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New starters often believe what they see in the movies. It looks so exciting... They want this for themselves.
The student expects to walk away with awesome skills within a few weeks. After all, the man on YouTube can do it... why can't they? Unfortunately, the student is typically unrealistic.
They seldom consider:
Their own level of fitness
Their capacity to learn
The scope of their ambitions
How much work lies ahead of them
How long it will take to learn the desired skills
martial art is not like buying a product
in a shop. You make it happen. You do the work.
Not the instructor.
Modern culture is filled with people who have 'attitude'. Being cocky and macho is applauded. Showing off is encouraged. People like to be sarcastic.
They enjoy being a 'smartass'. Television is littered with talent shows and programmes that embrace the more unpleasant aspects of human nature. Ugly traits are fostered.
Upon reaching what is perceived as an ideal goal, the artist
discovers something entirely different. The artist is suddenly confronted
with the fact that what was thought of as perfection of technique was merely
the introduction to it.
An entirely new vista has opened. The artist must be prepared to turn his
gaze from the heights that have so recently been gained, and prepare for the
ascent of the peak suddenly found beyond them.
It is important to remember that a martial arts class is not modern in nature. When you enter the training hall, you must leave modern culture at the door.
You are partaking in a tradition that has continued for centuries. Fashion, politics and mass media are ephemeral things. They have no substance. Taijiquan has been practiced for centuries.
The rare individual endures
It is common for a new starter to commence class with excited ambitions, only to falter almost immediately. Martial arts schools expect a high turnover of beginners.
Few students have the resolve to endure the journey. Most people never make it past the first step.
Modern taijiquan classes typically apply modern attitudes towards learning.
These approaches are perhaps necessary to accommodate the contemporary student, but do not improve the transmission of the art.
Taijiquan requires the student to 'eat bitter'. They must work, sweat and practice their way to skill. Making life easier for the student may seem helpful, but does this actually help the student to learn?
Traditional masters made the student stand for a couple of years until the habitual muscle tension lessened.
The instructor had no interest in committing time to lazy students or passing their art onto to somebody who would squander the teachings. People value what is hard-earned and are reluctant to waste it.
As much as you may not like this fact, your instructor is not accountable to you. They are not answerable. They do not have to explain their reasons, motives and deeper intentions.
And if they did reply, you would not understand the reply. Without context, meaning cannot exist.
Some modern classes often embrace coaching and mentoring methods rather than the traditional military-style tuition. But this is not an invitation to treat the lessons casually.
Your instructor is not a personal trainer. They are not in 'the service industry'. They are not obligated to please you or give you what you ask for. Taijiquan cannot be taught piecemeal.
You cannot pick and choose how and what to study.
If a martial arts instructor had to choose between bowing to the demands of the consumer marketplace or closing their class to the public, many would close their class.
Teaching hand-picked students is better than diluting the art.
Hesitation can be caused by thinking rather than acting. We train the student to move without thinking. This improves timing and produces a spontaneous response to any situation.
Dithering indicates that your attention is upon yourself, not on what is happening. 'Wu nien' is a condition of choiceless action, where body and mind unite without any conscious thought.
It is a state of just 'being'.
Traditionally, in China a martial arts instructor was very reluctant to take on new students. How come? If the student's skills were inadequate it would directly reflect on the teacher.
On a mild level, this made the teacher look incompetent and affected their reputation. More seriously, it could mean that the teacher would be put to death for failing in their responsibility.
Consequently, traditional tuition tended to be somewhat harsh and severe. The teacher hammered the student and adhered strictly to Confucian terseness.
Sifu Waller's instructor (Peter Southwood) followed this method.
2 March 1995
Last updated 27 April 2020