All teachers enjoy seeing new students come to a class or practice to check out the arts. For many of them, it's a new world -- mysterious and fascinating.
The first session with me is often a reality check for new students. They often have many tai chi misconceptions. Recently, a great young guy came to our practice -- tall, with his own tai chi uniform already, and moves suggesting some decent experience in other arts.
One of the first things he said was how excited he was to study with "a great master."
Bubble Burst #1 -- There are very few masters in the United States. There are some very good teachers but I could probably count on one hand the people I would say are masters, and I might have a couple of fingers remaining after the count. So I corrected the new guy and told him I am farther along than he is and can teach him, but I don't have enough time in this lifetime to become what anyone would describe as a "master."
I've been lucky to study with teachers who are much farther along the path than I was when I studied with them. It was clear when members of the Chen family or their top students came around, my teachers were very good, but when compared with the Chen "masters," they were on the same road I'm on -- maybe just farther down the way. One of my teachers was very honest about it, saying he was just a "hobbyist." I respected that. Another started describing himself as a master at one point, but I knew it wasn't true. I had seen him work with Chen Xiaoxing.
As I practiced recently with the new student, he began to talk about the flow of chi, and how he wanted to learn to focus it in his body and feel it. He may have said that he has felt it at times, warm or tingling in his hands. At that point, I was distracted because I was about to hit him with:
Bubble Burst #2 -- "Chi flow," if it exists at all, is a physical thing. It depends on good body mechanics and structure.
You can feel anything you want to feel. If you want to feel warmth in your hands, just concentrate long enough and you'll feel it. Want to feel sick or tired? Focus on it and voila -- you'll feel that way.
I demonstrated chi flow by eliminating peng jin and the space between my biceps and chest, closing the armpit. He pushed me over. I expanded the area and filled it with peng. He had a much harder time trying to push me over.
Tai Chi is made up of physical, not metaphysical skills.
We had a good time talking and going through some ground path and silk-reeling exercises. I pointed out the six basic skills that all internal arts students need to develop:
- Establishing and maintaining the ground path
- Maintaining peng jin
- Whole-body movement
- Silk-reeling or "spiraling" energy
- Opening and closing the kua
- Dan T'ien rotation
I coached him through some fighting applications, and he laughed at how relaxed you can be while knocking someone to the ground with movements such as Walking Obliquely." I also showed him that no matter where your hands and feet are, a self-defense application is happening. When the hands are in a movement that some might call a "transition," it can actually be used in a self-defense situation. It's an eye-opening experience.
I'm fortunate to be in a position where I don't need a lot of local students. That allows me to be a little more selective when new people come to check out our arts. I have no problem telling people that it wouldn't be a good fit.
With the latest guy, I saw great potential and he joined my website (it's the only fee required for my practices, and all promotions are free).
Near the end of the practice, we somehow got onto the subject of teachers. I described a teacher who I admired who one evening in class began to describe how he created his style -- by listening and talking to a disembodied voice in a room for two or three days. The Voice spoke to him and allegedly outlined his system for him. I stood in class, after investing a lot of time and money and hard work with this instructor who I admired, and I remember thinking, "Holy crap, what have I gotten myself into?"
I kept studying for a while, but separated eventually. I'm looking for reality in my arts, not fantasy. And that's what I present to new students.
The good ones are the ones who realize that their bubbles need to be burst, and they come back to learn real internal arts.
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