The Inseparability of Style and TeacherIn the last episode of this series we discussed how a good teacher should approach the diverse teaching needs of their students. If we take a look at one of Tai Chi's most famous practitioners from last century - Cheng Man ching - we can see that his version of Tai Chi came to reflect the man himself. In the same way we can see how the breakaway style of Yang Lu Chan at the end of the 19th century, reflected his priorities and his martial interests. Man Ching approached things from another angle as he was also a physician, painter, calligrapher and poet. And It would be these interests that would explain his version of the Form and his practice of Tai Chi.
Over the years, Some of my teachers have stressed the importance of knowing the acupuncture channels in the body, particularly those trained in acupuncture or shaitsu. Other teachers have emphasised the martial arts or the meditative aspects - depending on their background and interests.
So, if you want to know why you do what you do in your class, ask your teacher about their interests. And if they say, no....its not about me....I'm just doing what my teacher taught me, then don't worry. Everyone says that - just be patient and watch for the other interests to turn up. They will.
Despite this, students still tweet me questions like....hey teapotmonk.....can you tell me which style would be better to learn? Is the Yang style too Yin? Is Chen too Yang?
My answer is to ask them what sort of person they are? What are they looking for in a class and how best do they learn - a subject we touched upon in the last episode.
Because the answer is within you. You just have to learn to see it.
So ask yourself...Do you seek a method of meditation, or techniques for relaxation? Are you looking to build-up your immune system or your muscles?
Try Before You BuyWhatever your answers to these questions, always taste, before tucking in. Try before buy.
Sit in on a class and just watch before deciding if it is right for you. Watching enables you to see how the students and teacher interact. Watching enables you to absorb something of the ambience, whilst not having to worry about learning the technique.
After the class is over, try talking with the teacher, take some time to talk to the other students. Ask them how they feel about their progress and how they feel about the class. It has been said that the best example of a teacher's skill is the level of proficiency attained by the students, BUT this is only part of it.
Just as important is their attitude and openness to newcomers - how do they respond to the inquisitiveness of a newcomer. This is what you need to know about. This is more important than the name of the style or the lineage of the teacher. This may upset some of you, but hey, if you're getting upset then maybe there is a grain of truth somewhere in there.
Some of you may also say, huh…easy for you to say Mr TeapotmOnk for what lineage or tradition has the mOnk? Well, my tradition and family school are known as diversity, evolution and adaptability. This is the lineage I follow. Granted this may put some students off and it has provoked the ridicule of some teachers who adopt more Oriental aims and wear a sash in class instead of a cheeky grin. But hey, the world's a diverse place.
I tried to say this on a forum last week. Think of tai chi as cheese. It doesn't matter if you prefer Brie and I prefer Chedder. What does it matter if someone else loves Camembert and another Red Leicester.
What is important is not that we all eat the same cheese for that would make for a very dull palate.
What is important is the differences between one and another. For it is not in the elimination but rather in the celebration of difference that we maintain a rich and varied legacy.
This episode is based on the book (now available in paperback) Ways Of Learning: A Handbook for Students and Teachers of the Martial Arts. More Info here.
Listen or download the whole Episode below or find out more about the entire series here.