Arthur Wong, founder of the Green Dragon tai chi clubs, was reflecting on the success of two of his students. Todd Tibbetts had just won the men’s masters division at the second Midwest Regional Tai Chi Competition and Vicki Sellner had placed first in the women’s masters division.
“The purpose of tai chi is to improve your health and make you mentally stronger,” Wong is reported to have said. “Why do we need winners and losers? But, after all, this is America. Everything is competitive.” (Reported in The Not Yet Gazette “Minnesotans Take Tai Chi Honors.”)
Wong’s query, “why do we need winners and losers in tai chi?” deserves consideration, and perhaps the starting point is to note that there is general agreement that the benefit a student derives from tai chi is an individual matter. Some practitioners cite health reasons. Some claim spiritual sustenance. Improved flexibility is why others do it. There are even people who claim the practice of tai chi, with its constant challenge to learn new moves, is a preventative hedge against Alzheimer’s Disease. If the reasons for practicing tai chi are individual, so then is the decision to compete or exhibit. But before you make the decision for yourself, or take a stand pro or con, you owe it to yourself to look at what competition and exhibition have to offer.
Let’s quickly note the differences and similarities between competition and exhibition. Both involve performing in front of an audience. An exhibition simply demonstrates what tai chi is about. Its purpose is to educate, and therefore promote, taijiquan.
In competition, however, the practitioner seeks to earn points, which will rank him or her in a field among other practitioners. Since the judging is done on an objective scale, it gives the tai chi performer a solid measure of success or failure. Competition is less a matter of being better than someone else than a case for being as good as you can be.
Consider these additional benefits of tai chi competition and/or exhibition:
Both competition and exhibition provide goals. When you have a deadline — let’s say you have agreed to exhibit Yang style 24 form at a health fair next week — you are going to practice with unusual diligence so that you will appear at your best. There will be no shortcuts this week. No shaving minutes off your regular practice sessions.