Lineage

Lineage

Postby onenoc » Tue Aug 03, 2004 11:20 pm

Hi,

Since you're on the subject of lineage, I thought I'd digress slightly. I'm going to be looking for a Tai Chi instructor soon, and I'm curious as to whether a teacher will be offended if I ask him or her for information regarding their lineage. I'm not entirely familiar with chinese martial arts etiquette, so any info would be helpful in how I can tell the masters from the fakes without offending the real masters (or well-meaning fakes) and creating an initial bad impression. Thanks!
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Postby Polaris » Wed Aug 04, 2004 2:17 am

No, it is not offensive to ask a legitimate teacher who they learned from. If you go to their school asking after classes, they should tell you up front. Their references should also be traceable. There are some "T'ai Chi schools" out there who claim that their style was learned from Immortals who floated down from the mountains on clouds (I'm not making that up!), in which case you would be well served to be a bit sceptical. If they do get offended by such a simple request, they likely aren't worth training with.

Regards,
P.

[This message has been edited by Polaris (edited 08-03-2004).]
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Postby Michael » Wed Aug 04, 2004 4:03 am

I agree completely with Polaris. First a real teacher will be proud of his lineage if it has value. You won't offend him or her by your question.

The first class I visited I asked the instructor who he learned from. The answer was "A guy down in New Mexico." Did not have to hear more. Of course the religous music being played while doing the warm up prepared me for his answer. No, I didn't go back.

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 08-03-2004).]
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Postby onenoc » Wed Aug 04, 2004 10:06 am

Hi,

Thanks for the help Polaris and Michael. I'm glad to see that it's not a touchy issue with instructors, since it's such an important issue in finding a good one.
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Postby chris » Thu Aug 05, 2004 7:47 pm

Some teachers will be offended by lineage questions, especially when asked by a stranger. This has nothing to do with authenticity.

If you want to learn something, "what is your lineage" is not the right question.
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Postby Wushuer » Thu Aug 05, 2004 8:48 pm

Chris,
Then what is, in your opinion, the proper thing to ask?
Because once I knew what "lineage" was, that's the only question I've ever asked.
Since then, I've only ever trained at two schools.
They both had a really good answer.
I have never been disapointed with it.
What else can you use to measure the value of the school? Especially as a beginner, when you are not going to know the difference between your tantien and your hind end?
But if you know enough to ask: "What is your lineage?", and then of course what that answer means, at least you have some sense of the value of the training.
Could you, the first time you took a class, have known if the instructor was just making it up as he went along?
I wouldn't have.
So...
Again...
What else would you ask?
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Postby Polaris » Fri Aug 06, 2004 1:40 am

Well, I'd say the FIRST thing to ask is: "How much do you charge for classes?" THEN "Who did you learn from?" If I am to be paying good money for the classes, I want to know their provenance. If the guy gets offended, then I can only conclude that he is hiding something.

Cheers,
P.
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Postby WU » Fri Aug 06, 2004 3:25 pm

Greetings!
Having a common sense is more important than knowing about the lineage! Technically everyone belong to some kind of lineage(s) directly or indirectly, but some seem emphasize on this issue more. Does so-call famous burger (i.e. Macdonald¡¦s) taste better than those of other restaurants¡¦? Sometimes, the biggest name would bring you the most disappointment.
My suggestion is to raise lots of questions, mainly on Tai Chi philosophy and training methods, to the prospective instructor as well as asking for a demo. Preferably, touching the demonstrator¡¦s body while he or she is doing Tai Chi form. This is my testing methods: (1) If you feel the demonstrator¡¦s body like a bag of ice or solid form, you¡¦d better search for another teacher. If his (or her) body feels like a bag of water all the time, this instructor would be able to teach you the real Tai Chi. It would even be better if the body is equivalent to a bag of gas that would suck your energy into his or her system. (2) You would also ask for testing on the instructor such as applying for pushing, pulling, locking and grappling etc. If you have done all of the above, I believe that you would be able to see how good his or her Tai Chi skill would be. Forget about the ¡§Lineage¡¨! Good luck to all!
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Postby Michael » Fri Aug 06, 2004 4:56 pm

Wu,

I would have to disagree with you on a couple things. It is true that you can find some one who does not have a direct link with one of the "families", who really "understands" the art. But to have taht link is a "plus" when one begins. Now that may not be enough. The teacher might be just bad at teaching, he may have inserted too many "my way" which could lead you astray.

If you are a true novice, not having read much or talked with experienced students before, you are at a disadvantage in judging the quality of the instruction or if what you are getting in "genuine". But with experience and a lot of reading you can begin to make some judgements. This is the second thing a student has to do, regardless of the "lineage". You will find that "sanctioned" teachers or one of their students. That "lineage" allows you to get recomendations from their teacher if you think it necessary. From that basis you can explore. You might find something else that fits your own personality better. But then you are making an informed descison.

I would think that the "testing" that you suggest would be more offensive than "who is your teacher". And in the first place I would say that most raw beginners would never be able to accurately judge things like theory and training methods as you suggest. Those come with some time and experience.

It is true that "lineage" is not some end all. But it is a useful starting point in the evaluation of the school or instructor.
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Postby WU » Fri Aug 06, 2004 7:12 pm

Greeting Michael!
Thanks for your reply! We all agree that each individual has its own needs including every Tai Chi practitioners. I would like to direct my points to those serious Tai Chi fans. As a prospective student, he has to carry out his own researches on Tai Chi first before thinking about visiting the Tai Chi school. It would only take five to ten minutes for a knowledgeable instructor to explain all the Tai Chi philosophy and training methods. This is absolutely true! However, some would like to make simple things into complicated ones, sometimes, even mystify them. Similarly, you would read the program or course calendar of university and find out everything about that school before submitting your application forms.
Should we test the Tai Chi instructors, or in another word, feel the Tai Chi instructor’s body? I think it’s a must for each student to do so. But you need to ask him politely for a touching or feeling, not to challenging him or her. 99.99% of real Tai Chi instructors are very nice peoples and they won’t be offended by a friendly touch or contact. You could claim you’re strong and powerful, but how do you prove it? As a Tai Chi practitioner, you should prepare for any testing all the time or anytime including the instructors or masters. This is the only way to learn the real Tai Chi! This is the only truth!

[This message has been edited by WU (edited 08-06-2004).]
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Postby chris » Fri Aug 06, 2004 8:03 pm

As a beginner, your evaluation of the teacher's physical skill may be uninformed. You can ask the teacher a question, but your evaluation of the answer is equally useless.

Would you judge the correctness of their answer with the books you've read? The pretenders have read those same books.

The important question is "What can I learn here?" In my opinion.
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Postby WU » Fri Aug 06, 2004 8:23 pm

Greeting Chris!
Asking questions without touching your prospective instructor would be same as looking at the apple without knowing what its taste would be! A novice student could be fooled by just watching the demo but would be able to judge anyone by touches or contacts. Simply, you need to go back to basics by reading all the Tai Chi Classics, watching demo, asking more questions and most importantly, touching lots of Tai Chi bodies of the instructors or masters!
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Postby Audi » Fri Aug 06, 2004 10:13 pm

Hi all,

The earlier posters have provided some good advice about this very important issue. I would add that what is probably most important about lineage is not who someone studied with, but what they learned from that person.

If your knowledge is sufficient, knowing the name of someone’s teacher and the length of study can suggest much. Seeing the person in action can reveal even more. On the other hand, if you are only a beginner, knowing who someone studied with may not tell you much. It is easy to get lost in a thicket of unfamiliar names, styles, and substyles. It can also be hard to judge form movements, because you probably will not know what to look for or might be led to make snap judgments about things many styles consider to be superficial.

Not all practitioners value “lineage,” but most do. To bring in students, most teachers know how to package themselves to appeal to those who value lineage. For beginners, it can be hard to evaluate which marketing appeals have more substance behind them than others; but this issue never really disappears, even for mature practitioners.

I personally would never ask a new teacher a question like: “What is your lineage?” or “Can I push hands with you?” To me, all such questions sound like a demand for the teacher to justify him or herself to a total stranger or as a challenge to defend his or her level of skill and knowledge. I think that one can ask almost the same type of question, however, by asking about the content of what will be taught, rather than directly about the teacher’s source or level of knowledge. In other words, I think it is fair to question what a teacher offers in the way of instruction, but not really to demand credentials. For instance, one can ask what style of Taijiquan someone teaches.

From a teacher’s answer, or from the answers of senior students, one can make a great deal of judgments, even as a well-read beginner. If the teacher says only that he or she teaches such and such a form, this can be a warning sign that his or her knowledge and interests are extremely narrow. In such a situation, I would ask about Push Hands and weapons forms, simply to test the teacher’s attitude toward the art as a whole. One should do this even if one has no interest in studying such things at the moment, because the answer will reflect the teacher’s knowledge and attitude. Another good question is to ask what brought the teacher to Taijiquan, what inspires him or her to practice and teach it, and how did they happen upon their main teacher.

If a teacher can say only that he or she spent a year in China or elsewhere learning this or that form, this also does not say much about their knowledge of the art as a whole. He or she may be an accomplished practitioner of that particular form, but not know much about the art as a whole. I personally would not have a problem recommending for a beginner certain teachers who were accomplished in only a single form; however, all teachers I would recommend could at least talk coherently about more than just that single form. They would be able to explain some theory and give a brief overview of a more complete curriculum.

Even more than worrying about what questions to ask, I think that one should practice good Taijiquan and listen very carefully to what teachers offer in the way of answers and to how they answer. What lineage someone claims may matter much less than how he or she presents his or her claim and what importance he or she attaches to it.

I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 08-06-2004).]
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Postby Gu Rou Chen » Fri Aug 06, 2004 10:57 pm

Often the teachers with the best credentials are not interested in teaching beginners.

Teachers without fantastic credentials can still get you started. I first learned Taiji forms in a P.E. class in a PRC university. The volleyball teacher had memorized the text of the Taiji textbook and roughly knew the postures. He recited the text, we followed his movements. When we had questions, he recited the text and we followed his movements.
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Postby Polaris » Fri Aug 06, 2004 11:30 pm

Greetings All,

Gu Rou Chen makes a sound observation. High level instructors, at least in our system, leave the teaching of beginners to junior instructors as a matter of course. My Sifu simply doesn't teach beginners, and I only very rarely work with them anymore.

In regards to the issue Audi raises of whether or not an instructor may see a question of lineage as a slight or a challenge, an instructor to whom lineage is important will almost always publish it up front, thus avoiding chances for misunderstanding. Also, as above, junior instructors tend to be more "conversational" and the approach to such subjects as lineage can be less formal with them than with the head instructor.

Lineage isn't the only test, to be sure. Do they train martially at senior level? The cost of classes is an important issue, too, and not just for tightwads! ;-) There are also intangibles such as how the school "feels," how the students look, etc. Of course, these are mostly things which I learned to appreciate only after I had studied for a few years...

Ultimately, I believe that it comes down to the fate that one has earned in this lifetime through personal development and evolution. Those fated to study with the Yang family will study with the Yang family because of the "golden opportunity" of a happy coincidence of location (or perhaps moving to a city in which the Yangs teach)and the fact that only that level of expertise will satisfy them. Those fated to study with Sunfrog down at the health food store will study with Sunfrog because that level of expertise will satisfy them, and that is where they'll choose to stay.

Cheers,
P.

[This message has been edited by Polaris (edited 08-06-2004).]
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