LINEAGE & THE USE OF PONCHOS
We all know the story: The term begins with a packed class of eager students, thirsty for knowledge, skill training and age-reversal tai chi secrets - but by the time the first year is over only a handful remain. “Tai Chi” is difficult to learn, explain the teachers, for it requires patience, commitment, engagement and for this reason few students have the staying power to see the course through to the end".
A convenient answer is it not? According to this rather lazy interpretation student drop-out numbers have nothing to do with the way a class is taught, and everything to do with the lack of perseverance of the new learner.
So where does it comes from this attitude?
We’ve all seen the Chinese martial arts movies in which Sifu teaches only the most laborious tasks to newbies: Practice Ward off Left for 6 months then come back and maybe, I'll show you ward off right. Or insisting they wash out the latrines before being taught how to tie up the laces on your Kung fu slippers. Were they to have any. Unfortunately, this comical scenario persists today in too many classes.
Whilst it is true that the qualities that make for good tai chi: humility, non-ambition, non-aggression, spontaneity, silence, and the advantages of stepping back are all qualities that are rated fairly low in our materialistic society, I believe that it's just too easy for teachers to shrug off their responsibility - when students drop-out.
So here is the teapotmOnk's Handy Pocket Guide to the TOP 5 REASONS YOUR STUDENTS ARE NOT COMING BACK and what you can do about it. Print it out, pass it on, or tattoo it to your nunchaku. ( Oh, and by the way, this post is also available as a podcast from EMPTY YOUR CUP here).
Reason No 1: Claiming you are a descendent of Lao Tzu
Hanging dusty portraits of old bearded men over your door and burning incense in one corner of the dojo will not - by itself - translate into more student memberships. Were this the case, our doorways would be crammed with faded sepia images and our clothes would permanently stink of Jasmine or Lotus-blossom. Think on this.
Claiming you are descended from Lao Tzu only invites detailed questions about "over-sharpening your blades", "spokes and wheel hubs", and "walking the first steps in a 1000 miles".
Students will also ask you to autograph their Tao Te Ching, ask for advice on riding an oxen, or start throwing yarrow sticks at your feet and asking for an interpretation. It will get very complicated and this is not the way of the tao.
Lineage is a fine thing, but when used as a marketing technique its often substituted for personal and original approaches. Muhammed Ali’s style worked well for him, as did Bruce Lee, Giant Haystacks and Clint Eastwood. But the wearing of a poncho by itself does not make you a fast draw.
WHAT TO DO: Try taking down the portraits, try not to talk about yourself so much, and instead invest that time in finding out about your students needs and goals.
MEMORY & INFO OVERLOAD
Reason No 2: Fixating on the memory.
I live in a small town. When someone drops out of one of my classes, I’m very likely to bump into them again. Over the last few years these people have fed back as to why they dropped out: Got your pencil ready?
COPYING & DUPLICATING
Reason No 3: Fixating on Copying
Yes, at the beginning copying is quite important, obviously, but not for too long afterwards. If as a teacher you encourage copying for too long, you will only see mini versions of yourself everywhere, which is not the purpose of the class. (Does that really need saying?)
Additionally, If a student feels they are being judged on how well they are imitating your form, your haircut, your style of shoe-wear and your moves, at some point they will realise that this is a pointless, futile and ultimately impossible task. They will then give up, and probably moan about you behind your back.
Reason No 4: Talking about yourself too much
IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU
"Today I'm going to tell you about when Yin means Yang and the chi moves across the frontal cortex, sits cross-legged on the upper thorax and then bungee-jumps down the spine before it is emitted upon visiting your optician."
Most anecdotal stuff that comes out of your mouth will not make sense to anyone other than to you (and very possibly not to you either), so don't expect your students to swallow it. Keep the life-story stuff to a minimum and watch out too for those enforced tea drinking sessions before and after the class. Teachers have a tendency to off-load strange theories on astral projection, candle-making and their role in street self-defence whilst the class is not officially running..
WHAT TO DO: Learn to Step Back, as Ive already said. As a teacher - give the spotlight to someone else, hand over the remote control, jump off the centre stage. By doing so you get to watch and observe instead of demonstrating and then justifying whatever you’ve just made up on the spur of the moment. Try instead to get everyone to participate in the class, to start teaching each other at the earliest possible stage. Participation is the key here, not imitation.
MYSTICISM & EYEBROW LENGTH
Reason No 5: Shrouding everything in mysticism
Titles, names, suits, sashes, displaying the certificate, swinging the Steven Seagal pony tail, polishing the kung fu shoes or trimming the long white eye-brows - are all signs of denial: It is the 21st century not the 12th. Yes, mysticism and Chinese artifacts conjures up an atmosphere, but it is destructive and too-often disempowering one. Encouraging your students to grow their eyebrows down to their knees may make your class look authentically feudal and sage-like, but its not very practical when trying to type on a laptop or when riding a push bike and an eye-brow gets inadvertently caught up in the brake-blocks.
WHAT TO DO: Encourage your students to feel good about expressing THEIR identity rather than YOURS, your SIFU’S or the originality of that youtube video you have just seen that afternoon on your FaceBook timeline.
THINGS DON'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.....
There is no limit to what we can do to make teaching and learning more effective and relevant to the age in which we live. Start by reminding yourself of where you live and the year in which you are living. That will be a big help. Then take it from there.
REBOOT YOUR LIFE WITH 21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Contrary to popular belief, the teapotmOnk (paul read) is neither a mOnk nor a teapOt. He is, however, a writer on Tai Chi, course-creator & teacher with more than 25 years of experience. He can be found wandering between Andalucia (Spain) & Devon (Uk). More here.
Contact him here or keep in touch, subscribe for some great Tai Chi stuff delivered to your inbox.