I was given the chance to teach some workshops at YMAA Andover. Workshop topics included tumbling, take downs, and Taijiquan applications. I felt like these workshops were pretty good for me, in terms of expanding my knowledge on the topics. When asked if I could teach them, I was hesitant because I didn’t feel that I had enough knowledge to be able to construct a proper class. However, once classes started, I found it easier than I had expected it to be.
I was also able to teach a few of the regular classes in Andover. It was interesting seeing the progression of some of the students since the last time I had been back. Some of them had progressed by developing more power, speed, and spirit. However, what they still lacked was a strong sense of root as well as an idea of sense of opponent. Looking back at old training videos of myself, I realized that those were what I had lacked most as well. I began thinking about why this was and came to the conclusion that maybe we did not do enough fundamental training or application-geared technique training.
Upon coming to this conclusion, I began to wonder how many students actually practiced at home. I decided to ask some members of the demonstration team and to my surprise, none of them really did. I remembered when I was their age, I would practice with my friends in the backyard, in the basement, or even in the street. We were constantly at each others houses training. Of course we were in high school and didn’t really have a clear vision of how things were supposed to be, so maybe all that practice wasn’t so good? Building bad habits, etc? But at least we were motivated, right? Is that what these students lack? Motivation? If so, how are their instructors supposed to teach them? I mean, granted they are busy with school and sports and other activities, I would have expected a lot more progress to be shown from them in the past three years. Or maybe it was our fault as instructors. We did not emphasize the basics enough with them. All we did was teach, teach teach. Not enough practicing. Maybe they developed the habit of always wanting to learn and never wanting to train?
In addition to finding out that they did not practice much at home, I was disappointed to see how some of them acted in class. When they were told to practice a sequence, they would spend at least 3/4 of the time standing around watching other students or even chatting with one another.
By doing this, they are not improving much. They are supposed to be. They are the demonstration team. They are supposed to represent the best of Andover, not only in technique, but in behavior as well. I feel that besides a select few, many of them do not hold these qualities. I feel that there are some kids in the less advanced classes that although may not have a natural talent, continue to try their best, and will flourish over time.
It seems that the demonstration team’s level of skill has decreased significantly over the past 10 years. The team now cannot compare to the group before them, who could not compare to my generation, who could not compare to the generation before us. This makes me think about Dr. Yang’s purpose for creating the Retreat Center: To preserve Chinese martial arts and culture. Even in a short span of 10 years in a single school in Andover, the skill is going down quickly. Is this going on all over the world? Yes. However, we are also fortunate to have those who are maintaining the level and are also beginning to bring the martial skill level up as well. One example is Nicholas Yang, president of YMAA International.
Over the past three years especially, Nicholas has improved his skill considerably. Sure, he teaches and trains martial arts for a living, but there is no way he could have improved so much without putting a significant amount of time and effort into his training. I feel that the amount he has improved is comparable with our own improvement. The difference is, we train 8-9 hours a day. How much time does he have to commit? He has classes to teach, a school to run, a business building to attend to, a life to live. Although we do have people like Nicholas Yang, what is the ratio of those maintaining or improving the level of the arts compared to those who are not? I would say, very small.
How do we raise the quality of the martial arts? Maybe the first step is to come to the realization that martial arts are not only for fighting, but also for mental and spiritual cultivation as well. Maybe it’s time to stop promoting the physically violent sides, and focus more on the peaceful and philosophical sides as well. Yes, martial arts can be used for combat and self-defense. However, martial arts can also be used to increase stamina, balance, body awareness, and health. They can used to develop awareness, confidence, and discipline.
During the summer I was also asked the question of, “do you really think it takes 10 years to pass the art down?” This was followed with, “the master is obviously holding back the secret.”
For the first part: No. I do not think it takes 10 years to pass the knowledge down. I think it takes longer. In fact, I think it could take a lifetime. Something I am taught today could mean something completely different to me in the next 5, 10, 15, etc years. Which meaning did my teacher intend me to learn? In that sense, I will continuously deepen my knowledge, causing the art to be further passed down from my teacher to myself.
For the second part: Yes. The master is obviously holding something back. But why? Because I am not ready to learn it. How do you expect somebody to run before they can crawl? There are steps to learning, beginning with the foundation. A strong foundation provides a strong structure. In my case, the basic foundation is physical body conditioning and mental self-discipline. If my body cannot support the eventual training, I will break, and I will fail. If my mind cannot overcome myself, I will break, and I will fail.
Oh right. A little off topic. Um… summer. Teaching, demonstrations, and training :P