Updated: Nov 4, 2022
My Teacher often reminds me of this saying when I complain about Yi Chuan training methods being so misunderstood. It's part of a quote attributed Lao Tse, I've included the entire quote at the end of this article.
Sometimes he would turn it around the other way, saying, "We must be doing something right."
"How do you know Sifu?", I ask.
"Because people are laughing at us.", he responds.
And people did laugh at us! I can remember countless times in the park when people would just stare at us trying to figure out what was goin on. Were we members of the Falun Gong or just a rag tag group of nut jobs? During bouncing practice sometime people would just gape, shaking their heads as the physics they were witnessing simply did not compute with their experience.
Sometimes people would come up hurling insults and challenges, our expression of internal kung fu so deeply offended them. Online it was no holds barred. We were "Bullshido", charlatans, cult members, the kind of scum that give 'real martial artists' bad names.
"Sifu, they have no context....let me redo your website, lets explain what we are doing." I said.
"You are not going to convince those people of anything.", he returned.
"I used to be one of those people Sifu, not too long ago I would have dismissed what we do as a bunch of BS.", I responded. "At least if we have some context folks that are curious about this type of training will get to hear our point of view as well."
"Use their laughter to tell our truth." he stated after a rather pregnant pause. "O.K. Let's do it."
Yichaunkungfu.com was the result of that decision. No controversy did it quell, in fact, quite the opposite. We had no choice but to shut down comments on our YouTube videos and ignore all the ridiculous shit that was posted around the web. We even had people threating to come beat us up. It was all quite fascinating.
My experience in publicly presenting my work is no different than Master Fung's. Even when think I am doing a good job of relating how this type of gung fu is different I am met with mostly ridicule and insults, check out my Facebook page if you don't believe me.
Honestly it used to be quite frustrating, seeing all these emotionally charged comments about what I train and teach. The very idea that there is latent capacity that they don't understand seems to challenge some folk's very identity. I see it today most often in politics and religion, our human tendency to choose good standing with our tribe over the facts that are right in front of our face.
I guess it makes sense. So much societal effort goes into crafting and maintaining our consensus reality, when someone steps outside of bounds we either celebrate them as hero or despise them as villain. Which we choose seems mostly dependent on the team we are playing for. One person sees the outlier as a courageous figure leading us into a better future while another views the same person as evil, leading the unsuspecting away from flock into certain doom.
An interesting factoid around this point that I cam across recently is that in many places in the United States teaching Yoga in public schools is illegal. So afraid of the strangeness from the east were our bible belters that they had to keep them kids from stretching. They f%^&ing outlawed Yoga!
I bring this up because tribalism is alive and well in martial arts circles and, unfortunately, can become a significant barrier to discovering Integrated Strength. Everywhere is a pissing contest, this way vs. that way, this style vs. that style, my daddy can beat up your daddy, on and on it goes. Yi Chuan is no different. There is the old school and the new school, this course and that. More authentic vs. more progressive, combat oriented vs. health, chi huggers and meat heads pushing themselves away from the middle path.
Many years ago I went to a tournament to compete after just achieving my first black belt. Because of my new proportion I was included on the committee that ran the tournament and found myself attending a meeting of all the high ranking teachers who's schools were competing. I was a bit intimidated, most of the attendees were not only much older than I but also much higher in rank.
Overall it was a rather diverse group, schools representing many styles came to participate. My uniform was a white gi that had a patch on it. My fellow committee members out-styled me by a long shot. Bold colorful outfits with barely a space left patchless contrasted against big poufy silk jammies with dragons and tigers. There were even some hats that I think came from an Indonesian style and a plethora of tattoos that ran the gamut of skulls, snakes and symbols. Belts, sashes and other adornments spoke to rank, degree and tradition. And then there were the titles, grandmaster this and sifu that, a sensei here and lama there. Many ranking systems didn't match up so who really had seniority?
Keeping to the back so as not to be noticed I listened intently as many issues were discussed. I'm not sure what happened but suddenly I found myself outside of my body, observing the meeting not as a participant but from some neutral 3rd party like point of view, an alien watching in. With blunt force the absurdity struck me. What a bunch of cosplay this scene was. The masters before me were suddenly transformed into a bunch of fat old men wearing ridiculous outfits. It was just so much posing and posturing. I even laughed out loud a little and had to wave off a couple of curious stares.
Now don't get me wrong, I know there is value in tradition and in some ways were all faking it before we make it but damn that was a teaching moment. Some of those guys could probably have whipped my ass without thinking of it back then, I'm not saying these individuals were not skilled. It was just clear in that moment that so much effort, so much energy goes into looking the part, being seen as one of the crew, part of the clan. In that moment my laughter had detected some truth.
I can't tell you how many time I have struggled in my training to grasp something, expended tremendous effort, did ridiculous things only to find the answer was far simpler than I imagined or sitting just so close to my face that I could not see it. When my folly finally reveals itself I'm usually left laughing and shaking my head at my ability to be a complete ignoramus.
In paying forward what my Teachers has taught me I say listen for the laughter. Its OK to be ridiculous when challenging your assumptions, breaking through your limitations and dismantling your constructs. Laugh with yourself, laugh with your Teacher, laugh with your partner. But perhaps most importantly learn to laugh WITH those that are laughing AT you.
"When people of great wisdom hear the Truth, they diligently practice it. When people of moderate wisdom hear the Truth, they practice it now and then. When people of lesser wisdom hear the Truth, they laugh at it. If there were no laughter, there would be no Truth." - Lao Tse