Saturday, 27 April 2013

Why do the teachers all do it differently?

Chen Xin

I've been asked many times why do the teachers all do it differently? One of the most puzzling things to many Taijiquan students is why the teachers from Chenjiagou all seem to be so different. After all they trained with, for the most part, the same teachers, how is it then that they come to look so different?

First lets be clear what we are looking at. Chen Taijiquan is an internal martial art where every movement is led by one's intention. Chen Xin used the analogy of a writer composing an essay to illustrate the use of intention: "As the pen moves it carries the intention of the writer, producing on paper what the writer intends. What the mind plans, the hand writes. The writing requires the full attention and complete focus of the writer".

Concentrating upon details during a workshop at the Embrace
the Moon Taijiquan School in Seattle, USA
As Taijiquan students begin training they have to concentrate very hard on what to do as they are doing it - where the weight is, the position of the hands, angle of the body etc etc... As a result, the mind can become tense and movements can become disjointed and not free flowing. It needs an extended period of persistent practice to become natural, unforced and uninhibited.

To go back to the writing analogy. If we think back to how we first learned to write. First we were shown the letters of the alphabet. We were taught the rules of what made an "a", what made a "b"... and so on. We would painstakingly copy out a letter over and over again until we fulfilled the rules for each particular letter.  Then we would begin to string the letters together to form words, spelling each out carefully. In time we would "suddenly" be writing fluently and effortlessly. Taijiquan follows the same process. First learning the rules for each part of the body, learning how to move in the required way. As the requirements become second nature and we are no longer concerned with where the hands should be, the angle or direction, where the weight should be, our movements become "internalised".
Learning Taijiquan's rules for each part of the body
- Lecture at the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego

We are not surprised when each of our classmates develops their own distinctive handwriting. As long as they continue to stay within the principles we can understand what they write. The same should hold true when we see the differences between the Taijiquan masters. Anyone who finds it difficult to reconcile the variations between Chen Xiaowang, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Xiaoxing, Wang Xian, Chen Zhenglei  et al... is perhaps guilty of confusing the manifestation with the method.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

...It's harder to find a good student?

Davidine Sim
Traditionally, in the world of Chinese martial arts, if students wanted their teacher to take an interest in their development it was understood that the onus was on the student to demonstrate their commitment. Not just in words, but in action - by invariably showing up and giving 100% - not just showing their face when it was convenient. In this post I'd like to share an extract from an article by Davidine Sim on the nature of the student teacher relationship:

...It's harder to find a good student?

I didn't understand this statement until I became a teacher myself. In the 15 years that I've taught the truth of this statement has become more apparent and valid.  The first part of this statement is " It's hard to find a good teacher".

My teachers must have been tired of seeing my face.  I was an ever present 'stalker'. I was indiscriminate in my attendance - the thirst for understanding this fascinating, complex and hugely misunderstood discipline meant that I went to all the classes I could go to, irrespective of what the teaching programmes were.  As I progressed 'up the rank', I continued to line up with the beginners and repeated what I've done countless numbers of times, always discovering some new aspects of the art as I did so.  I'd like to qualify that I didn't do this under duress.  I genuinely enjoyed, and still enjoy, the energy of being in a class, of  being guided  into postures that I would  hold until the legs scream for release and the body loses the essential quality of relaxation.  Or until the teacher tells me to move.  For me it was inconceivable that there would, indeed could, be a class without me!  

I've 'stalked' my teachers to over 20 cities in different parts of the  world.  I did not inform my teacher that I
Davidine Sim being guided by Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang - 1998
was coming, I just went. After all, when you go to school you don't inform your teacher each day that you're turning up.  Nor do you take time off whenever you feel like it.  I did not discuss my 'lesson plan', nor did I tell the teacher what to teach, or what I 'preferred' to learn. The teacher knows the curriculum!  There's always something new to learn.  Some aspect one can improve on.

A good student therefore is not the strongest, fittest, youngest, most intelligent.  But the most interested and committed.

The relationship between a teacher and a student develops over time.  Not in term of months, but years.   A student's commitment to training, in actions not in rhetoric, and his/her attendance, for self-development and not for association, earns a teacher's respect.  Yes, respect goes both ways, although it takes different forms.  This respect manifests in the teacher taking the student's progression seriously - by proper, appropriate and timely instruction and guidance.