Following the Tao while Boxing

As readers may or may not know, Yang and I participate in our university’s boxing club and compete at the collegiate level. We have always liked boxing but I’m sure we never understood major aspects of the sport, such as intending to KO opponents or being driven by titles or recognition. Given that we follow the Tao, or at least try to do so, it makes little sense that we compete in boxing or box in general. If we want to follow the Tao and believe in the teachings of Philosophical Taoism, how then can we be said to follow the Tao and box?

When one thinks of boxing, one likely thinks of the boxer Muhammad Ali, the idea of whom also brings ideas of nobility, cockiness, and skill; or one might think of Mike Tyson, violence, brutality, and intimidation. Even one of our club members once remarked that boxers need to have “a chip on their shoulder.” Boxing involves many ideas which have nothing to do with the Tao or is against the thoughts of Zhuangzi. Take intimidation as an example. Intimidation is a central part of boxing which falls under the general goal of control within the ring. I do not want to say that every boxer has been intimidated or tries to be intimidating but I will say that boxers try not to be less intimidating, as this would bolster the spirit of one’s opponent, among other things. When I was about to have my first match, I could tell that my opponent from the Naval Academy was trying to be intimidating. Even though I was about to box, I still maintain some sense of following the Tao–call it following a way parallel to the Tao or the Parallel Way–so I did not let any intimidation affect me nor was I trying to intimidate him. In following the Parallel Way, there is no “free and easy wandering” in respect to this situation; I tried not to intimidate but I did not want to be less intimidating than was necessary. At first glance, what I just described (trying not to intimidate) seems to be a case of Taoism’s action with inaction, that is, I was trying to do something in one sense while not doing anything (in another sense). Yet, I do not think that there is Zhuangzi’s action with inaction in this situation; it seems to be of a different kind to the one expressed by Zhuangzi because the action of trying not to intimidate is for the further goal of winning a match, while Zhuangzi’s action with inaction would be for the further goal of following the Tao.

I just described an example of how boxing competitively can go against philosophical Taoism, but much of the same considerations apply to boxing in general. Motivation is required for boxing; I have to be motivated to improve, to show up every weekday, and to spar against fellow team members. If motivation is central to boxing and a boxer needs motivation to drive him, how can she follow the Tao with in a free and easy manner? She doesn’t, or at least, it is self-defeating for her to do so. Likewise, Yang and I cannot be said to follow the Tao while boxing (or attending college for that matter), but there can be something said about us following the Parallel Way; still there are virtues for acting in a manner where philosophical Taoism permits itself, such as not trying to be intimidating to my opponent, and still where these virtues obtain, it can be said that we follow the Parallel Way. I do not suppose that doing particular things, such as boxing, going to college, or even eating, prevents any following of the Tao in an absolute sense, but just that the following of the Parallel Way is an indirect following of the Tao. Whereas following the Tao in an absolute sense is done in part by free and easy wandering in life, following the Parallel Way is the following of the Tao being done in a relative (or contextual sense).


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Locke Ho

I attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and major in philosophy. I'm taoist; having boxed for 6 years, I've been a USA Boxing Certified Coach since 2016; I contribute to and

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