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Subject: Response to Josh Waitzkin The Art of Learning Author: chief referee in Nationl Tai Chi Chuan Association, Taiwan,R.O.C Upload time: 2010-09-03 10:01:44
The 7th Chung Hwa Cup International Taijiquan Championship was held in Taiwan in 2004. Mr. Josh Waitzkin took part in that contest, and he included a description of his experiences in that championship in his 2007 book, The Art of Learning, Free Press, ISBN 978-0-7432-7746-4.
In the book Mr. Waitzkin was of the opinion that the championship organizers behaved in ways that favored local contestants at the expense of foreign ones. Among other things, Mr. Waitzkin was critical of some contest rules, the removal of pedestals and the hand placement in the beginning posture for fixed step push hands, scoring, time keeping, the surprise addition of a separate but mandatory tournament-within-the-tournament for foreign competitors only that, Mr. Waitzkin believed, “had the function of exhausting and injuring foreigners who were still competing for medals against the Taiwanese in the Championship,” and the benefits for winning in the championship.
Like Mr. Waitzkin, I competed in taijiquan push hands championships countless times in Taiwan as well as in the United States. Also like Mr. Waitzkin, I won many champions. Over a decade, I won more than twenty championships in the white-hot competition of Taiwan. I even intentionally competed against people three weight divisions heavier than my own weight; I went on to win.
I also competed at A Taste of China in Virginia, the United States. AToC was my first competition in the States during which I suffered many surprises, shocks, and disbeliefs—not at all unlike what Mr. Waitzkin was surprised and shocked during his tournament in Taiwan in 2004. Because of unfamiliar competition rules, I also lost in an early round of my competition. Again, like Mr. Waitzkin, I had to scramble and adjust in a real hurry to advance to the next round and eventually won my weight division.
Furthermore I worked in the 2004 championship as its chief referee. Therefore I am familiar with the game in general as well as the tournament in particular. Consequently I feel obliged to add more light to Mr. Waitzkin’s discussion. I will take his discussion points in turn.
(A) Competition rules.
Not yet an Olympic event, Taijiquan push hands does not have an internationally recognized, much less uniform, set of rules for tournament competition. Therefore, event organizers are basically free to set rules that they believe are reasonable and taijiquan-friendly—helping to improve the chances of bubbling the best taijiquan practitioners to the top.
Shoulder throws and lift and take downs are generally not allowed in taijiquan competitions in Taiwan, but possibly allowed for points in competitions elsewhere.
(B) Language, geographical, and cultural barriers.
Foreigner participants come to Taiwan perhaps only once in two years for the tournament, and the tournament organizers can contact foreign participants only by e-mail. It is easy for either of these factors to result in misunderstanding.
(C) Inadequate mutual trust.
Fixed step and moving step events were held simultaneously for all competitors, local and foreign alike. It is therefore incumbent on each competitor, while deciding events to compete in, to take his/her own physical condition into careful consideration.
As for the addition of the tournament-in-the-tournament exclusively for foreign competitors, the intention of the organizers was in fact purely friendly; over the years foreign competitors had not placed well in most international tournaments held in Taiwan. In light of that, the 2004 championship organizers offered foreign competitors additional opportunity to place; their good intention was welcomed by some foreign competitors while criticized by others as evidenced by Mr. Waitzkin’s remarks.
(D) Is winning an international tournament an instant career booster?
Presently in Taiwan, the only tournament that offers a substantial purse is People’s Games (literally the name of the tournament is “the games for all people”) sponsored by the government. This is the one game that all top taijiquan players compete in.
So there is People’s Games on the one hand, and there all the rest on the other hand.
As with winning most taijiquan tournaments in Taiwan, winning in Chung Hwa Cup International Taijiquan Championships does not represent a tangible career boost, nor does it bring no significant financial gains to the winner. Only some, not all, of top players in Taiwan take part in Chung Hwa Cup because of its small purse and its winners have no chance of turning pro.
Chung Hwa Cup, held every other year, is primarily a platform where taijiquan practitioners anywhere can compete in a friendly setting. It is supported by private donations, and it receives no public funding whatsoever.
It is purely to promote the taiji art. It was precisely because of this objective that the tournament organizers would not have any incentive to favor Taiwanese participants and that they awarded Mr. Waitzkin and “Buffalo” co-champions for their weight division—a treatment that would have been out of the question in a formal, official tournament.

It is reasonable and indeed to be expected to see contestants, even the audience, all tensed up in any highly competitive tournament.
The lack of funding forced the tournament organizers to curtail some services, including more detailed communication with foreign contestants on rules, news, and last-minute updates. They were also forced to forgo large timers so that time-keeping for all events could be totally transparent for all to see. Inadequate translation service was apparently felt by some foreign participants despite the best effort of a small group of volunteer translators that organizers had recruited for English and Japanese. All this points out that organizers should try harder in planning future tournaments.
It is the supreme logic in taijiquan training to completely give up yourself so as to be able to completely adhere to your opponent. It is therefore important for everyone involved in international taijiquan competitions to let go of his or her ego to advance and spread the wonderful art of taijiquan.
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