What it Do, Player?

You’ve seen me use the word “player” in regard to one who practices tai chi.  There are a few reasons for it which are worth going over.

The first and most important is that it’s the word the Yang family uses.  Since I’m a dues-paying member of the International Yang Family Tai Chi Association and aspire to become a Certified Instructor, it’s only fitting that I use their jargon.  I don’t know what word the family uses in place of it in Chinese. There are a few different words in Chinese for “student,” and in a philosophical sense we are all “students” of the art.  But in Chinese, just like in English, the words for “student” or “pupil” are usually defined against their opposite “teacher.”  And sometimes a person doing tai chi is, at the moment, neither student nor teacher, but simply someone doing tai chi.

I also like the word for personal reasons.  Back when I was on Active Duty I read a science-fiction novel called “The Regiment.”  It was about a unit of mercenaries from a culture whose approach to literally everything in life was that of “play.”  The book goes into great detail and a link to it is at the end of this post.  The short version is that approaching the things we do as if we are “playing” encourages both a sense of detachment and a focus on the activity for its own sake.

If this is hard to wrap one’s mind around, try looking at it this way.  Think back to when you were a child, and the games you played as a child.  Take “Hide-and-Seek” as a simple example.  When you played, you were intensely focused on the game – your senses were at their peak, you were completely “in the moment” and you were extremely intent to do your best.  And it was a lot of fun.  But it was also “just a game,” and whether you won or lost wasn’t world-changing important.  You had your fun but when the game was over, life went on, you went home when the street lights came on, Mom had dinner ready and your adventures while “in the game” were yours to keep.

This is the “early-middle” of a game of Go I played with my daughter on her 21st Birthday.  The same dynamic existed in this “state of play” as when each of us were kids – the extreme focus, the intense desire to do our best, the fun.  To this is the added dimension of collaboration – we’re not merely competing against each other, we’re also creating the game as it progresses. 

We should try to do the same thing with our tai chi.  It ought not to be work; it ought to be approached as play.  If I’m sore and tired from a day at work – particularly if the job was a drag and unsatisfying – I’ll come home feeling like I’ve suffered.  Contrariwise, if I come home sore and tired from class – particularly if the class was rewarding and everyone (including me) learned something – I feel happy and as though my effort had value.  Just as sore and tired either way, but the outlook makes all the difference.

The last reason I like the word “player” is it’s easier and quicker to type out “practitioner,” which while descriptive is also needlessly cold and detached.

“The Regiment” by John Dalmas