“Don't lean in any direction; suddenly appear, suddenly disappear. Empty the left wherever a pressure appears, and similarly the right. If the opponent rises up, I seem taller; if he sinks down, then I seem lower; advancing, he finds the distance seems incredibly long; retreating, the distance seems exasperatingly short. A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body. The opponent does not know me; I alone know him. To become a peerless boxer results from this.”
THE TREATISE ON T'AI CHI CH'UAN
Attributed to Wang Tsung-yueh [Wang Zongyue] (18th Century)
Most people when thinking about fighting and martial arts, think about strength and speed as the primary factors. Most people consider good fighters are those who can punch the hardest and are the biggest. Daoist and Buddhist monks in China had a different approach to combat. They didn’t consider strength, size, and gender as something necessary when it came to being a good fighter. They developed a martial art that the Daoist monks called Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist). Tai Chi was based not on the principles of aggression and force but the principles of yielding and harmony. Tai Chi and styles like it became known as internal systems of Kung Fu or soft styles. These soft styles were in contrast to the harder Kung Fu systems that existed at the time.
Most people know Tai Chi from seeing it practiced by elderly people as a health exercise. When observed by an untrained eye it is hard to see how any of these movements will work in a combat situation. Don’t be fooled by this, every single movement in a Tai Chi form can be applied to an opponent in many different ways. Tai Chi is one of the hardest if not the hardest fighting system to get good at. It requires patience, perseverance and most of all a willingness to change. A person can only learn how to fight with it after ten years of diligent practice. It is not a system for those who have no discipline or staying power.
When a practitioner learns Tai Chi correctly, as a martial art. He or she reaps many other benefits from the training. While they are learning to fight in an entirely counterintuitive way, they are also developing core strength, improved circulation, increased focus, confidence and an increased sense of well-being.
Tai Chi doesn’t just change your body. Tai Chi changes your mind also. Monks who were on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately enlightenment developed Tai Chi as a vehicle for this personal growth. When a practitioner performs Tai Chi correctly, it is a form of moving meditation. It helps control breathing, thoughts, emotions and ultimately helps the practitioner see past the many illusions and harmful mental patterns created over their lifetime.
The system of Tai Chi that I teach is from Chan Buddhism. It is known as Suang Yang Bai He Rou Ruan Chun, Suang Yang for short. The system is based on the movements of the White Crane, and it originally came from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Suang Yang is a 66-movement form. Each movement leads on from the previous movement and leads to the next in a smooth flowing manner. Over time, the practitioner develops a body that is soft as wool externally and hard as steel internally. The practitioner learns to become completely sensitive to his or her body and through that their opponent's body. When the opponent attacks any point, the practitioner is not there and when the opponent tries to retreat the practitioner is there first. I will leave you with this quote from Cheng Man-Ch’ing, an early 20th Century Tai Chi Master.
“Tai Chi Chuan, the great ultimate, strengthens the weak, raises the sick, invigorates the debilitated, and encourages the timid.”
Unfortunately, we have had to read about another alleged honour killing of a young British woman in Pakistan. I would like to use this blog post to direct what these ‘honour killings” are and what kind of mindset can cause a parent or a sibling to take the life if a loved one in the name of doing the right thing.
In many Middle Eastern, African and South Asian countries where the predominant structure of societies used to consist of the relationship between tribes. A system of recognising the usefulness of a relationship with a neighbouring tribe was a system based on honour. The reputation your tribe had and how others perceived you was a matter of existence. There was no police or government to implement laws; tribal elders had to make sure the reputation their tribe had was always a noble but ferocious one. These tribal societies were always patriarchal, and men were the guardians of the reputation of their tribes.
Fast forward to today, this tribal mentality that existed in the past still exists in a lot of these societies. The difference being, the reasons for them are no longer there. Honour killings today are based on countering perceived shame a girl has brought upon their family. Usually, a parent or a brother will decide that the actions of their daughter or sister have lowered the reputation of the family in the eyes of their community, and the only way to remove the shame is to punish the girl by killing her. These communities usually praise and hold up as an example, men who have killed their daughters or sisters to buy back the reputation that the girl's actions might have tarnished.
Shame, reputation or honour are not fixed things, that can be defined. Each society or each family views these things in different ways. Different communities and families manufacture these concepts based on the wider community and what has come before. I, unfortunately, know some families who have killed their daughters in the name of honour. Those guilty of the acts are now in prison, but I feel if they spent some time dissecting their motivations for killing their daughters they would not have done it.
The excuse that is used over and over again by these killers is a predictable one. They say things resembling, “I did it because my daughter brought dishonour to my family name. I sacrificed my freedom, and my daughter's life to buy that honour back.” In this exchange, the girl is seen as a commodity to be traded and not as a life that has all the rights that the father or brother would give himself. The murderer sees himself as the hero of the piece, the person who made the hard choice for the good of the name of the family. It is critical for everyone to realise that all the dreams, hopes and aspirations that we hold are not absolutes. Just like we have the choice to decide what values we hold, our daughters and sisters have these rights also. We can explain to them as they are growing up why the values we hold are important to us and why we feel they should adopt them but we should not impose these arbitrary worldviews on any adult including our daughters or sisters. Each functioning adult has the right to live their life how they choose. Our societies laws are in place to stop members living a life that is harmful to others but outside of this no one should have views imposed on them.
A lot of minority communities that exist within dictatorial societies complain about persecution, repression and not being able to express their identity. But these men can not see the irony in the way they treat their daughters or sisters. Some of the murders I know have been freedom fighters for most of their youth, fighting for freedom against oppressive regimes, but they are happy to place their loved ones within metaphorical cages, killing them when they develop a worldview that is different from their own.
Honour Killings are often seen as a source of celebration by these communities that encourage and enable this culture. The murderer, the criminal is seen as someone that is a positive role model. The reality is that this person was weak, they were too weak to stand up against the tide and say, "This is not the right way." Societies need revolutionaries and heroes. Men and Women who can stand up and say, "This needs to change." Family members who kill their daughter’s to bring back honour are nothing but criminals and those that encourage them are cowards.
When you are long gone and your children and grandchildren are discussing you and your life. Let them say “He never accepted old fashioned and outdated ideals. He always challenged them and changed his community for the better.” None of us want to be remembered by our children and grandchildren as cowards who were too afraid to stick their head above the crowd and look for a better way.
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!