Thursday, November 17, 2011

Times Change...

Or Do They?

A martial arts friend posted this quote on facebook.

He said it was written in the 16th Century.

"Nowadays, people are shallow and their resolution is not in earnest. They dislike the strenuous and love the easy from the time they are young. When they see something vaguely clever, they want to learn it right away; but if taught in the manner of the old ways, they think it's not worth learning. Nowadays, the way is revealed by the instructor, the deepest principles are taught even to beginners, the end result is set right out front, and the student is led along by the hand." -- The Demons Sermon on Martial Arts

This was my response:

I think maybe the reason why these kind of statements applied then, as they do now, is that there are always waves of interest in any given art. When the wave is low and there is not much interest, only the most dedicated students find their teachers. When the wave is high, the masses jump in and teachers are everywhere.

This may be hard to believe, but when I first moved to Seattle in 1984, Andrew T. Dale was one of just a handful of people teaching, and the only person teaching, T'ai-Chi during the daytime, at least that I could find and I looked around quite a bit.

All of us who found Andy during that period, when T'ai-Chi was not nearly as widespread as it is now, were dedicated enough to find him and that was not easy. There was no question that we would and did practice and really put energy into learning the art. We had a small but sincerely focused group. Andy didn't need to "lead us by the hand" although he certainly did at times. Mostly he pointed the way and said "work on this". He didn't crack the whip, but he didn't cater to anyone's laziness either.

Now, many years later, there are loads of people teaching T'ai-Chi, it's everywhere, and a large percentage of those people only practice in class and need a lot of "hand leading". On the negative side, most of these people will never learn the subtleties of the art or put its principles deeply to work. On the positive side most of them will get at least some T'ai-Chi and physical self-awareness in their lives and many will get real benefits that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

So the people who jump on these things early and are really dedicated will always sigh when they see the masses jump on the bandwagon late and have to be led around by the hand. I think as time goes by this cycle repeats itself again and again, as any art gains and loses favor. Whenever popular interest is low, only the dedicated practice it and the quality is high, whenever popular interest is high, the masses practice it and while the overall quality is not as high, it is "wider" and reaches more people. I've been though one relatively low and now am in the middle of a relatively high interest in T'ai-Chi. I roll with it because I love teaching people wherever they happen to be on the dedication scale, but I can see how someone who was more innovative and highly skilled would be more bummed about the state of affairs during times of popularity when people in general are more casual in their approach to the arts.

There are also booms and busts economically over time. During harder times people are tougher, during fat times people are softer. Again, if you grow up tough, you bemoan the softies. I think everyone's right here. The softies really are softer and weaker, less physically skilled people. And the toughies really are living in the past, complaining about something that can't be changed, and a bunch of grumpy old farts.

Sometimes it's hard to find the right teacher because hardly anyone is teaching what you want to learn. Sometimes it's hard to find the right teacher because too many people are teaching, or claiming to teach what you want to learn. But no matter how muddy or empty the water is, true students will find their teachers and learn their arts. Always have, always will. ;~)

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