balancing practice and training

I began giving weekly taiji lessons in London in 1977.  In 1979, I was invited to teach taiji in Basel at Raum fur Bewegung - we started with a week's course of lessons, and continued with an arrangement of intensive courses over long weekends, six times a year. 

Over a ten year period, I noted the following :  the weekly classes in general encouraged a passive attitude in the students; they came for their training once or twice a week, and very few of the ones who attended regularly over several years took the practice into their own hands.  In Basel, a large core group formed of students who practised on their own partly because they had to, there were no weekly classes of the same taiji available in those days.  Several of the original people came to be teachers of taiji and qigong, they practise to this day, whereas the majority of the many hundred I must have taught in weekly classes between 1977 and 1989 have simply disappeared.

In 1989 I moved to Lunigiana.  My old students came for retreats at my house in the countryside. Again I found this kind of situation to be conducive to serious study, encouraging committed individual practice following a course.

Now I am back at giving weekly classes in London and Oxford.  I am attempting to find a good way of teaching, one that will push the student to take initiative, for without the lonely effort exerted by the individual, there will not be enough progress over the years.  To say one has practised for ten, twenty, thirty years - it can mean so little!

So - I run my lessons following termtimes.  A term is usually eight to ten weeks.  In that time, the student is in a small group getting a lot of individual help.  Having experienced Chen XiaoWang's teaching on a daily basis during our winters with him, I have had the great fortune to be corrected over and over, for our habits die hard and only persistent attention will result in progress.  I try to give what he has given me, which includes clear guidelines on how to work alone.

In between these terms, the students are on their own.  If they can practice by themselves, they will improve.  If they cannot, they most likely do not, and very likely they will lose interest.  On my part, I know I can only open the door, I cannot force them through, though once in a while I am tempted by this approach : come to the edge, the teacher said; they came, and were pushed, and they flew.