Taiwan – Day Seven

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the breakfast buffet at the Evergreen Hotel which has been pretty spectacular. They offer basic American breakfasty things like ham, eggs, bacon, sausage, cereal, fruit, breads, pastries, but there are also lots of fresh salad and vegetable options which I assume suits more eastern sensibilities. It’s all very good and is a really nice start to the day.

We met for breakfast and then again gathered in the lobby with all the other out of town competition participants to board the bus to be taken to the venue. Things got down to business pretty quickly today and the events started earlier than yesterday because there were no opening ceremonies or demonstrations.

Joe and I were the only ones who were competing today so we spent some time warming up and getting ready after we arrived at the gym. We had both entered the weapons event which involved the Hsing-I Sword form and one other weapons form that could be chosen from several options. Both Joe and I were doing the first half of the T’ai Chi Sword form. There were about 30 other participants in this event and the level of all the competitors was pretty high yesterday and we were not surprised to see more of the same today. We both got thru our forms just fine and breathed a sigh of relief now that we had done all of what we had (officially) come to do.

We all spent the rest of the day until early afternoon just watching all of the different forms. We got to see a lot of Ba Gua, the most advanced of the Cheng Ming martial arts, as well as plenty of Hsing-I. There was also an ‘all around’ event that involved performing forms in all 3 martial arts. James Lee from Fairfax ended up winning this event which was great to see. This was the last event to finish up, and then it was time for the grand finale — Push Hands.

Most people don’t think of one-on-one sparring when they think of T’ai Chi. The graceful and slow movements are enough to prompt the question ‘Is this really a martial art?’ However, every single movement in each form has martial art applications, usually a multitude of them. Practicing them slowly often means that you can’t ‘cheat’ — the movement eventually is perfected because each tiny part is done fully and no element is glossed over. Thus, speeding up the movements can eventually be done with no decrease in power or effectiveness.

The closest well-known relative to Push Hands that I know of is Sumo (Traditional Japanese Wrestling), although with much less Ben and Jerry’s. The point of Push Hands is to push your opponent out of a circle or force them to their knee or to the ground. There are no strikes allowed, no punching or kicking, although leg sweeps are permitted. Ultimately it is about connecting to your opponent’s center of gravity and moving it, while preventing your opponent from doing the same.

Grandmaster Wang spent some time explaining the rules to all the participants and then the events started with the heavyweights going first. Matches consisted of 2 two-minute rounds; however, often the opponents were so evenly matched that they were forced to go longer until one finally scored a point on the other. The competitors from Texas did very well, and ended up winning the first and second place spots. Then the middleweights competed, and James Lee from Fairfax defended his title from four years ago. The lightweights went last, with their matches generally involving a lot more moving around than the previous two weight classes.

Next the women competed — there were 3 competitors and all were very good, with most matches lasting quite a long time. As with any sparring event, part of the winning strategy was to be efficient in your movement and not waste energy. This gets very difficult very quickly as your body gets tired and the risk for injury increases pretty rapidly.

Finally the teenagers competed, boys first and then the girls, culminating in an absolutely grueling match between two teenage girls who simply could not score on each other. The final match was over 10 minutes long, and this was after each had already been in two or three matches already. One of the girls got hit accidentally at one point, and the other completely stopped and apologized profusely with genuinely sweet concern. Once it was established that she was okay, they spent another seven minutes trying to best each other.

In a funny way, the incident captured the spirit of the entire competition. I was struck all weekend with how successfully a very difficult balance had been achieved. All the competitors came ready to perform at their highest level, and it was obvious that all took the competition very seriously.

However, there was a genuinely warm feeling of family; arrogance was conspicuously absent, egos were left at the door and respect ran high throughout. People had come to perform but they had also come to learn from each other, and to share the tradition we had in common beneath all the diversity. Nowhere was this more evident than the Push Hands competition, and it was powerful to see the attitudes and respect that all the competitors brought to their matches and to their opponents.

After a quick cleanup of the gym, everyone piled on the buses and headed to dinner to celebrate together at the closing banquet. Awards were given and endless toasts were made, and it was a great way to end two incredibly full days. I think we all made it back to the hotel without falling asleep on the bus, but I doubt anyone will have much trouble slipping into dreamland after hitting the pillow.