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  • Writer's pictureIklim Goksel

Tai Chi and the Art of War: Steps Towards Long-Term Healthy Solutions

Tai Chi practice at Jade Lady Meditation, downtown Anchorage, May 2019

Sun Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and general, wrote The Art of War around 500 BC. As a book about strategies and tactics in the battlefield, it has appealed for centuries to military strategists, political leaders, philosophers, and more recently, business executives. Although the title of the book denotes war and violence, The Art of War is rather about thinking, planning, and living life in accordance with Daoist principles. It is a helpful guide for navigating life, building strategies, and overcoming obstacles for conflict resolution. It definitely has been a valuable resource for me ever since I began to study and practice Tai Chi. It has not only helped me to understand Daoism and Tai Chi principles but has also allowed me to grasp a better understanding of how I may approach life’s complexities.

Tai Chi requires patience and a willingness to devote oneself to the practice. Little by little, it opens up a new world that is wondrous and magical. For me, it is a safe place where I connect with myself and exercise mindfulness so that I can get a better understanding of myself and of the world around me. By means of Tai Chi, I am learning to let go and accept things the way they are. This is not to say that I have given up on my dreams and goals. On the contrary, Tai Chi helps me stay grounded and focused so that I may reach my goals without letting toxic and destructive elements put a hold on my life. I no longer push myself beyond my limits to plan or make things happen for the future. Rather, I seek to become fully present in the moment to be aware of where I am and what I want to accomplish. Hence, I take a step back and observe things from a distance before I take action. Naturally, all of this takes time and is still a work in progress for me. However, it is a journey worth taking for the health of the mind, soul, and body. Most importantly, it is a journey of self-discovery that affords courage, dignity, and an understanding of the importance of valuing oneself.

In the Art of War, I have found additional elements that guide me in my journey and complement my Tai Chi practice. They are principles on competition, leadership, power, and assertiveness. Sun Tzu says that, “to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Sun Tzu is definitely interested in diplomacy and forming alliances rather than moving towards aggression in conflict resolution. In his mind, winning a battle and leadership entail acting without emotional rage so that battles are fought without disaster: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” Sun Tzu’s philosophy is straightforward. He says, in all of your battles seek to gain honor, not authority. Do not try to establish loyalty by giving orders. Create unity. And, do not threaten to win. Your results will be short-term and you will be merely resented.

The Art of War continues to make me think and navigate life without forming short-term solutions to my problems. There is much to take away from the Art of War for our relationships and professional lives in the everyday. And, combined with Tai Chi, life is beautiful. Every move and pose in Tai Chi is a step towards Daoist and Art of War principles.

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