I was told that before everything you do or while anything you do, you must always consider your integrity first and always. Actually, the teacher I studied briefly for about twenty years ago didn’t phrase it exactly like this. I can’t remember his exact words. I think it was just more or less: “You must always keep your integrity”. Does it make sense? Or maybe not?
This teacher who I am not going to mention by name often summed up things in short, brief sentences that I have a feeling of that very few of his students took notice of. However he really phrased it, I liked the sentence very much, especially considering that it was a comment to push hands and applications practice. And it made sense for what I was dealing with right then. You can not compromise your integrity, not even the slightest.
So what does it mean? Keeping integrity, keeping it intact. In general, the word “integrity” is mostly associated with a moral standard, keeping a high moral standard and being consistent in accordance with this standard. There are also other disciplines that use the term in their own way, like in action philosophy and technical engineering. So how can we use this term in Tai Chi to benefit our understanding of our own place in this art?
Integrity in Tai Chi can mean:
- Structural integrity,
- Integrity of balance,
- Integrity of mind,
- and Moral integrity
But Tai Chi is a practical art. We learn by doing. Our knowledge is not greater than how we understand to take something and use it in action. Thus, Integrity, to sum up these points means to always keep the standard of integrity, in a most practical sense, regardless what happens.
In a practical sense, this means that you can not compromise your balance or structure even less than by an inch. And you can not compromise your calmness or focus, even less than a tenth of a second. You can not entertain thoughts that makes you worry and you can not get angry. You can not tense up, become stiff or become affected in any way that disturbs your integrity.
You can practice your sense of integrity whenever you practice your Tai Chi, when you practice form or when you play Push Hands or practice applications with a friend. What it means is that you must always stand firm in your “shenfa” (body method) – You should develop your shenfa, i.e. your “Tai Chi body” to such an extent that you always know when you are “inside” of it or not. Slightly being off balance, physically or mentally, might compromise the integrity of your shenfa.
If someone pushes you or lunge a fist at you, your timing must be great, so you can keep your balance and structure intact. If someone does a movement very fast, you must be so focused, calm and relaxed that no sudden movement can take you out of your focus, calmness and mental balance.
There are many more examples one could address. But the essence is the same, the point is to try to always keep your integrity intact. Then how do you know for sure if you keep your integrity intact? You’ll know it by any slight little thing that brings you out of balance one way or the other. You will easily learn to feel when you are inside the right “zone” or not if you practice with awareness. “Integrity” can be like a feeling that everything is on the right place where it should be. The more you practice to become aware of this feeling, the more you will learn to not compromise anything that can affect your integrity.