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Friday, February 26, 2010

"Softness Vs. Hardness" (A blast from my blog's past)

As some of you may know, I had my blog at a previous location before switching over to Blogspot. I'm in the slow process of transferring my numerous old blog posts to this one, so every now and then, I'll be posting a "blast from the past". Here's one from last year:


June 08 2009

Softness triumphs over hardness,
Feebleness over strength.
What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable.
This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them,
...of mastery through adaptation.

- Lao Tzu

The other day, a student emailed me and asked:  "What is the point of Tai Chi practice? How effective is it at all, for self defense. Soft is weak, slow is not powerful and will not defend yourself. I don't get, what's the point? I want to defend myself powerfully, not be weak."

....And that, dear student, where your current weakness lies. It lies in your interpretation of "weak".

Now, this student is an "external" Wushu student.....not a Taiji student....he has been around long enough to know the movements, but not long enough to know the "art" yet. I pondered for a day before responding to his email. At first, I took it sort of personally,....I thought he was putting down Taijiquan and labeling it a weak method. After thinking about his email, I realized that he was genuinely curious about something he does not understand.

I did write back, citing the above mentioned quote, and attempting to explain that Taijiquan does not teach one to be slow and weak. But how do you explain it while typing? Its something that has to be shown, experienced, felt. So, the next class the student was in, I introduced the "slow and low" approach to Taolu (forms) training. I had the whole class practice the 1st basic routine, with 2 stipulations: 1) They had 10 seconds to do each movement...they could NOT be done with a movement before the 10 second timer went off, and 2) Their upper body movements and lower body movements had to precisely timed to end at the same stances being finished before the hand motions, and vice versa.

We did this exercise for about 10 minutes, and at first, I noticed that everyone "cheated", by establishing the stance first, then finishing with their arm or hand movements. After the exercise, I mentioned that they would need to work on moving slowly, in order to move quickly in an effective manner. I said "Lao Tzu has a quote...."Softness triumphs over hardness, Feebleness over strength.What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable.This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them,...of mastery through adaptation." This doesn't mean that you have to be weak, flaccid, lacking strength. It means that you shouldn't always rely on brute strength alone. If you determine victory solely by size and strength, you'll one day experience defeat when your strength wanes. You guys are using so much tension and strength just to do 10-second movments.....relax a little, take your time instead of timing yourself! Be aware of every movement, how it feels, where your body is in space at all times. Establish and keep your aligned posture". I then showed them some tips on how to move effectively while moving slowly.

After another 15 minutes of practice, they were beginning to get a bit more versed in moving slowly.....not quite picture perfect Taiji form, but they at least were getting the idea. I ended the exercise with "That, Taiji. It doesn't matter what movements you do, so long as you keep Taiji principles. You don't know the principles by academic standards, but your felt them tonight. Now, lets do some self defense!"

I noticed, that all the students moved a little more swiftly, with a little more flow and little more agility. Without much thought, all the students applied "ting jin" (listening energy) instead of merely throwing strikes and kicks in hopes that they would hit something, or put up a blind block or blind parry.  At the end of class, I said "Thanks for practicing Taiji with me tonight. All of you fought well in the self defense drills......we do the same in Taiji class....different form movements though. Other than that, know that true martial arts use BOTH hard and soft energy.....never just one or the other."

As we were prepping the studio to leave for the night, the student who sent me the "what's the point of Taiji?" email, approached me and said "Thanks for answering my questions".  I laughed and said "YOU answered your struggling through what you initially thought was soft and weak. Now you know how to adapt to your sparring partner's movements and attitudes"

Hopefully, this student will understand how softness and hardness, can pretty much be the "same"......

Friday, February 12, 2010

Want to be a Martial Arts instructor? Then act like one.

This blog post is mainly for students who want to be an instructor someday. If you're already on your way up the ranks in your study, then kudos to've realized that martial arts is not some "get your black belt in a few weeks" kind of activity, and you've realized that attaining that black belt or instructor certificate does NOT make you an instant Master.

When you are authorized to instruct, keep these points in mind (these do not include the business aspects of running a school, but rather general points on teaching and keeping up on your training):

As a teacher, realize that people start studying martial arts for different reasons. These reasons include, but are not limited to:
  • Self Defense
  • Mental discipline
  • Physical fitness
  • Recreation/sport
  • Making new friends
  • Hobby
  • Fun
  • Get in touch with one's own culture
  • Stress relief
Whatever the reason your new students choose to study martial arts, assure them that they will find the benefit they are looking for, and more. Remember, the students are not you.....if a student wants a hobby, then don't expect them to attend every class every day right off the bat, as you did when you were a beginner.

Plan your curriculum in such a way that students get a bit of their goals at each class.
  • Your class should include activities that will allow students to practice not only their fundamentals, but their forms, self defense, sparring (if applicable), and new belt rank elements (if applicable).
  • Class activities should be geared in such a way as to allow students to appreciate the traditional aspects of your art, as well as modern methods of training.
  • Don't be afraid to try new things. The traditional rote method in which you trained was probably great for you, but probably will not be as enjoyable by others.....don't take this as an insult. After all, everyone is different in their learning styles.

Praise students and correct students as necessary.
  • Give compliments for improvements, good effort and good attitude. Don't give compliments blindly. If students get a compliment for mediocre effort, they will grow accustomed to mediocre techniques.
  • Nip disrespectful behavior in the bud right away. If someone is acting up, stop it immediately and very briefly explain why that behavior is not acceptable.

Keep your own training a priority on your schedule.

  • You can spout fortune cookie quotes all day long, but it won't make you a better teacher in the student's eyes unless you keep training yourself. If you are able to still train with your own teachers, then do it. Although "self teaching" is good, it doesn't replace training with a teacher.....whether it be in a seminar, workshop series, or even a quarterly visit with your teacher for an intensive training session.

Network with other Instructors in your area
  • Visit other teachers in your area, get to know them. Networking is great, because it allows teachers to refer to each other for answers to questions or allows other teachers to refer students to your school if their school isn't offering what a visitor is looking for.
  • Field trips. It won't kill your art if you visit other schools. Ask instructors of other schools if you can bring your class to train with them for a field trip, so that you may get familiar with other arts and learn to appreciate and respect them. Who knows, you might get another school coming to your place to learn about your style.

Last but not least, ACT LIKE A TEACHER.

  • Come to class on time, be dressed and ready for class. If you can't be there on time, be sure that someone can cover for you....don't leave the students waiting outside the Dojo door wondering where you are.
  • Don't talk badly about other teachers, especially well established teachers. It could come back to bite you in the rear end. One time, I was talking to a teacher, who proceeded to talk about an esteemed teacher in our city, and how much different the other teacher's teaching style was. It was evident that this teacher was hinting that the other teacher's style was "wrong". Come on, if you have to pick apart someone else's teaching style, it doesn't impress me nor does it make me think you are any better of a teacher than the person you're talking ill about. Want to lose respect? Then just keep talking trash about others.
  • Be yourself, and balance your personality with your art. If you like to laugh, then add a bit of humor to your classes. Don't try to be like your own teacher.....everybody teaches differently. However, see below.
  • Keep bawdy humor and conversation out of your classes. Some of your students might take offense. Does'nt matter if bawdy humor is part of your does'nt belong in class.
  • Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT flirt with people in your class. Do not abuse your level or authority. Doesn't matter if the student flirted with you first....if you go along with it, you've just created a very awkward situation.

These are just a few tips for a new teacher. Remember, being a teacher doesn't give you ultimate power over others.......instead, it gives you the responsibility to show others how to to find their own power.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010