NEW YORK – Fannie Mae, Merrill Lynch and all of your least favorite Wall Street players were seen brawling in the streets this evening. The winner will claim an extra trillion dollar bailout. It’s a financial crisis of epic proportions!
Many long-term students of Taiji enjoy improvements in their metabolic and kinesthetic efficiency. They burn fewer calories, and expend less effort, to accomplish the same amount of work, whether that “work” consists of repeating the Taiji forms or any other activity.
When food is scarce and plain, this efficiency is an obvious benefit. For most people living in developed countries today, however, food is abundant and tasty. To a person who has become addicted to eating—as the majority of Americans are, studies show—this hard-earned fruition of Taiji is actually a problem: it makes you fat. (Technically, eating the food makes you fat, but let us ignore that detail, as everyone does.)
Dedicating oneself to longer and more strenuous practice might seem like an intelligent solution. Unfortunately, this is likely to accelerate the efficiency gains, exacerbating the problem in the long run. If we choose to define physical fitness as effort and exertion, then Taiji is a lousy fitness routine.
A comfortable and plausible short-term solution: redefine success as failure, and vice-versa. Prioritize effort expended, rather than work accomplished. Sure, your new Taiji may be less functional, but at least you’ll look good doing it!
The more responsible, but less appealing solution is to start eating within your means: to consume calories in accordance with physical needs, rather than insatiable desires. In the meantime, returning to one’s target weight requires a disciplined starvation diet, in conjunction with regular exercise.
Can we view this scenario as a metaphor for the United States economy?
“Tell me, Subhuti,” Buddha inquired, “Can an arhat think to himself: ‘I have attained the realization of an arhat’?”
Subhuti, his disciple, replied, “Of course not. With such a thought, he would be grasping to the illusory notions of an ego, a personality, and an individual self. Any so-called arhat who holds these notions is a fake.”
The meaning of “investing in loss”, as originally recommended by the late Tai Chi master Cheng Man-Ching, was to neutralize a superior force through the practice of non-contention:
Now when I say, “Learn to invest in loss,” who is willing to do this? To invest in loss is to permit others to use force to attack while you don’t use even the slightest force to defend yourself. On the contrary, you lead an opponent’s force away so that it is useless.
Against genuinely applied force, the method is so difficult to apply that it usually fails; thus, it is called a loss. After becoming familiar with every misapplication of wuwei, the non-contention principle, one can eventually start using it correctly and effectively; thus, it is called an investment.
Investing in loss can be a tiresome and disheartening method, but it is a reliable one. Sadly, the term is often misapplied as a catch-all justification for fruitless endeavors. Not every loss qualifies as an investment.
Martial Development: First of all, congratulations: a recent surge in Berkshire Hathaway’s stock price has made you the richest man in the world. $62 billion dollars, I hear. According to my estimates, you could literally buy up all the tea in China.
Warren Buffett: I drink Coca-Cola.
Martial Development: Fair enough. You know, kung fu is all about profitably investing time and effort. As one of the world’s greatest investors, I thought you might have some unique insights to share with us.
Warren Buffett: I’ve never even made a hostile acquisition! What do I know about kung fu?
These are perilous times, for even the best of us.
A few short months ago, the market analysts were telling us this would never happen…that the fallout from the banking industry’s irresponsible lending practices would be confined mainly to the housing sector, and our broader economy would continue its gentle ascent.
Folks, the hot-air balloon ride is over. Today, we find ourselves unwilling passengers on an economic Hindenburg. The markets are dropping fast. Typically reserved pundits are openly using the R-word—recession—and a few have even mentioned the D-word!
In How To Choose a Bad Martial Arts Instructor, I provided a quick and easy guide to finding an inappropriate school. John W. McKenna’s recent call for thoughts on leadership reminded me to follow up on that guide, with more helpful advice.
John asked, does most leadership suck? My answer: none of your business. You don’t need to follow every leader; one qualified sensei is enough. A more useful question is, how do you find that sensei?
A contractual relationship with your martial arts school could end miserably; former classmates and I know this from experience. Despite this experience, I believe that the potential benefits of a contract to the student outweigh the risks.
Before I explain the benefit, let me tell you the tale of an Aikido dojo gone sour.
To the ancient Romans, the concept of a non-violent martial art would be nonsensical. Their literal definition of martial was “belonging to Mars”, the god of war. Modern usage of the term martial arts, however, is hardly related to military strategy and tactics.
Today, most popular martial arts are practiced without arms. Considering this shift in focus, from immediate and practical skills to more abstract and long-term benefits, it is reasonable to ask whether violent destructive potential is still necessary at all.