The Exigencies of Being a Tai Chi Practitioner in a Macho Country
(This article appeared in the maiden issue of Seguida!, the official publication of the Academia Tercia Cerrada Cadenilla y Espada y Daga. It came out this February.)
One of the more annoying things about studying and promoting Tai Chi Chuan when you're male, geeky, Filipino and under 40 is that the art and you don't get much respect. Friends who study other--harder--martial systems tend to nod sagely and then snicker behind your back, because they associate Tai Chi with infirm and senescent people "taking it easy" while waiting to expire.
You want to protest, but the only argument your macho martial artist friends will respect is of the direct and empirical sort: "Don't tell me, show me!" And you can't. Because it simply takes so long to reach the levels of competence you'll need to take these guys on and make them run home crying to sensei. Because you're not even allowed to "spar" until after you've gone through three years of form training.
You could bolster your argument by hunting for a "Practical Tai Chi" VCD and distributing it to your snickering friends, but the point is always better driven if you were physically making it. That is, if you're male, geeky, Filipino and under 40: proud, obstinate, secretly relishing and cheering the macho posturing, womanizing and lousy dialogues of Vic Vargas, Eddie Garcia or (for the younger set) Robin Padilla.
So why am I --male, geeky, Filipino and under 40-- still a student of Tai Chi when I can't carry it well enough to assuage my macho pride before my other martial artist friends? Here's the list--
No matter what my macho friends say, Tai Chi works. And I don't mean just the health applications. I didn't spend all those hours in an uncomfortable chokehold or arm-bar with my limbs hyper-extended and my face in the dirt because I wanted to make my teacher laugh. (He did, but that's another story.) I questioned the practicality of each new form and stance that I was taught and each time, I received my answers when my teacher used my own movement to make me kiss the floor.
I didn't take Tai Chi to be macho. There are many reasons why people choose the martial path: power, mastery, impressing girls, vanity and health among them. I did want to learn the martial applications of the art, but I'd always treated the subject as a set of "academic" problems: how far can I push my body? How well can I control my breathing, my movement? How well can I execute--the term is walk-- the forms? More importantly, how well can I discipline myself?
There are better ways to practice and promote Tai Chi than by beating other people with it. Thankfully, when challenged by my macho friends, I've always remembered that.
Yeah, my Sunday Tai Chi and Arnis group finally got itself a name. We meet on Sundays at the University of the Philippines lagoon area. 8:00 am for Tai Chi & 10:00 am for arnis. Everyone who can make the trip is invited to stop by. Talk or train, chill, or just watch me make a fool of myself. If you can't catch me anywhere else, you'll find me there.