I once decided to study t’ai chi. I was living in New York City at the time, and I checked out maybe a dozen workshops and classes. One Saturday morning, I went to an introductory talk in Chelsea, and I still remember something the instructor said.
He was explaining to the group about t’ai chi, how it was first developed maybe two centuries ago in Chinese monasteries, how it’s a part of taoism, how the different schools spread across China. The basic stuff. At the end of the talk, a young man had a question.
“What about application?”
The teacher looked as if he had heard that question before. I knew enough about the t’ai chi culture to understand that the young man was really talking about fighting. Sure, t’ai chi looked pleasant enough, going through the form in slow motion. That was fine for the elderly, kept their blood circulating. But what about the street? This was New York. What if a stranger attacked you? Could t’ai chi be applied directly to self defense? Was it just some kind of harmony exercise or could you use it to knock a man down?
Without pausing, the teacher said, “If you think about fighting, you’ve already lost.”
Sometimes we fight because we have to and sometimes because we want to. Whatever the outcome, however, when we go to war we’ve already lost.