Before I moved back to the Quad Cities from Tampa a few weeks ago, I sent a message to my core group of students. I was signalling a new approach to training, or, if not completely new, a determination to take our practices up a notch.
When Nancy and I owned a "school" that we closed when we moved to Tampa, all types of people were students--older people who only wanted the exercise type of tai chi, younger people who missed classes and obviously didn't practice--and you had to accept everyone if you wanted to pay the school's bills.
The effect was a watering down of practice. I wasn't happy about it, and the more I taught, the less satisfied I was as a martial artist.
My intent upon returning was to maintain a small group of core students who could step up and tolerate more physically demanding workouts. Although I made good friends among other students, including the older ones, my main goal has always been to be the best martial artist that I can be. I'm no longer interested in practicing tai chi by leaving out the martial aspects. And when we do the martial aspects, we have to perform techniques with power and body mechanics. We have to be taken down, thrown, and hit. Not to the point of injury, but to the point where we will walk away a little sore and probably with bruises.
We had a good 3-hour workout yesterday with a small group of students. My black sash student, Rich Coulter, joined us and we drilled on the Chen 19 form, the Chen broadsword form, and then we worked fighting applications of the 19 form. We took it up a notch and it was FUN!!! I coached students in the proper body mechanics and felt the change. For example, when the arm folds in before the step in "Stepping Three Steps" it represents a shoulder lock and a takedown. Students practiced the proper angles and closing to take an opponent down powerfully.
All of our core students are members of the online school. Any member of the online school is welcome to attend training sessions. That's the only requirement for payment, and it's a very inexpensive way to get good training (only $19.99 a month) but they also are required to appear in videos for the online school and DVDs. It's a win-win situation. For members of the online school who live around the nation and the world (we have members in Japan, England, the Netherlands, Israel, Belgium and other nations) and can't join our practices, they'll receive the instruction in the videos that I post to the online school.
Some former students may not be happy about my change of direction. I don't like leaving students and friends behind, but a martial art is not gentle. It requires transforming your body and your mind into that of a peaceful warrior, someone who is capable of tremendous self-control but also capable of defending themselves in any situation. It requires discipline and respect, and it requires people who will study and practice on their own so they can progress in their skills. It requires people who are determined to build their physical and mental strength.
A martial art shouldn't tolerate students who won't practice and who are constantly late for practice. I'm glad that I don't have to continue to tolerate that situation just to pay the bills on a school. It's more satisfying for me and for the students who take the martial arts seriously.