An anonymous reader asks:
“What do you think of tournaments?”
I like Tai Chi tournaments for several reasons.
First there is the social dimension. So often we just go to class, and have rare or no contact with our brothers and sisters in Tai Chi. Tournaments are an opportunity to get together with colleagues and hang out, and sometimes discuss issues in Tai Chi, such as this one.
Next they are a teaching tool.
Tai Chi form in tournaments is scored like gymnastics, with judges holding up scores. When you practice at home, alone it is easy to be calm. But in public you need to maintain the same calm. In tournaments you have an opportunity to test that. Instead of focusing on the judges or the spectators, you need to stay inside yourself, demonstrate your calm and spread it. While it may be nice to win something, showing that the judges thought you were one of the best ones there, that is not the goal. The goal as I see it does not hinge on the outcome, though you may begin to win when you have the appropriate form and the deep calm, it is about how calm you can stay, and how well you can perform, not for the judges but in spite of them.
And then in the tournaments I go to, form correction is given as well. So it is an opportunity for others to see what you are doing and for you to be corrected by 4 or 5 other experts in your style of Tai Chi. Either the judges will help you see where you can improve, or you will see where those judging you are lacking, through their corrections
As far as push hands is concerned, when you practice push hands in your school with a partner, you can hone your techniques, your balance and your feeling for your partners balance. This is important, and you do not belong in tournament until you have done this to a certain level of accomplishment.
But in your school, you will not experience the stress of someone really wanting to push you, who you do not know and have never seen before. In push hands, you cannot be soft unless you are relaxed.
So practice with a partner has an important place in the school so that you can develop your skills. But if you do not test yourself in more real situations, how will you ever know if you have really developed those skills? I find that push hands tournaments are of value to help people overcome themselves in the presence of aggressive others. They need to stay mentally calm and physically relaxed to win. If they get tense they get into shoving matches. And when they do not demonstrate principle, they are apt to lose the match and themselves. .You need to get experience staying calm under pressure, so that you can keep your head and deal appropriately with attacks. This is a reasonably safe way to do this because you have judges calling points. In many part of the world, players just go to a park and play, no judges, and whatever happens, well, happens. And so it is nice to come home with trophies, (we often do) but it is better to come home with some good experiences. While a medal will tell you that you have accomplished skill beyond others, it is not about that, but about mastering yourself, gaining experience and doing the best you can.
When you have gotten the skills of dealing with all-comers in tournament, you will be able to learn applications (self-defense). Push hands is the middle skill between form and fighting. All the form and push hands will not help if you cannot remain calm and relaxed in a difficult situation. To paraphrase Robert W. Smith, without the ability to be calm and make your techniques effective against an opponent, you are just doing a one or a two person dance.
In T’ai Chi,