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Taoism and the Martial Arts -- Why Taoism is Not Passive

Taoism is not passive.

To follow the Way does not mean you allow yourself to be abused, and it certainly doesn't mean that you stand by and allow others to be abused.

There is a story that I love:

Two elderly Chinese gentlemen are sitting on a park bench, enjoying the day. One follows Taoism, the other Confucianism. A soldier comes into the park and, being filled up with his own power and self-importance, he begins scolding the old men and shouting for them to leave.

To drive home his rage, the soldier strikes the old Confucian, who apologizes, gets up, and quickly walks away. Those who follow Confucianism are guided by duty, and see themselves as subservient to the government and authority figures.

Seeing the Taoist still sitting on the bench, the soldier raises his hand to strike.

The Taoist gentleman deflects the blow and with one quick movement, breaks the soldier's arm. The soldier scampers away in pain, while the old man remains seated on the bench, enjoying the day.

To follow the Way means that you try to "go with the flow." You seek balance, and you seek to ride the ups and downs of life in a centered way.

Those who step out of harmony with the Tao see themselves as separate. They see themselves as special.

In this story, the soldier stepped out of harmony. It's important to know that when something is out of harmony, nature works to bring it back into harmony. Sometimes, we have to act to bring someone or something back into harmony with nature.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a store -- the Camera Corner in Davenport, Iowa. A manager type was treating one of the employees very rudely. Then he walked to the second floor with the employee, his voice rising louder and louder. Even when they went out of range, I could hear every word as he shouted angrily at this poor guy, who couldn't have been earning much more than minimum wage and appeared to be near 50 years old.

I asked two employees behind the counter, "Is he yelling at that employee in front of the customers?" They said yes, and one employee said, "Someone needs to rein him in."

I paid for my items as the employee came downstairs, smiling sheepishly. I walked up the steps and told the manager that he shouldn't shout at employees in front of customers.

"But he has made this mistake several times," he said. "He's done it twice this month."

"You didn't hear me," I explained. "If someone needs to be corrected, do it behind closed doors, not in front of the customers."

"But I'm concerned about quality for customers like you," he said.

I raised my voice loud enough for the employees downstairs to hear. "You don't get it," I said. "No justification! I've never worked with a jerk who thought he was a jerk. That was jerky behavior. Stop it! No argument!"

He put his head down, closed his mouth, and I walked out and returned to work.

Now, I could have just walked away and been passive. I didn't have to become involved. But I knew the employee was powerless, and as the person behind the cash register said, someone needed to rein the manager in. I was in the right place at the right time.

I could also keep my mouth shut, like most people in tai chi do when an instructor claims to be able to do miracles with his chi, healing people with their aura or knocking them down without touching them.

But these folks have stepped out of harmony with nature, just the same as someone who pulls a gun and steps into a bank. They perceive themselves as special, and they want everyone to treat them that way.

Taoism is not passive. That's why monks created kung-fu.


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Adam Kofoid

Well said!

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