Saturday, March 21, 2009

Finding The Balence

I have recently experianced an issue in the one class I teach to the general public, Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan. Readers to this Blog might already know my friends and I have a Mon-Weds workout that is "closed door". It's strictly for guys that are already established martial artists, there's some rough stuff, solid training reinforcing our boxing, push hands, chin na locking-- it's drill, drill drill. This is usually followed by a few cool ones.
Several years ago, I decided to add a Thursday class just to play around with Tai Chi Chuan. People in our small community had expressed interest in some kind of martial training, but we are very selective as to who we allow into our regular club practice. So the Thursday Tai Chi Chuan class seemed to fit well; teach the Yang-style long form, and give me some other bodies to push hands with. The class would also serve as a "farm club" to see if there were any likely candidates to allow into our Mon-Weds practice.
Things were ticking along very well for quite some time. But this week, a student sent me a note saying that she was going to drop out of the class, essentially because our practice was too "hard". This person, a spiritual woman about sixty, had been with the class for a year. She had practiced with another school in the past, and had done some San-shou (two person form) and push hands. By all standards, she was an excellent student and will be missed by us all.
Now here's the twist; Her note said that she was dissapointed that I never allowed her to come to the Mon-Weds club practice. Now, on one hand, she thought the very mellow push hands and occasional application or drill in the Thursday class was too "Hard". Yet she had wanted to be admitted into a real rough class, something she clearly was not suited for.
As expected, I'm sad for the loss of this student. Her comments made me reflect deeply on my methods and expectations in teaching a class with such a wide range of ages and abilities. It also reminds me that Tai Chi Chuan is so many different things to many different people.
What this has also done is reaffirm my conviction to teach Tai Chi Chuan as a MARTIAL ART, with plans to introduce Xing-yi and Bagua at some later date. If anything, I may have failed to clearly state my intentions as to where the training in that class is headed, with ages and abilities of each student considered. For the most part, all the other students are having a blast, performing at whatever level they feel comfortable. For those with no interest in Martial Tai Chi Chuan, I will recommend the Chi Gong class that is taught at the senior center in town.
One of Bruce Lee's first students, James Demile, said that Bruce was selfish in his teaching. Lee used his students to experiment and make him a better martial artist. To a certain extent, I am in agreement with that concept. Those of us that take the time to teach are rewarded with valuable lessons ourselves.


Dan Prager said...

Thanks for posting this.

On the occasions when I have lost a good student I try to leave the door open, and occasionally nudge them to come back if and when they are ready -- sometimes they do!

Reading your post, it occurs to me that if I were in your shoes I would be interested to sit down with the student and have a bit of a chat, not to brow-beat her into staying, but to better understand where she is coming from.

Good luck in re-examining your arrangements, and in "finding the balance".

Man of the West said...

While I'm sure it's unpleasant to lose a capable and interested training partner, isn't the reality always that you just can't please everyone?

Lalchand Khatri said...
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Wim Demeere said...

I've had people run away when we did an application in my tai chi class. They could NEVER strike somebody, what kind of person was I to teach that stuff?
Some people just have a different view of the realities of violence and how martial arts handle these. And that's fine. You taught her the best you could. If she decides it's not for her, then she'll sooner or later find a class that conforms to her idea of what martial arts should be. Just keep on teaching!


Anonymous said...

I know you feeling, I also lost a student who has quiet promising but who did not understand that CMA and Sanshou for that matter included wrestling, she taught that it was just kickboxing; even though she knew that CMA included 4 areas of combat and I gave her reading material on what CMA are.

Dojo Rat said...

I should make clear that when the student, who I haven't had a chance to speak to personally yet, indicated that our class was too "hard", I think she ment both physically (as in actually dealing with an attack) and not what she pictured as "soft Kung fu".
While all of my practice in that class adheres to the principles of Taiji (not meeting power head-on etc.) there is the reality of the art in application that has to be acknowledged. I have sought out the best instructors I can find in my area, Michael Gilman and the Seattle crew that hosts Tim Cartmell and Mike Martello seminars. All three are expert internal artists, and all three strike, lock, project and throw.
Now, I only have one or two students that I can do that with (in the Taiji class), men in their twenties. Those guys get demonstrated on and do the same to me. Everything else is very gentle push hands and sensitivity drills with the older people.
I just don't get why she thought she wanted to attend our other program, which IS really rough.

Dojo Rat said...

Bill, your website looks great, I'll be reading!

bealtine said...

I agree 100% just because it's Tai Chi doesn't mean it's some hippy nonsense. It's always a shame to lose a good student.I really think you should talk to her and ask what her "real" concerns were. They may not be what it seems to say in the note. I'd invite her to one of your "harder" sessions and let her decide.

One last thing...fancy doing a video of your long form some time (and your short form too)?

Dojo Rat said...

Well, we do the traditional Yang 108 movement form, it takes over ten minutes which is pretty long to video. We do not have a short form, like Chen Man Chengs 37 or whatever it is.
I may post some Bagua steps, which are much more interesting.
- And yes, I'm sure there may have been something else bothering her, she did stick it out for a year. She really wanted to learn the San Shou two-person form, which is the most complex form I have ever learned and am really not ready to try and teach one person at a time. I have taught it to two other guys in our other class, but they were very adept at forms.

bealtine said...

First let me say I really hate doing this but here I go...
I find the Chen Man Ching forms a bit light on martial content. A good practitioner can see the underlying martial content but it's not evident to those of us that come from a different lineage. My lineage is from Yang Chen Fu so our 108 form is different again. That's why I was interested, curiosity really:)

Having said all that it's 99% in the mind(Yi). The forms are actually pretty irrelevant in the end.

I like the Sanshou form a lot.

I've had people come to our classes and leave in disgust saying things like "that's not TC".
Pretty damn silly as every teacher has some insights (unless they are a mystic)

Btw again I love your open approach to TC and other styles and am an avid reader of the blog.

Dojo Rat said...

Our lineage is also Yeng Chen Fu, via Dong Jinye to T.Y. Pang to us.
Pang also studied with Sun Xikun Whose father studied Bagua with Cheng Tinghua.
--Pretty close to the source on both!

Formosa Neijia said...

My guess is that she's disappointed she wasn't invited to the private club.

If I were you, I wouldn't make the fact known that you have something like that. Keep it on the low-down. When you make it known that you have a "secret class," then it becomes a brass ring to many folks. If they don't get invited eventually, then that's like you telling them that they aren't welcome. They take it personally.

She likely thinks that she's worked hard and deserves to be in that harder class. Your not inviting her is (to her) a statement that she isn't good enough.

BTW, this happened to me once and I just crashed the party. :)

I showed up and was asked what I was doing there since this was an advanced class. I said I was there to get beat up and learn whatever I could. I was scoffed at. Three months later the scoffer and I were the only ones left in the class. As it turned out, the "advanced" students didn't have the stomach for the material and I did.

So sometimes you have to give people the chance to rise to the occasion. It doesn't usually happen but sometimes people will surprise you. They may be under-performing because of lowered expectations in a regular class. Or not. :)

Steve Perry said...

Back when we had beginner and intermediate classes at Guru Plinck's shop on different days, one of the beginner students much wanted to be in the more advanced class. He allowed to Guru as how he couldn't make it to the Tuesday session because of a scheduling conflict, and could he instead attend the Thursday class?

Guru allowed it. He's easy-going about such things.

The guy was always playing catch-up, and he didn't belong there. Everybody else knew it. He didn't have the basics and he was trying to skip ahead.

Later, Guru went back to teaching one class, all of us lumped in together, but that was different. We knew that half the folks in it were beginners, and the flow of the teaching reflected that. It doesn't hurt to go over basics repeatedly, but if you are trying to move beyond what a beginner can manage, they miss a lot.

Your student wanted something you weren't going to be able to teach her in either class, sounds like to me ...

Sensei Strange said...

I have found many an Aikido and Judo artist that I felt were too hard for my taste. I see it in Tai Chi videos as well. Some people's spirit and technique gets soft, and others don't. Perhaps you are too hard for her taste.

I myself don't strike anymore. I don't lock for pain anymore. I do throw, but in ways that are not likely to damage a person. I have softened up. I probably would not seek out a teacher that uses a lot of strikes or pain. Maybe that is where she is at, looking for real gentleness.

It is always difficult to lose a valued member. Everyone is affected by training with each other and she will carry you with her for the remainder of her training. More than anything I wish for my students to find the teachers that fit with them best. Several have left me, and I wish them all the best.

I enjoy your blog. The only complaint is that you don't write everyday!

Walk In Peace

Dojo Rat said...

I think everybody had some good insight into the situation.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not moping or conplaining. It is what it is, and it has firmed up my decision to stay on the Martial side with that class for sure.
As far as bringing her into the other training club, it would also be unfair to the training partners I have there, and would be a disruption in our routine. If anybody is brought into that practice, it's got to be young guys that can take being bashed around a bit. And they have to bring their own Beer!