The Tang Sou Dao uniform is practical and hard-wearing; built to withstand the rigours of training and sparring. But it is also a key to why our art can have a positive impact on society.
Our coloured belts, from white to dark blue, are what we aim for and cherish as marks of our skill, dedication and experience. Each year, as we line up at the championships for the group photograph, we check them to see where we stand, both literally and in status.
However our uniform is always mainly white (even when we are Duan grade) symbolising the beginner and reminding us that we always have something to learn.
The uniform also embodies the concept Ren (humble or respectful) that forms part of the name of our school: stepping out of our normal clothes and into the uniform helps us put aside our everyday concerns and ego even for just an hour. No matter who we are, how rich or poor, young or old, we all wear exactly the same to come together as equals in the class.
As if we need reminding why this is important, it was only five years ago this summer that community disturbances saw different ethnic groups clash in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley. There were a number of reasons for the conflict but it is widely agreed that an important factors was the segregation of communities who were living “parallel lives”. Today, nearly half the population think that there is more racial prejudice than there was then and more than 90 per cent of white people in this country have no or few friends from a different ethnic group.
Most people agree that sport is a good way for people from different cultures to come together and learn more about each other, and in practice about a third of people who play a sport do meet people from other ethnic groups. It has also been shown that this works in preventing conflict: In the 90’s when India and Northern Ireland had their own inter-ethnic conflicts, the towns that managed to remain peaceful were the ones where sports clubs were integrated and whose members were from different communities.
The value of sports isn’t that people from different backgrounds happen to be in the same place at the same time, but that they come together for a common purpose and with a shared identity. As one young Muslim Thai Boxer in Bradford was quoted by the BBC recently: “things hit an all time low in 2001 with the riots and there is no ignoring the fact that there was tension. But now I feel there is a genuine understanding between white and Asian communities and you can see it in my club.”
Martial arts have some characteristics that make them particularly well-suited to have such a positive influence on society.
Firstly, they are becoming more and more popular amongst a wide range of people. Unlike most sports, the proportion of practitioners from some ethnic minorities are higher than average and many of those who don’t take part say they would like to. And whereas martial arts used to be the preserve of the young, there is a growing proportion of older people taking part as demonstrated by the quality of our veterans categories.
Secondly, traditional martial arts instruct us about more than just combat. The positive influence of sport on young people is greatest when combined with programmes that seek to address the wider persona; something that Tang Sou Dao clearly does through its principles that can be applied both inside the class and out. Things like “show loyalty to the society of which you are a member” and “take responsibility for your actions” hopefully mean that we can demonstrate the Tang Sou Dao spirit not just in lessons but at work, at school and in our private lives.
The third contribution is the level of student dedication that we see exemplified each year by the Tang Sou Dao awards for outstanding achievement. For sport to instill any positive values takes many years and martial arts belt systems provide a very strong incentive for long term commitment as we constantly strive to work our way up the hierarchy. Evidence shows that if people take up martial arts in their teens they are more likely to keep it up as they get into their twenties than football, rugby, cricket or basketball. As a result the proportion who practice martial arts tripled between 1986 and 2002/4 – growth we have seen in our own school over the years.
It is also worth mentioning the fact that Tang Sou Dao is now being practiced on three continents – around the world, people are struggling with their horse stance or perfecting their forms just like us and this helps remind us of the similarities that we all share, no matter where we are from. And who knows, in 2012, when athletes around the world come to London to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics could we be hosting the first international Tang Sou Dao championships?…
This article first appeared in the Tang Sou Dao 2006 Championship Newsletter