Martial Art Sashes: Personal Story
Although taijiquan is called the "Grand Ultimate" martial art, and, as Paul Gallagher indicates in "Drawing Silk," was once the secret art of the Emperor's elite guards, to most American practitioners the fact that Taijiquan's origins are martial is lost or not recognized. Consequently, most schools and teachers of our art do not wear sashes, despite displaying many other Chinese cultural accouterments. Although Taijiquan schools that offer both wai and nei gong classes, may employ and award sashes, they seem to offend many Taijiquan players of a non-martial art background.
I was first introduced to sashes back in late 70s-early 80s by a young disciple of T.T. Liang's, Raymond Hayward. Thru him I even acquired a sash to wear, but stopped due to adverse reaction at the time from other teachers and players, it being considered something inappropriate from "hard style."
However, all this changed with my serendipitous sojourn to China in 1985-88, when and where I learned something very important about the girding and wearing of a martial art sash.
One of the things I noticed, once accepted into Grandfather Ding's Snake Mountain Pavilion School, was that all the students took out and wrapped a sash about their dantian before beginning training or class. The sashes were of no uniform material or pattern, instead were of various lengths, cloths, and mainly white and black colors. Some were simple and some of intricate design, some were tied with slip knots on either right or left sides (I was later informed that Buddhists tied on left and Daoists on right), and some with each end tied on each side!
I never witness a ceremony when a sash was awarded or presented, until one day after a couple months of training a large group of my class mates called me over to them and I was given a simple black, elastic belt with snap buttons made by one of my lady classmates. In fact I was given several of these belts made by various classmates at the time and over the years. Though they are now stretched beyond use, the first one, for sure, was the highest and most precious award I've ever been given! It meant to me at the time that this dabizi waiguoren (big nose foreign guy), seemingly dropped into their midst like a "Stranger in a Strange Land," had been fully accepted into their school of a diverse group of Chinese martial artists!! What I learned next made me bring wearing the sash back with me to Meiguo (America) introducing it to my students here.
What I learned in Ding YeYe's Martial Art Folk School, in a pavilion on a mountainside, was that the sash, the only indication of a uniform there, was worn and displayed not as a badge or rank of attainment, but as a symbol of deep, abiding respect for and in honor of the golden thread that holds the fabric of Middle Kingdom culture together---the Art of WUSHU!