I was recently discussing the various merits and drawbacks of alcoholic beverages with my friends, when it reminded me of some of my time in China. Master Liming Yue had organised a get-together with some of his martial arts friends. There was a Shuai Jiao master (Chinese wrestling), some various modern Wushu practitioners, a young boy who was learning Shaolin and a couple of Tai Chi practitioners.
I had just received my instructors certificate, but was under no illusion that I was in the company of people with far more experience. Things were very formal. Everyone was polite. We went to a restaurant, and ate a hearty lunch together. As per normal Chinese custom, we started toasting each other. As the beer flowed and inhibitions dropped, the young boy (prompted by his father) got up and did some Shaolin Long Fist form. Everyone cheered and clapped.
Then up stood the Shuai Jiao master, who wanted me as his stooge. He showed me some locks and throws - very interesting techniques. Then as the drink continued to flow, I think just about everyone got up and showed their skill - me included. There was no hint of competitiveness or ego. Everyone wanted each other to do well.
With all of the problems that alcohol causes, it is interesting to note that in this situation, it was a definite aid to conviviality, and a big learning enabler for me. I wonder how little I would have learned that day, if everyone remained polite, formal and defensive?