Over past few years, I have found that not only do I enjoy teaching, but also that it improves my own skills as a martial artist. We all know the rewarding aspect of being able to help a student “get it”. Where that light bulb goes off in their eyes. When you know that they understand completely what you were trying to teach them. Teaching, however, offer’s so much more to our own practice. Answering questions from our students, being able to explain each move in detail for them, over and over again, has provided the foundations for improving our own technique.
We’ve all heard and found in our own classes how teaching teaches us. Sometimes it teaches us as much as it teaches our students. I’m the kind of student that likes to spend time with the material I’ve learned; I’m the kind of student that needs to let the material sink in to learn it. To know it on a deeper and deeper level. To know it “to the bones,” as I like to say. Spending time teaching the sash level students that I have becomes equally as beneficial to me as to those students.
Without teaching these levels we run the risk of focusing on what we are learning. Teaching any of the material is considered a gift to me, where we can learn this technique down to its bones. Where we can get into a crossing leg stance perfectly, and swiftly every time, for example.
I think that teaching offer’s this more than what merely training could do. Being able to explain this to not only one type of person, but learning to pass this information on to people with different learning styles too. Being flexible in our own teaching style, pushes our boundaries open. Instructing not only the way we were taught, but teaching to a student who learns differently than you might. Whether verbally walking through each move, or visually showing it to the student. Maybe even talking about what you feel when in a Mantis stance, or just having your students try. Throughout time when they try, and they become familiar with the material, you can correct them closer and closer to the bone’s of the technique.
Teaching clearly benefits the students. It also offers something deeper to those teaching it. Teaching provides the system with new students, who will become new shifu’s. These new shifu’s will continue to grow and preserve this system as they continue to grow in their own training. This act of teaching improves that teacher’s own abilities as a martial artist. The Shifu’s improved skills helps them teach even better, and therefore, the students learn more as they go along. Like a constant oscillation between Yin and Yang that never stops. This mutually beneficial cycle continue’s on and on.
For example, I was teaching High Pat in section two of Shyun Style Tai Chi to a group of Tai Chi practitioners. Since these students were not Kung Fu students, they had never even thought of a crossing leg stance. After a few minutes of teaching at a broad/coarse level, I went into the details. Being able to explain the fine points of shifting my weight, and sinking. I continue to describe turning the body, keeping my head over my shoulders. My shoulders over my hips, and my hips right over the front foot. Not bending at the waist one bit, but having a stacked upper body ensuring proper balance.
The mere ability to articulate in detail how to perform this “simple” technique, helps me. While performing this technique slowly, leading the students through the stance, created the foundation for performing it well when moving fast. When it’s necessary I won’t have to think about it, at this point I’m on my way to knowing it to it’s bones.
Applying this understanding to body coordinations 5 & 7 of Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu, my technique has also improved. The timing of the strike, with the sinking of my weight into my stance, and the pull of the opponent’s wrist to my hip. Performing all this at the same time ensures proper control and delivering of the strike.
Whether training on my own, or with a partner, I know the building blocks of this stance. I can use that knowledge to move quicker, smoother, more powerfully, and with the appropriate timing. In doing that I am able to perform La Bie, Bung Tiao, or another throw using a crossing leg stance better every time. This is equally from being able to teach the “basics” to new students, as it is from training it over and over again.
We can know these techniques very well without ever teaching it, but not nearly as in-depth as if we spent time teaching it to others. If we were never able to break it down into its parts and show it to someone, how could we ever think to master it? What would happen if we were never able to help that same student improve and grow? Helping that student become solid in a crossing leg stance, but yet still fluid, and wasting no energy, helps us as well. I don’t think we would know it as well as we currently do without having taught it.
How many times we teach something only increases our knowledge of it. Even something we learned on day 3 or 4 of our training can still have an impact on our learning. When does one ever master a technique, or is mastery more of a process that continues without end?
While there’s more material to learn as we develop in the system, teaching the beginning level techniques from this perspective continues to teach me and increase my understanding. Where would we be as practitioners if we didn’t teach these fundamentals of the system, deepening our own understanding over time. If we think of these “fundamental” techniques as living and breathing, then they will continue teaching us more.
I do not think there’s a completion point. A point where training will not teach us more. I think that, like life is never complete in its teachings, practicing Kung Fu & Tai Chi will only continue to teach us. This will happen whether we train 20 years, or 80 years.
When training we are essentially teaching ourselves how to do this better and better. Teaching then becomes training, and training is teaching. Each of us teach. We all clearly learn. Both are two sides of the same coin. Neither exist without the other. One could be considered yin and the other yang. Two parts of one whole. I think that knowing this, we can then direct it in a fashion that helps our students and ourselves grow as human beings and as martial artists.
Shifu Daniel Cimino