I had another street encounter some weeks ago, shortly before I went back to Wales. I was in the area of the Drum Tower, cycling home about midnight, when I heard a woman shouting. The source was a slim young woman facing a tall, strongly-built, man with short-cropped hair. It turned out that it was a lovers’ tiff, the sort I would ordinarily never get close to. At first, though, I thought it might be a robbery, as she was shouting “Give it back to me!”, repeatedly, and it was quite a dark, narrow hutong.
Still unsure what was happening, I drew up a few metres away to check the scene out. The young man came storming over to me. “Get lost! What are you looking at? This is none of your business!”. He was clearly in a rage, and equally clearly really wanted me to do or say something that he could use to justify starting a fight.
I was at a big disadvantage, as I was still standing across my bike, and couldn’t move. When I discussed this with a friend later, he was of the opinion that I shouldn’t have let myself be so vulnerable. I can see his point, but I feel that dismounting and stepping away from the bike would have sent the message of actively intending to get involved, and so would actually have made violence even more likely.
So there I was, face to face with this young boxer (in point of fact, actually, looking up at him, him being much taller than me). I know he was a boxer because he was holding his boxing gloves, banging them together in an attempt to intimidate me. It seemed to me that saying anything, or any movement, would give him the spark he needed, so I gave nothing up. I didn’t move, and made sure I stayed totally relaxed. I made my face vacant, and gave no indication that understood a word he said. As the face-off continued, I looked away and sang a small nonsense song to myself.
Eventually, with a few comments that I’m sure were intended to cast aspersions on my sanity, manhood, or both, he turned on his heel and stalked off. I went on my way. Looking back, I saw that he had picked up a big stick, and was hitting himself over the head with it.
So, what can I learn from this?
First, let me make it clear – since this is the second time I’ve had this kind of encounter – I am not trying to be some kind of vigilante or Guardian Angel. I’m not training to be Batman, and I don’t look for trouble. On the other hand, I believe in society. I believe that a citizen does have a duty of some kind to step in when and if we can. I understand that this isn’t the Chinese tradition, but I’m alarmed by what I read of developments back in the UK, where fear seems to be leading people to hurry on by, “don’t get involved”’. If everyone does this, then where does that lead us? We abandon public areas to the unprincipled and we weaken social bonds. I don’t think this is the way it should be.
Secondly, I clearly wasn’t the source of this young man’s rage. Who knows why he was so fizzing with anger? However, lost of its focus, it turned inwards on himself. What if I hadn’t been able to evade it, and we’d fought? Probably I would have lost, and been hurt; that’s why I train, of course, to hopefully avoid that outcome. Who knows, perhaps even at my level, I might have some tricks up my sleeve that would have worked against him. Let’s say that I was a better martial artist, and had beaten him in a fight. Would that have solved anything, other than letting me get away? I doubt it. Yiquan – based as it is on xingyi – would have me uproot him, turn him round, and beat him down mercilessly until he couldn’t fight any more. Bagua? It still would have required eye gouges and worse, as well as strikes and throws, to incapacitate him. Once I’d won, and left the scene, would that have lessened his rage in any way? Not a bit; in all likelihood it would have festered and grown worse, leaving him more dangerous to those around him – and particularly his girlfriend.
Is there a way to defeat someone that would also provide some kind of enlightenment? Even yiquan and bagua, neijia though they are, defeat strength with strength of a kind, there’s no lesson there for the defeated, other than that violence works if you’re good enough. Taijiquan, though…. Yang Lu Chan won renown not just because he was never defeated – many masters of other styles can make the same claim – but because he was famous for winning whilst never harming his opponent. Perhaps that’s the kind of victory that benefits the loser as much as the victor…
One other outcome: while the boxer and I were facing each other, everything went quiet, and all I could hear was the pounding of my heart, and the swishing of my blood as it moved around my body. Only a few days later came my encounter with the bullock. I am suddenly aware that I need to improve my fitness levels considerably, with the aim of increasing both speed and endurance. I once lost a lot of weight by bagua circle-walking intensively, but that isn’t what I’m looking for. Here, I may as well out myself as a ‘Peaknik‘: I’m one of those who believes that ‘peak oil‘ and ‘peak water’ mean that our current way of life cannot continue. Of course, I would rather see ‘managed retreat’ than ‘catastrophic collapse’, but even in the best scenario there’s likely to be massive dislocation and civil unrest. That’s why I was talking about riots not so long ago; when cities run out of water, power, or food it’s not going to be peaceful, unless we’re very, very lucky.
On that basis, I plan to get fit by training in parkour and capoeira, and will have to drop other things in order to do so. There’s also another context here: if I begin training in the Wu Tu Nan taiji line with the intention of becoming a teacher, I’ll need to become a disciple, and stop training in other neijia styles in order to avoid mixing energy techniques. Capoeira, however, doesn’t use qi, so there’s no problem there.