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Lessons of ch’i permeation from the big screen

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T’ai chi ch’uan master Cheng Man Ching speaks in Master of Five Excellences about the observer’s ability to sense when a person’s work is permeated with his or her ch’i, including with the five Chinese classics of painting, poetry, calligraphy, Chinese medicine, and t’ai chi. 

Jurors, judges, and most other people can tell when a trial lawyer is or is not permeating his or her defense of the case with ch’i. Moreover, if a criminal defense lawyer is not going to fully apply his or her ch’I to the case, why will judges and jurors bother listening closely and deeply to the lawyer? 

Today, ch’i reared its head onscreen to me in the box office hit Karate Kid. With a four-year-old boy, I am finally seeing less of the goody-goody Thomas the Tank and his friends, and seeing more of Spongebob Squarepants, who might be ubiquitous on television, Band-Aids, frozen pops and beyond, but at least he and his friend Patrick allude to chewing gum that they have scraped clean from the bottom of the tables at the restaurant where they work. In other words, it will take some time before my son and I watch a Jim Jarmusch or Quentin Tarrantino movie together. 

Today, my wife, son and I went to see Karate Kid. Particularly upon seeing the scenes of Beijing early on in the film, I tried to distance myself from the movie, looking at this as a likely propaganda bonus to the brutal Chinese government which likely bestowed heavy assistance to Karate Kid’s film makers. I anticipated some or plenty of tired movie formulas, and tried distancing myself from the formula for that, too.

I was unable to not be engaged by Karate Kid, however. No matter how much the film’s producers and director geared the film towards manipulating a financial box office hit and merchandising sales online, and no matter how much better the current Karate Kid is or is not to its predecessor, it tells a good story, and resonated strongly with me on some important universal themes, including:

– Adjusting to being uprooted by forces (here, a parent) beyond one’s control while already adjusting to rapid changes as one enters puberty.  

– Learning to fend for oneself.

– The importance of fearlessness, ch’i, practice, and wu  (emptying the mind, among other things) in dealing with conflict. 

– Cultural and geographical obstacles to romance. 

– A master (here in martial arts) taking an underdog by the wing, giving individualized training, and ultimately learning vital lessons from the student. 

As opposed to the original Karate Kid, which I never saw, the current Karate Kid focuses on kung fu, rather than on karate. From what I can tell from t’ai chi books and Internet sites, kung fu (1) is the same as the Chinese gung fu and (2) means accomplishment, rather than referring to any one specific martial art. Many of the martial arts moves in the movie are questionable as to effectiveness and usefulness in real life. 

Even if Karate Kid’s creators were focused on making a box office smash hit, and even if this film is not the most masterful presenter of the foregoing themes, the movie hopefully spreads the concepts of ch’I and wu widely enough to give those concepts a better-understood meaning. 

Karate Kid tells a good story, which also is essential at trial. Trial lawyers compete for attention with such films as Karate Kid, whose creators invest large sums of money into figuring out what makes audiences tick. A good trial lawyer can still captivate and persuade jurors, even without a huge budget, but hard work, ch’i permeation, skill, experience, and sweat equity remain essential to execute a persuasive trial presentation.