Sunday, May 13, 2012

The classic way of "teaching" zhan zhuang

What do you mean by the "classic way"?  Well, I mean how the greatest master of zhan zhang Master Wang Xian Zhai (王薌齋) taught the art of zhan zhuang. Wang didn't write a lot, and what he did wrote was quite condensed, more as training notes than full training manual, i.e. if you didn't have the privilege to learn from him, probably you can't learn from his training note.

Then what are you talking about?  I am talking about an important teaching skill of the master as explained by one of his students, Madam  Mi JingKe靜克 who is still alive at above 100.

Master Mi focused on training zhan zhuang for health benefit, and she published a few books.  In her books she always included in the appendix an article that she wrote on her early experience in learning zhan zhuang from master Wang.  She said that she was surprised to witness Master Wang insisted on his students not to do any movement work before gaining a firm foundation in zhan zhuang (which probably would take a few months' time if not more!).  Being impatient, she said that she and other beginning students would try to learn some movements from senior students practicing around , and Wang would be very unhappy and stopped them from doing so when he found that out!  One question arises: assuming that it is a right approach (my personal view is that it is), what is the purpose of having a coach around during those couple of months in the beginning?

Actually all the requirements of zhan zhuang can be explained within half an hour, and there are loads of texts around explaining the simple requirements of zhan zhuang (including my humble previous article Zhan Zhuang 101).  A modern learner can also benefit from numerous zhan zhuang videos uploaded by different masters and pundits onto Youtube.  What is the point of having a teacher anyway?  Is he or she just there to remind you the requirements of zhan zhuang during every practice session?  (Fair to say, a teacher does need to do some reminding for older folks with bad memory or some younger folks with better memory but lacking in motivation or having reservations in learning the art).

Master Mi gave us the answer, or a clue to the answer actually. She said that she and other beginning students had this inexplicable experience.  They understood the requirements, and they followed the requirements in their home practice.  But, and a big But, when they did zhan zhuang in front of Master Wang, he would move or reposition their fingers or other body parts just a little tiny bit, and they could feel a tremendous difference in chi generation, and they therefore could benefit from their zhan zhuang practice session a lot better!

Master Mi got the most important point in the classic way of teaching zhan zhuang.  It is the "role of the teacher".  Having written this, Master Mi, I believe, will probably be able to do what Masteer Wang did (How to do it? is an obvious question.  I shall leave it for another post in future).  Can your zhan zhuang teacher do it?  Never mind, the classic way is not the only way.  And let them wave their arms and legs in new and novel ways, Master Wang is no longer around to stop them anyway...:):)

The newest book by Mi Jing Ke

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