Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Spectator or Participant in Martial Arts Study

At Thoughts on Tai Chi, there was a thought provoking post on the difference of being a spectator or participant in one's martial arts training. The full post may be read here.

If you want to go far in Tai Chi Chuan you sincerely need to stop being a spectator and take command over your own development and progress. You cannot let any teacher dictate over how far you have come, or when and how you should progress. First you need to reach a point where you can be able to understand this by yourself.

What is a Spectator?

The Spectator is the student who attends classes more to enjoy the show than anything else. The spectator puts himself or herself in the position of being a passive listener. The Spectator is satisfied by merely enjoying the show put up by the teacher. The Spectator might listen to the instructions and practice the exercises, but do very little thinking. This passive, non-critical attitude does also have a long-term effect on the student’s progress, as the teacher can decide how fast or slow the students will progress without any kind of objections or active initiative from them.

I wrote this on a discussion board not a long time ago:

“It’s mostly commercial teachers who earn a living on teaching who use old abstract, obscure words. It’s more to attract new students than to explain. Explaining things clearly with modern, western terminology is boring. People don’t want to listen to it. They want things they don’t understand, so they can try to understand them. But they don’t want them to be explained.  Like a David Lynch movie. People love the mystery, things that cannot be explained. The simple answers? Nah, people want to keep the mystery. That’s the important thing. The same with martial arts. People … want to experience the mystery.”

Sadly, this describes the most common type of teacher as well as student. My friend who is also a teacher and a long time practitioner, Michael. cited the quote above on his blog. I am happy that he found it interesting enough to write something about, but what he didn’t know is that he is one of the reasons why I started to think more in these terms and tried to verbalise my thoughts further. In a private conversation, he made the observation that many successful teachers have some kind of background in entertainment.

When I thought more about what he wrote to me, I found what he said true and obvious. Amongst the most successful public teachers you can find musicians, actors, dancers and even people who have earned a living as a psychic and on fortunetelling. These teachers clearly know how to get people’s attention and how to keep it. They understand the value of entertainment often more than they have the ability to actually teach something. They keep their students entertained and the students keep on going to the class. Some of them are very charismatic and good manipulators. Yes, they really know how to manipulate people.

Sadly, this kind of teacher is not only the most successful type of teacher in Tai Chi and in the world of Chinese martial arts in general. They are also the most detrimental for a student’s development. Though they keep up the student’s interest and fascination of the art, they are mostly not interested in teaching their students in order to help them reach any higher level. Many teachers prefer that the students remain perpetual beginners as long as possible.

Entertainment or teaching?

This kind of teacher attracts many different kinds of students, some very serious who wants to dig deep in the art, and others who might just want to practice an exercise for health and mind. And yet others might seek out the teacher, or “master,” just to find a social group. Even if they don’t believe that they go there just to experience the mystery and to enjoy a show, this is still the situation many students put themselves in.

I believe that the relationship between student and teacher often becomes fixated already as the teacher presents something to the student that represents a new experience for the student, something that is hard to grasp and to understand. When the students enter the school of this kind of entertainer teacher, they enter a new world with strange new words and concepts and stories about old masters.

Some of these teachers have practiced for a long time and have gained some decent skill, thus they will move and use their body in a different way that a common person is used to do. These qualities are indeed hard to replicate for most of people and demand some decent amount of practice. So here, in this situation, the student depends on the teacher for guidance. But in many Tai Chi schools and in Chinese martial arts in general, the relationships are not really the same as a healthy student-teacher relationship seen in most other disciplines and in common schools.


No comments: