Illusions of Power

word of month character

On the subject of internal arts and the effects of emotions, I’d like to talk about anger a bit. It is the emotion that I am most aware of struggling with in my own training, and I see it every day in others.

I think the allure of anger is that anger feels powerful. When the world is not as we want it to be, or we don’t like how we are treated by others, it is comforting to feel we are kings, as if our displeasure has the ability to reform things to our liking. When we are angry, we do not feel helpless, we do not feel vulnerable.

For an example of anger, let’s consider weapons shop vendors here in Wudang. My classmates and I are learning spear, so the other day I had to go to one of these shops. I struggle to finance my training, and I can not afford to throw money around carelessly on anything. However, it is standard practice in these shops that when a foreigner walks in the first quote rockets up above %1,000 and no amount of haggling will lower it to any realistic value (I am not exaggerating, and thank the rich, gullible tourists for that). Despite my best efforts, the best price I could get was 70 yuan, down from an original quote of 110 yuan, while my Chinese kungfu brother walked out of the store with the same spear for 20 yuan.

This makes me angry, and in my anger I feel righteous. I think, ” They’ll regret making me angry. My friends and I will never shop there again. I’ll write a blog about these jerks and ruin them internationally. I ought to go back there and throw a brick through the window of the shop, I’ll… I’ll…” But reality sets in and each of these angry thoughts is revealed as pointless and wrong. I will have to go back to that crook the next time I need a new weapon. My friends will do the same. Gouging customers is how these guys make their living, and no one blinks at it. That brick, though tempting, would be cowardly, petty, and probably make a lot of trouble for me, my master, and other foreigners in the area. Once I have left the store with my purchase, I am every bit as powerless as I feel. My anger does violence to me, and that vendor doesn’t lose any sleep at all.

Truly that vendor is part of my training, a sparring partner of sorts. I have to accept the fact that he is part of a system that is so much larger than me that I can not fight it. What can I do? I must proceed in a yielding way. I can try to learn to haggle better. I can make friends and they can shop on my behalf. I can be thankful that as a white American male, I have been given an opportunity to understand discrimination and compassion as I would never have understood it had I stayed in my own culture. But most importantly, I have to learn that though is nice to imagine myself as a king in my castle, inviolable and potent, there will always be forces in this world greater than me and lesser than me. And regardless of my actual ability to change my surroundings, I must be able to relate to them with tranquility. Thus, China itself tempers me.

I sometimes worry about how I will someday teach these lessons to Americans at home, where everyone tells you you can, “have it your way.” Anyway, more next time.

And if, in the unforeseeable future, I find myself in charge of regulating commercial tourism practices in Wudang, that salesman had better keep his head down ;-p.