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The Dark Knight

Think about Batman... He is a fierce, menacing character yet he does not kill anyone. Batman uses darkness to terrify criminals but maintains control of himself. There is a line he will not cross.
Although Batman may be an exciting comic/cinema character, it is worth keeping in mind that Bruce Wayne is a tortured, conflicted individual.


Most martial arts cultivate aggression. It is a natural, human, easy response to violence/confrontation.

No aggression

Taijiquan does not use aggression. It calls upon the student to be emotionally calm and composed. This is not so easy, but is far healthier: physically, psychologically and emotionally.


People who feel angry inside find their lives changed by the pent-up emotion. It twists their behaviour in unpleasant ways. The anger becomes second-nature and involuntary.
The person ceases to be consciously aware of it.

Don't use your anger

Martial artists often claim to be "using their anger". This is a misconception. In tai chi, emotion is regarded as being a form of energy. Energy that fuels action.
If you have spent that energy on anger, then it is used up. Taijiquan never uses anger.


In normal life we channel emotion into pretty much everything we encounter. This is how people operate. If your emotional energy manifests as anger then it has been channelled.
If your emotional energy manifests as joy then it has been channelled.

Negative emotions

Negative emotions are biologically harmful and can make you ill.
When you become angry, your body is flooded with hormones and adrenaline; you enter a 'fight or flight' mode which is only intended for extreme situations in which your life is endangered.
'Fight or flight' puts your body under duress. Taijiquan encourages a person to change the way they think in order to reduce the likelihood of becoming angry.

Is shen the Dark Side?

No. Absolutely not. Shen does not use anger, fear or aggression. Shen is about presence, focus, passion. Not cruelty or violence.


A taijiquan person passes through 3 stages:

  1. Normal emotional use

  2. Neutral state

  3. Shen  

Stage 3 is deliberate, resolute, yet contained. The aim is to instil an overwhelming feeling of fear and panic in the attacker before you even touch them. But there is no loss of composure taking place.

Dragon power

In Chinese culture shen is seen as being a dragon: it is a surging, driving energy. Strong, powerful, uncompromising. But not sustainable:

Let him keep the deep drives in his own guts from going into action.
Let him keep still, not looking, not hearing.
Let him sit still like a corpse,
with the dragon power alive all around him.
In complete silence,
his voice will be like thunder.
His movements will be invisible,
like those of a spirit,
but the power of heaven will go with them.

(Chuang Tzu)

Find balance

The ability to hurt people can never be considered 'good'. This is why Star Wars is so relevant.
We are each faced with the inherent conflict: how to train the dangerous skills without becoming 'bad' ourselves...
This is a risky journey; and we will have to face and defeat all of our demons along the way. Balance the dangerous skills with a light-hearted character.

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Page created 1 September 2002
Last updated 29 August 2019