, I witnessed one of the most outrageous examples of legitimization by fiat in which I have ever had the displeasure to be personally involved. Making up a new martial art, figuring out rules of engagement and such, is a tough job; far be it for me to carp at someone trying to do so. But don't make up a new martial art and call it T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is the result of years of refined skills, and there are no shortcuts; the complexity of the art prevents this. The announcement of a children's hand pushing division on the program was, therefore, an obvious portent of what was to come, a clear warning that, whatever was going on here, it wasn't T'ai Chi Ch'uan. This was immediately apparent in the first matches of the adult division. After the barest preliminary semblance of proper yielding (mandated by the rules but not enforced by the judges), all players without exception launched themselves at the opponent with the most ill considered and cavalier attacks imaginable, seeking only to apply as much pressure as possible as quickly as possible, leaning both more quickly and with greater force than their adversary.
Changes in the ankles, one of the telltale signs of skill at hand pushing, were almost entirely absent, and when they did occur were completely negated by even greater bending of the knees, producing the ungainly squat of charging barroom brawlers. What I saw of the instructor division of the hand pushing tournament exhibited, for the most part, even more horrendous lack of style, for the predictable reason that instructors are more used to having their pet techniques work against their own students, and are actually far less than prepared to maintain real technique when they are losing.
As an entirely separate matter from the orthodoxy of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, I deeply question the existence of "instructor divisions" in tournaments at all. Teachers have a lot more on the line in terms of face than students, and the old custom of a defeated teacher turning himself and all his students over to the victor was in some ways simply a description of what naturally happens. Given this added pressure, the temptation for the teacher (who should be upholding the highest promise of the art, beyond that which can be tested in tournaments) to bend his art to the rules for an expedient win is quite unfair, both to the teacher, and ultimately to the art itself.
I felt compelled, in fact, to leave before the instructor division of hand pushing progressed beyond the lightweight stage, out of an ethical conflict between my need to tell the truth and my reluctance to denigrate any particular teachers, if only by implication. I must emphasize that I mean no criticism of the participants. They were doing the best they could do under the circumstances. My purpose here is not to imply that no one was of the necessary skill to legitimately compete in such a tournament, but that the rules of the contest itself assured that no skill could be demonstrated, even by the greatest experts.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is not a supernatural power. Its techniques and results are made possible only through a freedom of possibilities on the part of the practitioner. As a student of Cheng Man‑ch'ing, I noticed that the real power of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in dealing with true opponents does not manifest unless the other, more traditional martial threats are still in play. It is both T'ai Chi Ch'uan's greatness and its curse that it does not truly manifest except in the most realistic situations. This makes it a wonderful martial art, but difficult to demonstrate except in certain controlled ways, and with well matched opponents. I certainly leave this article open to the possibility that some fortunate pairing of two teachers of sufficient understanding produced something which might be recognizable as decent T'ai Chi Ch'uan. I confess to being doubtful that this was the case, and if it were, it would be in spite of the established rules, certainly not as any result of them.
Only twice, as far as my observation of the matches went, were any points made by causing both opponent's feet to leave the ground simultaneously, and both of these points were credited to the eventual winner of the middleweight division, Mr. Robert Alexander. If one wished to truly set a standard for T'ai Chi Ch'uan competition, both players would be required to maintain full awareness of the threats implied by their opponents' moves, as enforced by the judgment of trained observers (exactly as is done in traditional point karate), with points given for moving the opponent only when both feet leave the ground.
At one point I was excited to see a competitor wearing traditional Chinese shoes rather than the type of traction master tennies favored by everyone else. Here, I thought hopefully, is someone who at least is attempting to use a technique not based on friction and force. I was quite disappointed to see, after my hope for the tournament was bounced on the ground, that he had recovered his shoe bottoms with rubber.
I am quite aware of the reaction that this article will receive among many circles, and of the objections which will be mounted against its conclusions. But I would advise caution against blind enthusiasm for any and all attempts to "promote" T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Cheng Man‑ch'ing said once that the only trouble with T'ai Chi Ch'uan was that it was too difficult to be useful to society. This may indeed be the case, and attempts to force it into such a mold, whether they be the work of well meaning devotees or cynical promoters, will not make it less so.
As much as it might look like it, I'm really not trying to rain on anybody's parade. For the most part, I would prefer to keep as far away as possible from the eternal politicization and current popularization of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, but there is nothing inherently offensive to me in the idea that T'ai Chi Ch'uan might become as popular as baseball. If somebody could come up with a way to translate the subtleties of T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice into measurable quantities, with pressure sensitive suits, elaborate bio‑feedback readouts, X‑ray instant replay, anything, I'd be all for it.
But it's got to work. It's got to encourage the practice of real T'ai Chi Ch'uan, not just give some sort of egoistic outlet for those who may have practiced various relevant skills in the course of the legitimate pursuit of their art. I really don't think anyone's going to come up with it soon, and until they do, T'ai Chi Ch'uan will resist any coherent translation into a viable tournament "item," no matter how many trophies we buy and present to each other. I would not speak this way were it not for my great love and fascination for the art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, and as for those who might say that my objections are those of an unwelcome stranger who is reluctant to put his theories on the line, or the sour grapes of a sore loser, I can only say that I functioned as the personal coach of the aforementioned middleweight champion, Mr. Robert Alexander, and can be accused of neither position.
It is my most heartfelt and professional opinion that the shove boat, which is all that I can bring myself to call this past weekend's disappointing spectacle, is cruisin' for a bruisin'; I advise all on board to disembark.