半練半教

One of those things that’s always giving me problems is how to balance training and teaching.

I didn’t get into martial arts because I wanted to teach it. Actually, quite the opposite, there are definitely times where I enjoy being the student more than I enjoy being the teacher. Now, if you are one of my students or prospective students please don’t take this the wrong way. I do enjoy teaching and passing along the knowledge in martial arts that I have gained. I get tremendous satisfaction seeing students progress through stages of their evolution and getting more skilled at fighting, as a martial artist, and at Baguazhang. There are times though when you don’t always have the luxury of being outwardly focused.

Luo Dexiu and George Wood

Teaching is helping others, it’s being there for others, it’s service to others. In martial arts that often means putting yourself out there as a workout dummy so others can learn and feel. It can mean being a “perfect example” so others have something to look towards in their learning. It can mean being a drill sergeant. It can mean being the leader of the pack that everyone else has no choice but to follow. It can mean putting yourself out there as an “actor” entertaining the crowd. Now, sometimes though, all of this teaching can mean that you neglect your own skills, your own physical and mental development, your own development as a martial artist, and can sometimes mean you neglect your own health. I have been hurt in martial arts way more often by giving myself up as an uke to a student who hasn’t yet developed good technique. I am a hands-on kind of teacher, sometimes words and visual examples are not enough to get the point across in certain types of technique. Sometimes you have to let them feel what you are doing and you have to then feel what they are doing so as to better guide them to get the proper feel.

I did once ask my teacher (Luo Dexiu Laoshi) about how to deal with the issues of both teaching and developing as a student of the arts. He responded by explaining to me how his own teacher (Hong Yixiang) told him to handle the issue: “半教半練。“ In English 半教半練 (ban jiao ban lian) means that you need to “half teach, half practice.”

George Wood practicing in a bamboo glen

I took this response overall in two basic ways. One was to try to spend an equal amount of time working on my own development as I do my students. So, for example, if I teach for 10 hours each week I would try to also spend 10 hours each week on my own forms, conditioning, neigong, shadow boxing, bag work, etc. Two was to try to formulate class such that I would personally get some development out of it in addition to the attention paid to my students. Luo Laoshi spoke about this some as I originally asked him the question, but it was something I had to work on as time went on. Some of this is as much about your own personal teaching style, your own personality, and the personalities and abilities of your students. It’s an easy slogan, but it’s not as easy as I thought to implement into practice. It’s taken time to try. I’m still working on it years later. I’m actually still working on it in every single class, as each class might have slightly different topics or students there. Everyone there might have a different vibe at the time. Everyone might have different levels of “injury” and/or ability at the time.

One of the only ways to keep progressing though is to keep practicing. A teacher must also continually improve so that his students may continually improve.

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