Learning from Other Styles of Martial Arts
Dong Hai Chuan and Early Bagua

Some of the Best Advice I've Ever Heard

There was a guy several years ago who was one of the first Americans to begin educating us on internal body mechanics. Most Americans practicing tai chi were doing it very badly. Very often, when he pointed out mistakes and then, rather bluntly I'll admit, told people how to do it better, he made a lot of enemies.

When I began teaching I had a kids' class. I was coaching a 10-year old through a form one day and he began crying. He told me, "You're always criticizing me."

Now, no one is more polite in their coaching than I am, so his tears took me completely by surprise. Not long after this, I stopped teaching kids.

I've had new students come in with martial arts experience, and some of them would look at me as if they were the hired gunslinger when I pointed out the "internal" way of moving, as opposed to the external way they were accustomed to. Sometimes, they didn't want to hear it.

Each time I visit a teacher, a different school, or attend a seminar, I empty my cup. I try to learn from everyone. And if someone points out a mistake, I'm eager to hear it because it will only make me a more skilled martial artist if I know what I'm doing wrong.

I work with an amazing woman from India who is going to become President of the University of Houston in January. She is highly accomplished and brilliant, yet one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. When she was talking about her career to this point, and how she was brought along the path toward success by those in positions of authority, she said something very surprising that echoed the way I feel about coaching. She said, "They cared enough to tell me how I could improve."

"The only way to grow is to leave your comfort zone," she said.

This has always been my philosophy. Whether I was working in news and hiring people out of school or teaching kung fu to people who had never studied (or those who had experience), I've wanted to tell them what they did well and what they needed to work on to get to the next level.

I've always welcomed coaching, too, and I've always been very aware that everything I do can be improved. Receiving good coaching, however, takes you out of your comfort zone. In tai chi, when someone tells you that you're doing a movement wrong, it shatters your little bubble of self-delusionment. :) You're forced to change, and change isn't easy for most people. They would rather retreat to the familiar than face the fact that after a lot of hard work, they have a lot more hard work ahead of them.

Open yourself to constructive coaching. Eagerly seek out your mistakes. Get out of your comfort zone. The people who really care about you, whether it's at work, at school, or in your dojo or kwoon, will give you good feedback to push you to a higher level.

Comments

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Sean C. Ledig

Well, you've certainly punched a lot of holes in my bubbles. You've taken more than 20 years of taijiquan and forced me to reconsider many things.

For example, I focus on gua more, especially when doing silk reeling. As I do it, I feel my hip joints loosen up and I sink into a deeper and more rooted stance.

That one little thing has made a big difference in rooting in my taiji and my wing chun.

In the words of Frank Zappa, "Without deviations from the norm, progress isn't possible."

Evan Yeung

So who is this "guy several years ago" you're talking about?

Ken

Evan,
Mike Sigman was among the first Americans to look into the reality of internal arts body mechanics. He introduced me to Chen tai chi through posts on an internet listserve. He also led me to Jim and Angela Criscimagna, my first Chen teachers. I've told many people that when I met Jim, in one hour I knew that I had to start over. Mike Sigman was controversial, but who isn't? If you have an opinion and state it, you're going to make enemies in the internal arts. But he taught me a lot, online, through his videos, and in a weekend workshop I attended in Minneapolis several years ago. I continued studying through Jim and Angela and others, plus as often as I could with members of the Chen family in workshops. But Sigman was the first one to make me realize I needed to learn the truth. Had I been taught properly or not? When I learned the answer I stood at a crossroads, and took the path that required a lot more hard work.

Sean C. Ledig

Mike Sigman taught one of my previous sifus, the late John Angelos.

I never met Sigman, but I was impressed with his videotape, "Secrets of Internal Power." I was also impressed with John who started me in Wing Chun and took my push hands to new levels. The quality of John's taiji spoke volumes about Sigman in my book.

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