Beginning to Teach: Teach Your Own Way…

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    One big question facing everyone who is beginning to teach is how will you organize and present the material to your students?

    When I first began teaching Dragon & Tiger and other subjects in 1992, I too had this question.

    Naturally what I, and a couple of other teachers who were working with me, did was to mimic how we had learned from Bruce.

    We organized our classes to present the material we had learned from Bruce, and we taught it in pretty much the same fashion as Bruce had.

    After teaching for a while, though, we noticed that our students weren’t learning as well as we’d like, and that they often would fall quickly behind the schedule we had set.

    We were frustrated and confused.

    Eventually when Bruce was in town, we told him what was happening.

    He looked at us like we were daft – which on this subject we were – and said something to the effect of “you can’t teach like me. I’m a Master and you’re not.” And he proceeded to lay out the progression of how subjects should be taught to beginners.

    He was very clear that we should first teach the form movements in a very physical way and to make sure that students could do them in that way. Then and only then should we gradually introduce energetic methods, one at a time, allowing time for assimilation of one before going onto the next. The one exception was that while we were teaching the physical movements, we should occasionally introduce or demonstrate an energetic aspect to help inspire people to want to continue.

    He pointed out that all of us who he had been teaching were already experienced and dedicated tai chi and qigong students. He had been teaching us in intensive weekend or week-long workshops, where he was trying to get us to learn as quickly as he could because he didn’t know when or whether he’d see us again.

    We had translated his teaching methods to our weekly classes where we had beginners who had only a vague interest in our arts and who rarely, if ever, practiced, especially at the beginning. We were teaching them way too much material way too fast.

    So we followed Bruce’s guidance, slowed down our classes, and taught to the students in front of us according to their abilities, needs, and interests. And we realized that our students were much happier to go slower and actually successfully learn what we were teaching. We had been concerned that we’d need to always be introducing new material to keep them interested. We were wrong.

    As we explored and learned about teaching, within a few years our classes would take a year or more to cover the material we first tried to teach in two months.

    So my advice to teachers who are just beginning is yes, model your classes after the teachers you’ve had and how they’ve taught you. But adapt that to who and in what format you are teaching. Who are your students and what are their capacities for learning? How can you teach them so that they will be successful and inspired? First err a bit on the side of teaching them too little and then if they can handle more challenge, give them more to chew on.

    Don’t assume that others will be as interested as you are in the subject. Feel free to leave out for now a lot of details that you find interesting or which your teachers have said are really important, but which will overwhelm your students.

    If you’ve had the opportunity to study with Craig Barnes, you may have noticed that he is wonderful with this. He teaches in a very spare way – staying with one subject until people get it, never giving too much detail and often saying the same thing repeatedly, but each time in a different way.

    You do have to teach according to your own style and personality, of course. I don’t teach like Craig, because I have a different personality and style which comes naturally to me. But I do learn a lot of from watching Craig teach, and I try to incorporate the things I think he does really well into my own teaching.

    There are many, many ways to organize and present the material of Dragon & Tiger. And I hope we’ll be discussing these ways and aspects in this forum. I plan to let you know ways I’ve found to be successful for me. But you’ll need to teach your own way, no?



    Thanks for this and the welcome, Bill. I found the story you tell here both instructive, and amusing. Bruce does have that “are you daft?” look down, doesn’t he? :-)

    I’m looking forward to taking the next steps on this teaching and learning road, and happy to have such good traveling companions.


    Thank you Bill for the great pointers and guidance.
    Much appreciated



    Thanks for that Bill, that was all super helpful.

    I feel like after reading your message I could teach the set to beginners many times.

    It was great to get Bruce, Craig, Jamie and yourself to learn from and to experience the different teaching styles. Also working with all the different personalities and bodies was also very helpful.

    It feels great to have learned so much at the training and then all the resources available to me on top just makes teaching this to people feel like its going to go very smooth.



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