Look for a Teacher, not a Style

Reading Taiji.quest.ion’s post on Sunlight and Shadow made me think about advice I often hand out, that is, Look for a teacher, not a style.  I’ve often encountered various forum threads or emails about what style is the best, but to me, that’s really the wrong path, IMO. The important thing is finding a good teacher.

Let us consider the phrase again:

Look for a Teacher, not a Style

For me, I would take this even further to note the importance of finding good, local instruction. I cannot emphasize the importance of working with a real, live instructor. We’ve often heard the saying that our true selves are revealed through the eyes of another. This is because we often project certain things on ourselves that can result in a rosy view of reality.

For example, I thought my stances were really good and low but after working with my chen instructor, he showed me the error of my ways. He introduced things to me that can only be felt. Now, when I do the form, I can easily feel when I’m off, or just not settling right in my stancework.

In addition to corrections, a good instructor will teach us how to learn. Instead of spoon-feeding everything, a good teacher will show us how to discern the answer for ourselves. When I asked questions about a specific posture, I tended to get a question in response. This caused me to think about my actions. Is my movement inline with the principles of silk reeling?

What really got me thinking about this whole ordeal is a comment Taiji.quest.ion made about missing chen. I have to admit, that I am in the same boat as him and do miss my chen style.  This is the style where I’ve received the most instruction and hands-on correction. With my yang, I am basically going self-taught as I’ve only had formal instruction via the TT Liang CMC style Yang, but I’m currently doing YZD flavor of Yang.

Upon inquiries, I’ve often advised people to find the best local instruction first. If someone has a background in taiji, then I advise them to continue working on their material until they find local instruction.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Perhaps, I’m just not ready ready…

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About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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5 Responses to Look for a Teacher, not a Style

  1. Rick Matz says:

    Very wise words.

    I once asked with the the black belts I trained under in aikido how he came to aikido. He said that years ago he had read a local newspaper article about our head instructor, who had just moved from Japan. The article said that he was one of the best in the world.

    This guy didn’t have any idea of what aikido really was, or really had that much of an interest in martial arts. He thought that if he had a chance to learn something, anything, from someone who was considered at the top of whatever it was they were doing; it was an opportunity he didn’t want to miss.

  2. taijiquestion says:

    Hi Wujimon, thanks for these thoughts. If you hadn’t “steered” me a little via our online interchanges, I might never have joined my Yang class, but still be living in my safe little bubble. Thanks again Bro!

    Interesting to read that you’ve had more instruction in Chen than in Yang, somehow I got the idea it was the other way around. I use so many Chen-derived movements at work now, it’s helped me avoid silk-reeling withdrawls these past few months. But just lately I went back to doing some Chen forms and it felt pretty good.

    Your note about being largely self-taught in Yang style cheered me up. Long live the mavericks! I go back to Yang class tomorrow night with contentment and patience.

  3. michael says:

    hi wujimon, your piece reminds of Huang Sheng Shyan’s words: Hard to find a good teacher, harder to find a good student…

  4. silkreeling says:

    I think you should take a step further to explore what is good instruction for yourself. Becos different people learn differently due to the different background, experience and culture.

    Does character of the teacher play an important role?

  5. wujimon says:

    @Rick:
    Great story about seizing the day (or opportunity). I admit, at times I tend to think about greener pastures on the other side of the fence, only to regret not taking advantage of my current resources.

    @TJ?:
    No worries about the steering. It’s all good 🙂 As for my instruction, I did roughly 4 years of Yang (though not straight traditional yang) followed by 4 years of straight chen (via the CXW camp). Due to intensity and focus on a single line of chen, I feel I’ve had more instruction in this arena.

    As for the Yang, I did receive formal training in wushu taiji (variant of yang) and TT Liang CMC style (another variant of Yang), but not formal instruction in the Yang Zhenduo line (which is the yang I prefer, or Dong if available). Perhaps I’ll clear it up a bit in the post.

    @Michael:
    Totally agree with the quote!

    @Silkreeling:
    I think you bring up a great point about looking for good instruction for ourselves. Just b/c someone teaches one way, it does not mean it’s good for us. For example, I had a classmate who also studied chen with me, however he vibed better with our yang instructor and I vibed better with the chen guy.

    As for a teacher’s character, I feel it plays a great importance in learning. For me, I want the whole package ( see Personal Demonstration of Skill ). But better yet, I prefer to find a teacher who teaches in a way I can learn.

    In school, some folks are auditory learners while others visual. While the visual learner may get something from a great speaker, they’ll get much more from a person who uses a lot of visual aids. Like you noted, I think we have to find methods of instruction that align with our learning style and background.

    Great comments, all 🙂

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