Words and swords

This week someone asked me to teach him some sword, sabre, staff, applications and sparring. He was a competitive fencer as a young man, so it will be interesting. It will be good to see if my body can do what it needs. Also, to see how I have softened (or not) over the two years since my hip injury manifested. More importantly, I have been rethinking what it is that weapons study did to me. All my weapons were lost in a fire in 2021, so I have asked my colleagues if they have wooden ones to lend me. To be asked to pick up arms again is a challenge, but timely.

Before I did T’ai Chi sabre and sword, I was a typical girl, conflict averse, scared of many things and fearful of attacks. However, it is the being attacked that causes the meditation to be real. If I cannot ‘stand my ground using softness’ when I am attacked, then what is my meditation for? I like the term ‘armchair art’ for this. Yet how I ever became an adult had a lot to do with doing what I didn’t want to do, over and over, in a ‘vertical’ master-system, for decades, eating bitter. Many adults act like children now, throwing tantrums. It is no coincidence all my T’ai Chi master friends say no one young will come to classes anymore. It doesn’t make them look great, get hard abs, or do anything they can ‘get’ quickly. And so, our art withers away as we practitioners age. I feel blessed that I was able to teach for 18 years with amazing students aged 30-65, who stayed all that time. It was a privilege to do hard, elaborate practice, to hone ourselves. We are all changed, fundamentally transformed.

I know many young people who are not like this, but they must be busy doing other good things, as I do not see them starting T’ai Chi. Perhaps it just does not appeal.

I shall pick up my sword again, I think. Possibly even this weekend. It is the practice that stood me in good stead with all this ongoing uncertainty in the wider world and in my own life. Not getting our own way sucks at first, eh? But later, the juicy, sparkling, elderhood that this bitter mash can ferment, is how we’ll one day distil pure spirit.

The ‘real’ that the ‘false’ of T’ai Chi weapons cultivated in me was Spirit (Shen).

I had no fighting spirit, only ambition. I was scared of letting go, of sacrifice, and hoarded pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, I still like pleasure, but it comes and goes like weather and that’s fine.

There is much I do not like about many specific hierarchies that exist, the world over. Where it is correct to do so, I will continue to thoughtfully challenge or change them, as best I can, according to my conscience. However, the ‘vertical’ parts of cultures are as diverse as nature itself. That what has come before should educate and inform that which comes after, is of prime importance. If no elders, we have no roots. I am doing my best to become a good elder, before I become an ancestor, and I am doing that through story and sharing practical knowledge. It is good to know my writer-friends are there with words and I am here with swords, and we are all attempting not to fight, even when those who know almost nothing, point at our chosen tools and shout ‘pointless!’

(In response to a great essay by one friend today, and conversations and emails with several others. Thanks friends.)

Published by Caroline Ross

Artist, maker, teacher of earth materials, founder of Great River T'ai Chi.

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