Softness enables listening and winning; loudness deafens; hardness makes brittle and weak

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Jul 18, 2011 Softness enables listening and winning; loudness deafens; hardness makes brittle and weak

The above yin yang symbol — which embraces the scales of justice — is also the symbol for the t’ai chi chu’an/Supreme Ultimate martial art. This symbol of my law firm not only exemplifies my path for practicing law and life, but also reminds me to practice and stay on this path for the rest of my life. In the law, winning trials is like winning a bloodless war. For me, t’ai chi is an essential part of such battles.

As I have said before, I came to the t’ai chi path not out of some New Age touchy-feely path, but inspired by two lawyers, one the late, brash Victor Crawford who told me about some local t’ai chi teachers when I asked him for such direction a few years after I learned about him and his t’ai chi, and the other one of my first two teachers, Len Kennedy, then a large law firm partner so devoted to t’ai chi that he made the time on weekends to share this gift. 

The selflessness of so many great t’ai chi teachers is astounding. My current local teacher Julian Chu — a student of San Francisco’s megamaster Ben Lo — has a full-time job, and makes time every weekend to teach, with Sunday mornings as free practice sessions in Carderock Park for a succession of the t’ai chi form; t’ai chi sword, saber, and spear; and push hands. Several of Julian’s students are tremendously able t’ai chi teachers in their own right. Ben Lo’s student David Walls-Kaufman has his own chiropractic practice in Washington, D.C., and makes the time to lead free practice sessions in Capitol Hill’s Lincoln Park on Saturday mornings. Many teachers’ fees are so modest as to not be a key driving force for them to teach, get out of bed sometimes early on weekend mornings away from family, and to find the patience to teach and re-teach many students the same lessons over and over again, at least offset by the joy of having students who have the self discipline to practice on their own the rest of the week, and to be on the right path to applying the right approach to practice.

I started studying and practicing t’ai chi in 1994. Over the years, my joining great Sunday t’ai chi practices, and my attending t’ai chi classes taught by such megamasters as San Francisco’s unsurpassed Benjamin Lo often is sometimes akin to going to the dentist. The dentist or dentist’s assistant remind me about proper brushing and flossing, which i diligently do for the next few days, but then it often slacks off into less time brushing and flossing.

Ironically, for a martial art that focuses on our shedding our egos, my ego helps assure that I practice t’ai chi daily. If I do not, that will show when I push hands with other Sunday practitioners, as push hands tests, among other things, the practitioner’s t’ai chi form, which includes the essential five principals of keeping the body upright, relaxing and sinking, turning from the waist, separating/yinyanging the weight, and keeping the wrists softly unbent.

T’ai chi makes clear that big egos, loudness, and hard and brittle energy weaken a fighter. To do follow such a hardened path results in getting pushed around all the more doing push hands practice, not out of animosity from the opponents, but by being one’s own worst enemy to have a big ego, to be loud, and to exhibit hardness and brittleness, kind of like the shark who tears open its own abdomen, and proceeds to eat the booty, to its own peril.

One of Julian’s senior students yesterday helped me refocus on the benefits of softness (not limpness nor collapse) to hear the opponent’s movements and intentions, which in turn helps the practitioner to keep powerfully soft and strong. He focused me, for instance, on not only adjusting my body parts being pushed into more softness, but also on making internal adjustments beyond any physical adjustments.

The most important lesson in t’ai chi is Ben Lo’s admonition to relax and practice, relax and practice and relax and practice, as well as his admonitions of No Burn, No Earn, and No Pain, No Gain. Ben Lo apparently has an extraordinary willpower to withstand tremendous discomfort (for instance, while holding postures for several minutes on end, in the beginning causing substantial burning feelings in the joints)  in order to move further on the t’ai chi path.

Relax and practice. 


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