Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

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KungFuPanda1979
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Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Wed Aug 17, 2011 11:49 pm

Hi folks,
I am an instructor in a small town in rural Australia, and I have been trying to teach down to earth practical taichi for the last 8 years. I have found that the people have no interest in the martial arts/ self defence aspects of taijiquan, and trying to explain it to people only receives plank glances. The usual students that I get are people of middle age or older, who are interested in relaxation and the gentle dance nature of taijiquan. I teach them the forms, and sometimes I demonstrate why a technique has to be done a certain way by demonstrating the application, I usually just get either the look of shock, or the 'how is any of that relavent?' sort of responses. Some of them I tried to teach push hands, and they are too polite to try and test each other's skill, so I tell them to just do it as a partnered form, and they just get bored. Explaining real taijiquan to other martial artist is even more frustrating. The local word for martial arts is Kyokushinkai Karate or MMA, showing them push hands and fajing just gets the 'but how can pushing people around work in fighting?'. The only way to convince them that its as a legitimate martial art, seems to be to fight one and resort to hurting them, but then they would probably come up with some excuse or get me into legal trouble. I've done a push hands seminar with a group of Aikido people, and they still think it all just too soft and they could've beaten me if we were really fighting (when the head guy tried to pushed me, I bounced him away, pulled him back and pushed him again like a yo yo three times, and gave him the look that says 'we can do THAT all day, or you can let go and might learn something).

So my only resort so far is to just keep teaching till the end of this year, retire from teaching local classes, and just practise by myself. I read the topic on quotes about why it is important that taijiquan be practised as it should be, which inspired me to open the floor here for everyone to disscuss their own experiences in trying to teach taijiquan as a martial art, explain to others that it is so, or encounters with those who think they are representatives of the art of 'Taichi' with no idea about real taijiquan.

Thank you for reading
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Michael » Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:27 am

First, I would make it very clear to any incoming students that Taiji is a martial art, and you will be teaching it that way. Scott Rodell is a great example of that. It may scare away some students, but unless you have a commercial focus, that should be okay. I also encourage you to be honest with your students about the martial aspects, because I for one wish that more people were aware of Taiji's status as a martial art.

Here's an example: I joined a Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu class which incorporated both traditional Daito Ryu as well as Brazilian Jiujitsu. Naturally, a lot of traditional Daito Ryu practitioners don't want to train the modern BJJ, while a lot of the modern MMA-focused guys don't care about traditionalism. Then there's another set of martial artists who are expecting something more like Aikido. He made sure to emphasize right off the bat that this is not for everyone. He said that his focus is on a traditional martial art, and that he incorporates BJJ and other arts as a backup plan for when plans go wrong. The class might scare some people away, but no one has any illusions.

I would also emphasize to your students that proper positions come only with real training against resistance, and that otherwise you're just going through the motions. Of course, they may not mind so much. Some people might also believe that any health benefits of Taiji are dependent on these motions being correct and meaningful.

Finally, with regard to the legal question: I'm not a lawyer, but I've signed a waiver in most classes that I've been in. I would suggest the same. You should never be worried about legal issues in a nice and soft Taiji class.
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Fri Aug 19, 2011 5:12 pm

Thanks Michael,
In my situation here, if I teach it as it should be, I will have no students. I have made comprimises because most my students are all in their forties and fifties, and could not take hard physical training. I don't do it for the money (they have either never paid a cent or paid a one off $100 fee), but if I don't comprimise I would not even get my foot in the door and be completely out of the game. The people who ARE interested in doing martial arts do Karate or MMA here, and think that taichi isn't 'martial artise' enough for them. Its like tying to tell people that pilates is actually a contact sport like football. People who like football would follow football or other contact sports, they won't be interested in pilates even if there is a element of contact sport in it.

By legal issues, I mean in the old days, a person looking to prove the validity of his GongFu would make his mark by setting a LeiTai and challenge every MA school in town, you can't do things like that in Australia. Besides the problems with police, people would just think you're crazy. Plus I think the only thing that you can convince people of by beating them up, is how much of a bastard you are. Regarding signing waivers, in Aus, you cannot legally contract yourself out of a duty of care, so according to legal advice given to me, they are worth less then toilet paper here.

I am very interested in hearing from those who HAVE been successful in teaching taijiquakn as MA like Scott has been. How does Scott and people like him break the stigma associated with taijiquan as just a spiritual and relaxation practise?

Thank you
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Linda Heenan » Sun Aug 21, 2011 12:19 am

What part of Australia are you in? I'm in NSW, Blue Mountains. We're a branch of GRTC and, of course, emphasise martial skill. Most of the students here are children with no other experience of taji. We start them with sword and teach the principles from that. Then, when they are ready to train in emptyhand, we do that as well. There are few older continuing students up here. 25% of the Mountains population moves every year, for a start. Then, a lot of people try out one thing after another for different life experiences. We lose them to soccer or kick boxing more often than anything else. Since taijiquan is such a long term commitment, there will only be a few who go on, however you teach it, so you might as well do what you want to do regardless of closing the door to the health and community type of students. I'm not a teacher, but by default of being the first and longest standing Australian GRTC student, get to do most of the teaching. I'd rather pass on my training to a few committed students at little or no cost, than take in lots of people to make money. I have much better ways to make money. With that question settled, I don't care how few or how long they last. It's much more satisfying to teach willing students who want to train in martial skill. Let the others go to someone else to train how they really want to.
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Tue Aug 23, 2011 12:32 am

Thanks Linda,
I'm in Griffith in Riverina NSW. How did you manage to get kids to do it? Even though the population don't move around much at all here, student retention is still pretty poor. Also, it seems like most people with half a brain would move away from Griffith after highschool, so those that remain are not really the type to try something different like taijiquan. Those that do, do so because of that Dr Lam and his fraud of a program where you can be a certified TC for arthritis instructor after a weekend course. Those types of classes get more consistant numbers then I do.

So is that the only solution, just stick to my guns and don't comprimise? I've done that for the first 5 years and it didn't get me anywhere.

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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Linda Heenan » Tue Aug 23, 2011 2:22 am

I am a primary school teacher so I know kids and it's easy to find them. Kids come by word of mouth. All you have to do is advertise for a few keen ones. Then, if they like it, they will also bring their friends. I had to make padded swords for them. Here's a link to the pattern http://www.chinese-swords-guide.com/foam-swords.html There is also a lot of information on that website in the Kids Swordsmanship and Learn Online menu sections. In Australia you have to have police clearance to work with children. That's no problem unless you have a criminal background or look at pornography online. Those things can be traced and disqualify you. To keep kids in your program, teach the real thing but in sections no longer than 10 minutes before the next part of the lesson. Treat them with kindness and cater for different learning styles, create a caring community, involve and win the trust of parents, make it fun and maintain really good discipline. Take donations, not fees so all can come.

Definitely don't compromise unless you want to join the ranks of instructors with poor reputations. I'm wondering what you mean by not getting anywhere in 5 years. If you're trying to make money from it, better do something else. If you're trying to keep students, competitions and certificates might help, as will building community so they like each other and love to be there. Take in new students every semester because very few will stay for longer than a year or so. Keep building your base and encourage students to pass on what they are good at to the newest ones. I have some kids who have now been training for more than 6 or 7 years but they are not the majority. Also, when they leave school, very few can stay. They have to go to university or get a job or move away. Just give them a love for the art and one day they might come back to it when life works out again. If success is, as I see it, building good things into people's lives so they are more capable of succeeding in anything they try in life, you must be successful. We can't keep people. We can only influence them a little bit as their path crosses ours or they walk the same trail for awhile. The day I see teaching taijiquan or sword as a job is the day I need to leave it to others. I give back because my teacher gave freely to me. I pass it on because of the generations before who paid such a price to bring the art to where I can get it. That's all. That's success - giving and teaching your students to give; being and teaching your students to be.
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Tue Aug 23, 2011 4:47 pm

Thanks Linda,
I can see that it must've taken a lot of time and effort to make enough of those paddle swords for your classes. We should all get together and have a crack with each other with them one day.
I myself am not a teacher, and I never really enjoyed working with children anyway, so it's not really an option that crossed my mind. My goal is to train people up to a standard so that I can practise the partnered aspects, and to re-establish taijiquan as a legitamate and respectable category of martial arts. If I am on my way to that, I would've considered things to be successful. But my class is what I call the granny club, they are very nice ladies (and one guy my dad's age), and if they weren't such nice people, I would just call it quits long ago. If I wanted to do it as a service to people and the community, then I would just teach it as the airy fairy health club relaxation spiritual arthritis crap that people think it is. More people would benefit that way, but unfortuneatly I know better (ignorance would be truely bliss). And trying to get people who have no interest to learn martial arts to learn the martial arts aspects of taijiquan as an interlectual excercise, feel very half baked.

Further advice and comments are appreciated.
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Michael » Tue Aug 23, 2011 5:28 pm

KungFuPanda1979 wrote:My goal is to train people up to a standard so that I can practise the partnered aspects, and to re-establish taijiquan as a legitamate and respectable category of martial arts.
Are your students the type of people who would take a real martial arts class? If not, you may have to get used to the idea of them leaving. Alternately, you could try holding two separate classes.
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 6:41 am

Michael wrote: Are your students the type of people who would take a real martial arts class? If not, you may have to get used to the idea of them leaving. Alternately, you could try holding two separate classes.
Hi Michael,
No, they are not the martial arts type. I would hold a seperate 'traditional' class, if I had enough people interested, but I don't, and that's the whole point of this thread, is to see if there are ways to get people interested. Its not a lack of publicity either, I have appeared on the sports section of the local newspaper three times (sword in hand for two of them) with my national and international competition results. But I found that the newspapers didn't really find it interesting anymore by the third time. I had wanted to train the locals for competition, but they lack the interest, commitment and dedication needed to perform at competitive level.
So far the only way to go that have been presented so far is the 'if you build it, they will come' sort of thinking. I agree with that wholeheartedly, and had been doing that for the first five years of my 7+ years of teaching taichi. But in the end, it doesn't seem to work towards my aims and I am getting tired of trying. Talking to some locals from the next town (Leeton, 50km away) today, and found out that the Taichi for Arthritis group is going strong there, so much so that they will have to split the class into two groups. Most of them are of an elderly age of course, and although its nice that they are doing well, it perpetuates the stereotype and makes my work harder.

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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Linda Heenan » Wed Aug 24, 2011 4:00 pm

Just remember the old masters often only found a few, or even one student, in a lifetime, who had the right attitude and ability to be worthy of passing on their art. Then, those few were, or became, family members - not visting students. The commitment was from both sides.

People in Australia have so many choices it is rare for anyone to want to do one thing for the amount of time it takes to learn it well. We are a nation of samplers. Also, people's ability and desire to commit to something for more than very short terms, has declined markedly in my lifetime. My suggestion would be to work within those limitations. Run a month long course or a month of one on one lessons for individuals (prepaid of course). Let them know that at the end of the month you can make suggestions for their future training, but there is absolutely no commitment from either of you. This also gives you the chance to opt out if the student isn't going to be worth a lot of your time.

The other thing is that since Australia is a very sporty nation, no student in his right mind is going to learn from someone who isn't, themselves, an ongoing and successful competitor. The pictures in the paper should work in favour of your reputation at least. Some people might have cut out the article and kept it for later when they finished "this other thing they're trying". I have a good friend in Brisbane who has a martial arts school. He has so many trophies, it's impossible to display them all. With my teacher all the way over in America, guess who I went to for last minute training and advice before entering the TCAA competition :). So why don't you ignore the student thing for a bit and build your own reputation. Australians respond to that. They don't care what you achieved a year or so ago, only that you can still do it and are proving this. Just look at reports on the news from the sporting world and see what I mean. If you have a strong present culture of performing and winning, Aussies will think you worth their time. This is blunt but from one Aussie to another, we know it's true. The type of people who would be interested in strong physical activities can choose from many areas and from coaches who prove their abilities, not with words or history, but with action.

So we're all in the same boat. Out of the few right people available, most are doing one or many other sporting things. Technically we are not a sport, but just try to get that through to fit young Australians.... You're not just competing with other martial arts over here. I lose people to soccer or cricket season every year. Some of them come back when the season is over, but I don't try to keep them. Actually, I'm the only one I know who is only doing taijiquan and sword from the one teacher, and I'm from an older generation, not even starting until my 40s, and with Baby Boomer commitment attitudes, not Gen Y.
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 7:30 pm

Thanks Linda,
I have competed since 2005 and so far have five gold medals nationally (AKWF Championships), one silver and two bronze internationally (World Traditional Wushu Championships, in WuDang 2008/2010). When people read the articles, they say "oh that's nice, good on ya", but they don't think "gee, I should try that, especially we have a instructor of that caliber". So I am still competing and have a rep of being 'the Acupuncture guy who does Taichi in town', but that doesn't really draw much respect for taijiquan.
We also perform at the local Cultural festivals every year in april and october. (search Ben Ng Griffith on youtube if you want to see) So its not really a lack of exposure.
All of my students except one is my parent's generation, so its not just gen Y that is to blame when it comes to lack of commitment. The ladies are at the whims of their husbands and the one bloke I've got is a soccer coach, so he can't take weekends off to compete either.

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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Linda Heenan » Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:27 am

Yeah, I haven't found anything that works either, as far as gathering a good committed group of adults goes. It must be frustrating hearing answers you've already tried and they haven't worked. I've tried getting groups together for adults. They seem to work for awhile and then people only come when they don't have other commitments... which anyone can get, as you know. I don't chase them if that is happening because their interest has waned. I've also brought guest teachers over for seminars and taught seminars myself. Those things can help find interested people but in our case, they come from so far and wide they don't become a local group. The tai chi for arthritis people might be doing it for the social side rather than anything else. I find, with the kids, they love coming when their friends are coming but if someone falls out with someone else in the group, I can easily lose one of them. Relationships are really important, so that has to be one of the keys to building an ongoing group. They have to care about one another and not upset each other. Another thing is teaching for multiple learning styles. If you don't. you'll only keep the ones who learn the same way as you do and the others will get discouraged and leave.

I've tried to build good strong groups of adults for eight years now. Actually, I stopped trying after about six years and concentrated on the kids. The adults were too frustrating and I was the only one committed to being there each week while everyone else was missing whenever they had something else interesting to do. I was giving up all my weekends just to be there for people who couldn't or were too busy to come. But the kids come. They come for years and years and they learn and grow. They have time to practise at home during the week. They are willing, happy and resilient. Eventually they grow up and also develop other commitments, such as girlfriends, or university, or a job. But if they remember the good times they had in training, there is a possibility they will take it up again in later life. I teach interested adults one on one in private lessons. If several came out after a few months, at a similar level, I'd start a class, but they haven't done so in quite some time.

Also, people don't like getting hurt. If you are training in martial skill, you do get hurt frequently. That's probably more than most people are willing to allow. The pool of the right people is small. Don't be discouraged. Look at how many people there are in a school class in a big city (learning real taijiquan, I mean). Divide that as a proportion of the population in your town. If a city of 2 million people can only get 10-20 in a class, and you're in a town of 50,000 you would be getting ..... half a person, and still doing as good a job as the city guy :D

One more thought - did you think of doing specialised classes such as self defence for women?
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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Sat Aug 27, 2011 7:15 am

Thanks Linda,
Looks like we're in the same boat and the only solution is to keep stealing your students :D But seriously, the people who do TC for Arthritis, are usually there for their arthritis, but they probably kept going for the socialising like you said, as I found that is the main reason why anyone keeps going back to anything. I tried playing touch footy (non-tackle football) for a season, but didn't stick with it as I didn't develop a report with the other team members whom all work together in the same job.
I have thought about ladies' self defence classes, but they won't really be taichi based, nor would I be able to hold such classes without the insurance for it. Those classes are not that hard, just find a tournament rules manual and look up all the illegal techniques.

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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by Richful_jedi » Tue Aug 30, 2011 12:45 am

Hi Ben, Hey Linda *waves*,

I totally understand. I'm trying to train my friends and struggling with 'on again off again' interest level. I usually get my friends as far as learning the 8 basic movements and their interest wanes. Because they've heard me go on and on about how kick arse Taijiquan really is I don't struggle with the 'Taiji is for old people' stigma, instead they expect miracles quickly..
"Yes it takes time to learn, no we can't skip the basics, they are what make the applications work.. Oh ok training next week then?.. no? Week after that then.."
Really frustrating when I see them starting to understand what they're doing and then stop training. One fellow is already a black belt and teacher of Tae Kwon Do and really wants to learn something new but is trapped by dedication to his club, they have the "If you train outside our club you are a traitor" attitude :roll: Can't let those free teachers get away...

It takes a real passion for Taijiquan to keep trying to learn it. Most people don't have it. Mine came from a desire to learn the most efficient martial art I could. Ben if it makes you feel any better my first class was like your 'granny club' a room full of 60 year old women and myself, an 18 year old guy wanting to learn to fight. I left the class when I moved away, ironically I recently found out that the teacher was from Huang Xingxian's lineage and considered one of the best traditional yang stylists on the east coast of Australia... So I missed an opportunity.
I guess developing peoples interest is about understanding our own passion. Why do we practice Taijiquan over other arts?

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Re: Trying to teach Taichi as martial arts

Post by KungFuPanda1979 » Tue Aug 30, 2011 2:54 am

Thanks for joining the conversation Rich,
For myself, I had been initially dragged into doing Taichi when I was 10. Then along the way, I had been doing other martial arts and got to 1st Dan in Tae Kwon Do, Karate and Kobudo. I had also dabbled into Wing Chung, Aikido, Capoeira and Kenjutsu. But I had always called Taichi 'home', because being a Hong Kong Chinese, Taijiquan has always been the most respected and feared of all the martial arts, and I am quite proud of it being part of my heritage. I have always seen my mission as to restore Taijiquan's rightful place as a respectable martial art. So I don't think I can invoke the same passion from the same perspective as myself.

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