Ideas on How to Succeed in IMA – Part 1

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.

About george

George Wood is the head instructor of Zong Wu Men Internal Fighting Arts, based in Northern Virginia. He teaches the martial arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan.
This entry was posted in Baguazhang, General Info, Training, Xingyiquan. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Ideas on How to Succeed in IMA – Part 1

  1. jleeger says:


    I think you’ve hit on the fundamental issue that any teacher has to deal with when working with students…commitment. It’s an issue I’ve dealt with a lot, in myself and in my work.

    I can remember the exasperation of some of my college and high school professors with some students (meybe even me at times…hahaha) who just weren’t doing the work. The teachers knew that the student was capable of the work, but the student just wasn’t interested.

    Back then, it wasn’t so much that you had other demands on your time, at least not serious ones. Sure, you might rather go play with your friends or read a comic book than study your math homework, but you’d still get to eat that night and have a roof over your head either way. Your existence wasn’t dependent on other demands.

    In school, it was really just a question of motivation. “What am I going to get out of this…” is the question every exasperated student has ever asked. And it’s a fair question. The problem is, oftentimes, a teacher can’t explain in concrete terms that the student can understand, exactly what they’ll get out of it.

    For personal training, it’s relatively easy. I can point to someone who has the physical attributes that my client wants and say “There. That’s what you’ll get.”

    But even that might not spur the person into action. They really have to feel the value deep within themselves. As a trainer, it’s my job to find that place for each person I train, so that I can keep that spark alive in them, and keep them focused on achieving their goals. If I can do more, and turn that spark into a flame, so that it lasts when I’m not around, I’ve done my job.

    Sadly, time passes no matter what we do, and we can’t go back. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about all the things you wish you had done, so you don’t take the present for granted. If you can see the other things that you made excuses NOT to do, you might be able to break that pattern in the present.

    It takes a lot of introspection to be able to say “Yes, I need to dedicate myself to this thing, no matter what!” and set aside the time to do it, before time gets gobbled up by everything else. It takes introspection and a steel will in today’s world…when there’s “so much else” to do. Either that, or just be completely ruthless about it.

    Right now, I think these are the keys as a student:
    Examine your motives – What is it going to give you?
    How badly do you want that thing – if it’s not very badly, then you probably shouldn’t waste your time on it.
    What goals have you let slip by in the past that you regret? Will you regret this one, if it slips by as well?
    Set aside the time in your day to do it, and be firm about it – with yourself and others.

    And I think there is one key as a teacher:
    Get to know your individual student(s), and learn their answers to the questions above…then help them to achieve their goal! If their goal is unclear, and you can help to clarify it for them, that’s great. If not, maybe your efforts are better spent elsewhere…

    As a teacher, one can have similar regrets, of having “wasted” time with a student who ends up dropping out. That time could have been better spent with a truly dedicated student, even if that student may not have held the promise of the eventual drop-out.

    It’s important to be honest and open about this process. For better or worse, the world has moved on from the old days. People have a lot of distractions (real or otherwise…which is another topic entirely!), and are pulled in many directions. Teachers have to be open to this, and keep this communication path alive.

  2. george says:

    That’s a good point about this not being the old days.

    In the old days, a teacher wouldn’t generally entertain students who did not hold up their end of the bargain. There might have been tests to even become a student if you were not known to the teacher. When you became a student, the teacher would reward those who did the work and are putting in the time with more knowledge. They wouldn’t waste their time on anyone who did not have the willpower and desire on their own end.

    It was always entertaining to me to hear of stories of Zhang Zhunfeng and Hong Yixiang. Hong Yixiang was very open about his Tang Shou Tao system (he gave it away), but he was downright close fisted with his Xingyi. And he was nearly secretive with his Bagua, only showing real information to some of his eldest students. It was funny to hear that for the advanced stuff, he would even deliberately lie and mislead newer students, only later to give out the real information to the much more advanced students – and that meant not just years, but decades!

    I know that since my teacher grew up in the arts in that culture he still has a lot of that in him as well. That is only natural. His teaching manner in his real classes reflects it (at least when I was there).

    As a teacher, this is now something that I struggle with. I look to my teachers and lineage for advice on how to teach, but I am facing a very different culture and group of potential students. The difficulty lies in the fact that I can see how my teacher was successful with his teaching methods. Now granted, they weren’t for everybody – and I saw quite a few promising students who basically dropped out because class wasn’t what they expected. But for those with the drive and will to practice and improve, Luo laoshi didn’t disappoint in the slightest. And looking around, he’s probably one of, if not THE, most successful internal martial arts teachers out there. He’s produced quite a few excellent practitioners. And therein lies the problem I constantly grapple with myself. I know what worked for my teacher and for me, how far can I stretch that to meet the wants of my students and potential students? (Notice that I put “wants” in that sentence and not “needs.”)

  3. Nick says:

    After reading this… I feel bad and I’m gonna go do a set of 10 tiangans. Great motivation, thanks George.

  4. george says:

    Just 10 tiangans?

    Think in terms of hundreds per day.

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