Whether you practise tai chi for health or as a combat art, you may find it interesting to note the importance that love and compassion have in the development of profound combat skill.
Many martial arts teachers have spoken of the importance of love and compassion in the life of a martial artist. But many understand this to be a warrior ethic that is independent of practical combat. This is very far from the truth.
If you learn practice tai chi with loving compassion for yourself and the world, you may find yourself become happier, healthier, and more successful. But loving compassion can also make you a much better fighter.
Morihei Uyeshiba, the founder of the Japanese martial art called Aikido said that, upon his enlightenment, he realised that the true spirit of Budo (the Warrior Way) was Love. While many may see this as a statement of morality, I see it as a principle of great practicality. If you want to have balance and happiness in your life, you must love yourself and love others. This is not merely an idealistic decision. It is actually a wise and even selfish one. Furthermore, if you want to be able to defeat an attacker easily, you must start by loving him or her unconditionally.
First let me establish that martial arts are not methods for becoming violent. Martial arts are methods for achieving and maintaining balance in an inherently violent world. Violence and disharmony will increase in our lives unless we actively pursue peace and balance. An attack is an attempt by another person to disrupt our balance. Martial skill is the ability to maintain a level of stability even when other people, or the world in general, seem to be trying to destabilise us.
So, the search for balance and stability is the foundation of warrior training. This balance is disrupted by unregulated emotional patterns. The practice of tai chi can help to relax the physical body, regulate the emotions, and calm the mind.
One of the most effective ways to regulate the emotions is to make your practice an act of loving compassion.
Start by practising the tai chi form as an act of compassion toward yourself. Feel the movements improving your strength, flexibility, and the function of your internal organs. Notice the increasing energy and self-awareness that you experience as you do the form.
This feeling can then be expanded to the world around you. Consider the practice of tai chi as a means of improving the world. As you improve your own health and balance, you will function more effectively in the world, thereby making it a better place.
One useful mental exercise is to think the practice as a prayer, mantra or ritual that subtly or mysteriously contributes to the harmony in the world. This can open your mind to subtle awareness of your surroundings, and help you to understand the emotions, motivations and intent of others. This is something which is of immense value when dealing with an attacker.
Love is the warrior’s answer to fear. And fear is the great enemy. We have seen what happens in a country when fear and ignorance are used to invoke irrational calls to arms. We have seen how that fear and ignorance can bring about the decline in the very things that the military action is supposed to protect. While fear and hatred can be used to motivate action, loving compassion inspires more committed action and guides wiser decisions.
Irrational fear and ignorance will make short work of a fighter. Fear causes tension in the lower back, inhibits general awareness. This lack of awareness will lead to tunnel vision and the inability to respond to variable threats. The fearful warrior will attack the wrong target, and respond to things that are not real threats.
An effective fighter must know their self and know their enemy. They will not learn about anything by hating or fearing them. The only way to truly understand yourself and your enemy is to cultivate the unconditional love and compassion that engenders rapport and deep awareness.
When I am afraid, my kidney area tightens up. This creates a physical imbalance, arches my back and makes me look afraid. Not wanting to appear as frightened as I am, I either cower in a vain attempt to hide, or puff up our chest to compensate. This will look like bravery and confidence in the face of fear. But it is actually a false bravado and merely creates tension to equal the tension in my back. This tension will inhibit my agility, my breathing, my circulation, and even my reason. I will become less aware of myself and much less aware of everything else.
You see people like this in elementary and secondary schools all over the world. They are the puffed-up blow-hard chest breathers who often become bullies in a vain attempt to cope with their own chronic state of fear.
When one cultivates a tendency toward love and compassion, the tension around the kidneys relaxes, even when more adrenaline is being produced. This allows for greater agility, speed, and power. It also allows one to breath more deeply and with less effort, increasing endurance and power.
With love and compassion, awareness increases and consciousness expands. One becomes aware, either consciously or unconsciously, of subtle energies and motivation in those around them. One can then respond instinctively and intelligently to acts of aggression.
The kind of subtle awareness that is cultivated by love also enables one to know the thoughts and desires of a loved one, and enables dear friends to finish each other’s sentences.
Successful warriors are those who know themselves, and know their opponent. Loving compassion is the best tool for understanding both. Hatred and fear are of no use whatsoever when it comes to learning about either the self or the opponent. Love manifests as awareness and understanding. It also enables a martial artist to read the intent of an opponent, and to find the part of the opponent’s mind that wants to get pushed over.
This state of awareness is cultivated in the solo practice of tai chi. When the tai chi player practises standing meditation or slow routines, they are letting go of any unnecessary tension that might interfere with the smooth and effortless transfer of power, or the natural response to an attack.
The tai chi player who has cultivated gentle awareness will not fight their self and will not fight the opponent. The will manifest love in flawless technique. The opponent will effectively defeat themselves with the nature of their own attack.