Taijiquan - Finding the right teacher

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Taijiquan - Finding the right teacher

You shall know them by their fruits

When a new student of taijiquan is searching for a teacher, it can be a daunting and confusing time. There are many claims by students and teachers alike, so who should a student believe? What are the things to look for in a teacher and a school?

You shall know them by their fruits

The main problem is that when someone is a beginner, by definition it is very difficult for them to know who has real skills and who does not. Because of this problem, a students needs to judge prospective teachers somehow, so lets talk about some things to look for in a teacher.

LINEAGE – a lineage shows where the information the teacher is teaching comes from. Some people wrongly believe that a more pure or more direct lineage means higher skill or superior knowledge. This most certainly is not the case, what an authentic lineage does give a teacher is the possibility of access to the real training methods and thus the possibility of developing real taijiquan skills. Without an authentic lineage this simply will not happen.

SKILL – though it is difficult for a beginner to perceive real skill, it is possible to get an idea through study and research of what genuine taiji skills entail. Once a new student has an idea of what traditional taijiquan skills, are he or she can look for these skills within a teacher.

THE SKILL OF THE STUDENTS – In my opinion this is the most important factor to look for. Just because a teacher has skill himself, it does not imply he or she is willing or able to pass these skills on to the students. There are gifted martial artists and there are gifted teachers, people who are both gifted martial artists and gifted teachers are the hardest to find and of course, the most valuable.

With this in mind i recommend looking at the skills of the teacher’s senior students – are the students showing a similar skill set to the teacher? It cannot be expected to be at the same level, but we should see some solid and traceable progress within the ranks of the school. This is the greatest guarantee that a new student will actually be walking the right path to attain the skills he or she desires.

THE SYSTEM – Many old school teachers teach in an seemingly random way, lacking structure in the method and sequence of the instruction. This can leave large holes in a students development that can be difficult to fill in later. One should looks for systematic training, leading the student step by step up the ladder of progression.

WUDE – Last but not least is the character and the conduct of the prospective teacher and also that of the students. Teachers who spend their time bad mouthing other teachers and who show no internal peace, have clearly not taken the lessons of taiji to heart. These lessons and the general cultivation of relaxation, honor and peace, will shape the students and the energy of a school.

Below are videos of some of my mid level students, showing some of their attainment in genuine taijiquan skills.

This post was authored by Adam Mizner

  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Adam

Glad to find a good access to exchange opinion of Taijiquan heritage with u guys~I am a traditional Chen style taiji player(since 2004) from Shanghai, China . I’ve watched some of Sifu Adam Mizner training demo video from internet , and I as well as many other highly professional chinese taiji player ,even including my master, all think Mr Mizner is good , REAL GOOD . I hope u guys understand , for we implict chinese , REAL GOOD is not a casual comment : ) And ~~~
Basicly there are two disturbing problems of Taijiquan heritage :
1. Individual Difference
Easy to understand that human being is not robot ,which means it is impossible to arrange a common use taiji form for everybody . And that’s an important reason that simplfied taijiquan form series (like 24 ,42, 56 ) are often criticized by those old traditional Taiji Master in China . But on the other hand , how should a sifu teach his students if there are just those blurry old instructions to use ?
I’d like to know what’s Sifu Adam Mizner opinion on this matter .
2. How to teach the so-called Neijing (Internal movement) skill ?
Like many other young player , I also once doubted the existence of Qi until I evnetually find my own way to difine it , which happened after read lots of books about Anatomy , Neurology , Mechanics , kinematics and , ofcourse, those chinese classic theory .
And my question is , does Sifu Adam Mizner also think Qi is not able to be discribed nor verified by natural science studies ?

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Tom Krupski

I couldn’t agree more. Hopefully in the future I will find another and be able to dedicate myself to the practice. I was lucky to find my first teacher and haven’t found another .Thankfully I was able to take a couple of seminars with Adam and will again.
Sincerely

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • George Monkhouse

Yes, very important point. YinYang and WuXing theory elucidate that qi is not substance but transition, potential, action.

Some people have a great difficulty accepting the idea of ‘energy’ as interpreted from the East, but those same people were completely accepting in school about kinetic energy, internal, thermal, condensing, potential, etc.

Fire is hot, but heat is not a thing but a process that happens to things.

I sometimes describe qi, yi and shen, depending on the context and the person/people, as the animating force within matter.

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Adam

Hi, Alexander . Thanks for ur reply : ) Quite practical words . And ,yes , I agree feeling of Qi is some kind of process instead of “thing” . Hope one day I can discuss taiji theory and test pratical taiji skills mutually with u cool guys face to face : )

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • DiscoverTaiji

Hi Adam, thank you for your comment and kind words.

Will try to answer your questions on behalf of Sifu Adam Mizner,

1. He teaches Taijiquan based on the path he’s walked personally. By having a clear understanding of cause and effect, he is able to to discern which aspects of his training caused which results. So, to do that, one needs two things, first, having the actual skill, and secondly, having the understanding. Many good internal artists, have the skills but do not understand exactly how they got there. So yeah, it is tricky. Teaching is an art of its own, and having the martial skill does not imply the ability to teach, or vice versa.

2. Sifu’s view is that Qi is not a thing, but rather a process. Due to the fact that Qi is not a thing, and that science is mostly looking for “things”, it’s no surprise they haven’t “found it”. I would say that the Cinese paradigm does not map perfectly on the western models, and that is ok. Once you know Qi in your body and your own experience, it matters little what it is or what others think it is =)

P.S. Sifu Adam has answered some of these questions in this interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhTVYBYafTA

Regards,
Alexander

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Sava Vojnović

This text is the truth for every martial art, very nicely said.
Wishing you all the best.

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Robert Retsch

Succinct words of wisdom.
Pondering the quest of my past, I am reminded of how vulnerable I was to the teachings that were limited in pure knowledge and capability.

I am grateful and humbled to be under the tutelage of Sifu Steffan and Sifu Adam.

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Fon

Great article. Thank you for sharing Adam. Hope all is well.
Best,
Fon

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Casey Abbott Payne

“Many old school teachers teach in an seemingly random way, lacking structure in the method and sequence of the instruction.”

Old school teachers for the win! lol I actually got my skills from the “old school teacher” method, but I’ve come to realize that this is only suitable for a particular brand of student. I learned old school and I’ve taught old school. That said, I’m turning into a more systemized approach.

These are good tips. The one thing I’d add (and I can’t remember where I got it from) is that your better off spending 10 years looking for the right teacher than 10 years with the wrong one. It’s definitely worth spending the time to find someone that is a match for your particular style of learning. That said, it doesn’t hurt to get your skills up along the way. 🙂

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:27:12 -
  • Adam

Interesting : ) Whenever I see u western guys describe qi with eastern Daoist philosophy concept , it always make me feel really strange to say “Qi is not a philosophy concept , but simply a kind of natural science phenomena , which is related to nerve conduction process ” That is the reason I said qi is a process . And why should I feel strange ? Because I am a native Chinese who is supposed to tend to accept eastern Daoist concept , and u western guys are supposed to stick to scientific viewpoints. I guess that is because THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY , right ?
😛

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  • Posted on: 12/08/2016 12:20:23 -
  • David

A very nice article. Short and to the point. The thing about old school teaching is that it’s highly personalized, addressing the fact that everyone is different and learn different. Also, old school teachers often believe that the student must find the answers for themselves and that the art must grow from within, thus intentionally creating gaps that the student needs to fill in by himself. This way of teaching can be demanding and create obstacles that a student is left alone to overcome. But IME it can also be very much more rewarding compared to a fully structured way of teaching where the teacher is constantly feeding the student with what he or she needs. Though I doubt that this way of teaching always suites the mind of the people living in this modern time.

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