My years of teaching students the arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, as well as the years I spent observing and assisting my teacher Luo Dexiu in teaching these arts, have given me a certain perspective about their training process. Although I, myself, am still undergoing this training process (still growing and learning the arts, and finding joy in doing so), I have come to the opinion that certain ways of training and attitudes towards training will help one along in the process. Although I try as often as possible to get these ideas across to my students in classes; nonetheless, I believe I should try to write some of it down and provide a more thorough treatment of the subject. As this is a big topic, I will have to tackle it in pieces.
Today we will start on How to Succeed in the Internal Martial Arts with part one of a series.
Now, before I begin, I must say a few words of caution. By writing this I am not trying to scare anyone off my school or trying to come down as a “Mr. Bad-Ass we all have to train 8 hours a day” Cobra-kai “sweep the leg” type of teacher.
A funny and very strange thing once happened to me as a teacher. I was trying to give a sort of pep talk to some students. I was trying to spur them on to train better, to train harder. I mentioned some of the examples that led me to train as hard as I did. I mentioned how one of my seniors would practice tiangan all day. Whenever he had some free time, whether between classes or at a bus stop or at many other periods during the day, he would bust out 20 good reps of a tiangan. Many often referred to him as one of the most powerful students. Another senior mentioned to a friend of mine how if you wanted to be serious as a martial artist, you needed to train full time, that means 40 hours a week. Like others have jobs that they put their time into to be masters of their craft, you need to be just as serious with your training. One senior of mine who was very influential to my development told me of a period in his training where he would get up at dawn to train for two hours, have breakfast and then train for another two to three hours, he would then train for at least an hour before and after class. Bagua class usually lasted for 2-3 hours. This would go on for six to seven days a week for nearly two years straight. And I haven’t even mentioned the incredible dedication in training that my teacher underwent. I was talking about some of this to my students, in the hope that some of the work ethic and desire of those who came before us would rub off. Before one can stand on the shoulders of giants, one must begin the climb up there.
Now, I later heard from one of my students who up until that time was training pretty seriously. He told me that he was quitting. He said that he does not feel like he can live up to my ideals of what a good student should be. This “pep talk” did not turn out how I envisioned it. I tried to talk to this student and get him to start training again, but his decision was already apparently made. I have tried to be more careful with how I talk with my students and in public, but at the same time I try not to hold back because someone might misunderstand me.
Its my feeling that students should try their hardest in training. They should put their all in to it. But each person’s all will be different. Different periods of life also might require pouring your time and dedication into other areas of life. Modern life is not always so amenable to our desire to train. But just like anything that is truly worth it, you must find the time to do it. I view these arts as life arts. If one can not make their art fit within their life in a positive way, then maybe one is going about something wrong. There is great value in practice. Although we are training the martial arts, some of the greatest benefits to me have come in the form of health, healing, balance, and mental training. For the long term, I think it is valuable to have something like this in one’s life, to provide a constant source of exercise, a constant source of balance to your mind and body, a constant source of diligence and a constant source of fun. I also find that in my life, it has sometimes been hard to forsake the demands of the moment for something that will give back to you in the long run. But then, I’ve also always found it worth it.
But please do not take this and say he expects too much. I think that any level of training these arts can bring benefit to one’s life. Whether you train once a week, or hours per day, you can get something out of the arts. Do not get discouraged because you can not do as much as another or as much as you want. Do not get discouraged for any reason really. These are wonderful arts to be enjoyed, if something gets in the way of that joy – well, you’ve got a problem and are approaching it wrong. Change your approach. There is fun in it, and there is a healthy diligence as well.
To sum up my preamble: Would I like for my students to train hard, train well, train smart and have success with their training? OF COURSE! But I don’t expect all my students to be Xingyi tanks or Bagua badasses. Everyone can get something out of these arts at every level of training. That is one of their strengths. Just have fun with it and do what you can.
Some of the most important lessons I have ever received from my teacher have to do with how to train. I hope to get some of these ideas across to people and to provide my experiences along this path as well. Please take this advice in the spirit it is given.
Since this is already becoming long, I will start with my thoughts and experiences on how to succeed in training in part two.
Be well, enjoy and circle on,
Two Zong Wu Men students sweating it out while training their throwing techniques in uncooperative grappling practice.