Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taiji as play

I have noticed that in a number of taiji books taiji is referred to as "play," and those who do taiji as "players." Other books speak of "practice" or "training."

I have had an aversion to calling taiji play, but I am rethinking. Practice and training are goal oriented. You practice to get better at the thing you practice. You train with some end in mind: to be fitter, to compete in a race. When you play, well, you just play! Play is childish. It is one of those things we put behind us when we mature. When adults play it is a little self-indulgent. Play is usually unfocussed. Play is not serious. Play is an end in itself. It doesn't go anywhere. It is not instrumental to something else. It just is.

I suspect I have imbibed too much our cultural emphasis on getting things done. "I had a productive day," we say. Ever hear, "I had a playful day"?

Max Weber (one of the fathers of sociology) had something to say about the "rational" and the "irrational." Rationality is goal oriented behavior. Irrationality is doing things merely for the sake of doing them. In Western society, we discovered that the most productive form of human behavior was rational. We have looked down on the irrational. That's how we accomplished so much. In his other phrase, Weber called this the "Protestant work ethic." It underlies capitalistic enterprise.

(This is an aside, but it always irks me when in a restaurant the wait staff ask, "Are you finished or are you still working on it." Dinner is not work! Dinner is more like play ... or should be.)

What if taiji is irrational, in a Weberian sense. It just is. It is not producing anything. It is play. Pure and simple. Feeling playful?

Don't work too hard at it!


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