I was at the bank the other day to straighten out a snafu. As the banker and I waited for the person he was calling to help us, the banker began chitchatting with me. He asked me what I did in my spare time, and I told him I practiced tai chi. He got a strange look on his face, a mixture of bemusement, bewilderment, and intrigue, and I waited to hear what he had to say to my proclamation. After a few seconds, he said, “You mean, the martial art? Like karate?” and did the breaking boards with his hands movements (the stereotypical karate chop) that you see in corny martial arts movies. I could have said, “No, tai chi is an internal martial arts style, and we have no interest in breaking boards with our hands.” I could have said, “Tai chi is good for your mental health as well as your physical health.” I could have said, “Tai chi is excellent for meditation and attaining a peaceful attitude.” I could have said any one of those things, but I didn’t. It’s difficult to adequately explain what it is in five minutes or less. So, I simply nodded and said, “Yes, it’s like that.” He asked what rank I was, and I said we didn’t have ranks or belts. I’ll give him credit. He persisted. He asked if I was an expert or a beginner. I said I was somewhere in between. Then, because I was highly amused by the conversation, I added that I was studying the Sword Form and the Sabre Form. I emphasized that weapons were my thing, and I snickered to myself at the look in the banker’s eyes.
After I left the bank, I thought more about the conversation. I want to emphasize that the banker did an excellent job in helping me with my problem. He was friendly, yet professional, and I’m not upset at his ignorance. I appreciate that he showed an interest when I mentioned taiji, even if it was beyond his ken. However, it underscored how esoteric taiji is to people who don’t practice it. I know, that’s not very insightful because anyone who has a niche hobby knows that people who don’t share the interest won’t know the ins and outs of the hobby. It’s too easy to forget that when you’re surrounded by other practitioners. I go to taiji classes three times a week and have been studying it for eight or nine years, so it’s as natural to me as breathing. The interaction with my banker reminded me that I’m an ambassador for taiji, which is pretty sad as I was the worst student ever for the longest time. One of the reason I started going to class three times a week was so that I’d actually practice on those three days. I didn’t practice at all outside of those classes for more years than I care to admit. I’ve changed that recently, but it’s still a fairly new habit. It’s also not what this post is about.