Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hang in there...DVD's CAN provide rigorous training

Hello Mr. Roach,

I  live about 20 miles from where your studio is located in Buffalo.  I must tell you that I have been interested in Tai Chi for some time now.  I kept thinking however that I was too busy and did not have the time.  Then I had the surgery.  My Doctor surprised me by saying that I should take something like Tai Chi.  I told him I had heard of your classes but never followed through on my interest. He said, that maybe it was part of my physical problems that I kept thinking I had no time to do things.  It took a surgery to realize that he was right.

So, I’d like to learn from you.  Is there something you could recommend to me?  I’ve seen lots of Tai Chi DVD’s for sale at the Supermarket. Several of them state that it is better to learn a 9 movement “short form” than it is to stick to a “boring”  and long series of movements.  Still,  It’s hard for me to believe that I could learn much from any DVD.  I feel that I would just be mimicking the movements of the teacher and not really learning anything.  Also,  I still can’t drive much to come to a lesson at your studio every week however.  Your right if you are thinking I’m a mess.  I can come every couple of weeks. What do you think?

Best regards,

Dear Walter,
Since you ask for opinions, I believe I can offer some thoughts on the subject and also relate a bit of my own experience. In my opinion:  Everyone will always tell you that you should seek out the “best” and not settle for second rate.  However, I think the worst thing a student can conjecture is that “best” is “easy” and  rigorous training is not necessary to learn Tai Chi.  In the Internet age and era of short attention spans it is also relatively simple for people selling anything to prey on our desire for  “easy” and “fun”.   

In my opinion, we are in modern times and the “golden age” where the “best” masters quietly taught a select group of students in their village is gone. In my opinion,  (but one can easily imagine in the present age of giant political contributions by wealthy patronage), even then as still happens now, it was even possible for wealthy students of little training and low skill to still give the best teachers lots of money.  Why? In my opinion,    students wanted to make claim to the teacher's dynasty without doing the rigorous work necessary.  In fairness however, in many cases they could not travel to where the teacher is.  How could they, they teacher was probably traveling themselves. So perhaps, the student learns from a disciple but still gets their name on the list of Master's disciples.  In my opinion,  nowdays, the “best”  teachers are in great demand and one sees them traveling a great deal.  

Over the years, I was told  that rich "businessmen" in far away places think nothing of shelling out thousands of dollars.  Why else (in my opinion)  but to get their names in the halls of discipleship and recognition. In my opinion, the dynasties of the best teachers are left in the hands of senior disciples who manage the brunt of the teaching on the home fronts and elsewhere.   In other words, we have been in the era where Tai Chi is in demand by masses of people for some time. In my opinion, whether that demand is for rigorous training or personal aggrandizement seems to be up to the proclivities of the students.  It has become a consumers market.

Of course in all fairness (in my opinion)  teachers "have many mouths to feed".  Teacher's have to feed their families, take care of their own children, bills to pay, etc.  Someone once had the nerve to ask me what I did with the money I earned from teaching.  Rather than getting angry, I simply said, "I spend it on food and gasoline to get here".  

For many years I sought out these teachers and I went to where they were located.  I found fortunately then that I was on the cusp of the trend for learning. Video was just in its birth throes.  A couple  of my teachers were not traveling as extensively as they did later. With one, I remember forgetting  what I had learned  once I drove back to Buffalo.  There was no video available of what he did.  Even today, the organization (in my opinion) is so secretive that no comprehensive video of the teacher is available.  One goes to local chapters and learns from disciples who have learned from other disciples, etc., etc.  Talk about changing things and in each chapter they do things differently than other chapters.  In my opinion, corners are cut here, corners are cut there, bearing little resemblance to what I struggled to learn in person from the teacher. 

 I still managed to do it without a video however, but I was fooling myself that I did not need one.   In another instance, one of my teachers did make a video. I felt I could buy the video and learn the complete form from it.  I did succeed.  I still went there for lessons however and came to class more than 1x a week.  That was at great personal expense and even danger because of weather concerns.  I tried that, and I took part in classes that he taught.  I was  able to get his personal critique as well.  He is in very great demand, and in my opinion it seemed like he was concerned about the next class in some other location.  That is understandable because there are many financial demands, perfectly understandable. 

Since that time I became a student of Master Stephen Hwa.  I always remember him saying that if I could not travel to where he is, I could study the DVD and we “could get together from time to time”.  Not only did I not have to go to him, he came and visited me.  He arranged for a place for us to meet inside as well.  I have subsequently visited him in Rochester many times over the years.  He has subsequently visited me many times over the years…never has he charged a dime for his personal critique.  He also urges students to send their videos of themselves for charge.   I became his first certified teacher .  The important thing however, is I still use the DVD extensively, over and over and over , again and again.  Viewing after viewing reveals things that I glossed over on previous viewings and my practice is enriched time and again.

With my own experience in mind,  perhaps you will find your decision a little easier to make.

Jim R.

No comments: