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Ranting on Ranking

Cruising through the martial arts forums lately I’ve seen quite a few threads on ranks, ranking, and the use of grading systems in Taijiquan. To my knowledge there is no historical precedent for these actions – indeed, Taijiquan is one of the few martial art systems that can make that claim.

One of the best-known families in Taijiquan, the Yang family, has proposed a complex ranking system that, while it seems to have the best interest of students at heart, also seems to fly in the face of Taijiquan’s Taoist roots.

Consider: the Taoist warning about labeling things is a useful and valid idea in life. The moment you label something as “this” or “that”, you limit it and burden it with your own preconceived notions. In effect, you place a fence around the thing, denying it its fundamental freedoms. A ranking system is like a fence. It is a compartmentalization, a pseudo-explanation that encloses what cannot be enclosed. Labels can imprison us if we take them too seriously, if we believe in them too strongly. We use these fences to reorder nature, not realizing that nature, in all its subtlety, cannot be so confined.

A true Taoist cannot afford to limit their thoughts in such an arbitrary fashion. To limit the mind is to limit the very essence of what makes us what we are. We place an “End of Road” sign on the outer boundaries of our knowledge, even though others have clearly gone beyond that point. Thus, in the practice of taijiquan one strives to go beyond what one believes is possible. Placing something as limiting as a color belt or a title upon the practitioner needlessly hampers their personal development, something that should never happen in an art such as Taijiquan.

We know what we know. That’s the easy part – the HARD part is knowing what we DON’T know. If we did indeed know what we didn’t know, there would certainly be no problem in gaining that knowledge. If we proclaim to everyone that we’re a Rainbow Belt in Taijiquan, then everyone “knows” that we only have a limited amount of knowledge, said limit being established by others. We begin to believe in the structure imposed upon us. We behave as we’re expected to behave and focus only upon what we’re expected to know.

Ranks and titles do have their uses – they serve to feed the incessant hunger for hierarchies, to place us in the proper spot of the time-line of life. They offer those with limited vision and even more limited spirit a way to feel comfortable in the grand scheme of things, little realizing that their carefully-crafted world is a sham, an artificial structure dumped on top of what should be a free and flowing Nature.

There are far too few things in life that are not ranked in one manner or another. We give 5 stars to movies that we enjoy; our children are constantly compared and contrasted with others in school; we consult Consumer Reports as the last word on what is “good” and “bad” in the materialistic realm; even the food we eat has labels telling us exactly what it consists of.

Please, let Taijiquan be what it should be – free and natural.


Martial Arts | Martial Arts Philosophy


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