Downsides to the traditional teaching system

Just thought I would write a note on my impressions coming to the end of my first year in China (3rd year overall). Of course, all opinions are  based on my experiences in one city in China (Shanghai), which is a comparatively ‘modern’ westernised city by Chinese standards. Things in the heartlands of traditional CMA (Hebei and Shanxi) are probably slightly better than is portrayed below.

My impression of the situation in China at the moment with traditional CMA is that it’s not popular among the young. The number of young people learning and practicing trad CMA is very low. In fact, I would say the most common choice of martial art amongst young guys is TKD, with Sanda a close second, and Kendo for girls. For the country that invented kungfu, this is pretty depressing!

The situation with respect to the teaching of traditional CMA is in a state of flux. For the vast majority of traditional CMA (e.g. Tongbei, Xinyi Liuhe, Baji, etc), they are not taught in universities, nor are they taught in the commercial kungfu schools (which tend to teach a mix of Shaolin, Jeet Kune Do and Tae Kwon Do – whatever makes money). The only way to learn them is the old-fashioned way, i.e. find a master, get him to accept you as his student, and then practice under him either in a park or at his home.

The arts which have made big strides towards a recognisable western ‘kungfu school’ model are Chen style taiji and Yiquan – for both of these arts, a lot of full-time wuguan (=dojo) have popped up in the last ten years in several cities (mostly in the North). Personally I think this is a good thing, and hope to see more wuguan popping up teaching the other traditional arts. However, this is held back by a common belief amongst prospective local students of traditional CMA that a teacher that charges any money at all must be a fraudster with no real skill (?!).

The downsides of the traditional system are:

– it is relatively common for students to be completely neglected, with no instruction/correction for an entire lesson

– pervasive secrecy: not only are the contents of the art not on display to outsiders (i.e. do not practice in the parks), even amongst the same teacher’s students, there is definitely a separation between tudi and ordinary students. Different things are considered ‘inside the door’ in different schools. For example, in my school, Santi and the 5 fists are considered ‘open’, whereas spear shaking [dou da gan] and pangen  are considered inside the door.

– there is no way of accelerating the learning process. In a western class situation, it is often possible to learn more of the art by simply attending more classes (and by practicing harder, of course!) In a traditional situation, it is bad manners to ask to be taught ‘the next move’ – the unwritten understanding is that you will be taught new material when the teacher feels you have mastered what has been taught up till now, and not before.

The above are just some of my impressions after what is a relatively short time in China – who knows, by this time next year I may have a completely different view of things!


About yosaku

Xingyiquan enthusiast
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4 Responses to Downsides to the traditional teaching system

  1. baiyiming says:

    Hopefully. After 20 yrs. of traditional training in TW, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Modern methods may be good as an addition, but slowly you grow the real gongfu!

    • yosaku says:

      Baiyiming, I hear what you are saying. I just want to emphasise: we should clearly distinguish between training methods and teaching methods. I think the training methods of Chinese IMA are great, like you say, slowly we build the real gongfu (effectively changing our bodies inside and out). However, I think that generally the *teaching* methods are not the best. I think that in this area we can try to draw on arts like I Lik Chuen, which I think is an example of an art with great teaching and training methods.

  2. Edward says:

    I can agree with many of your points: (1) I have seen a student walking circles with many problems, but the teacher does not fix him for whatever reason (maybe there is a reason). (2) I have been learning xingyi for a decade or so, and have only recently learned some of the secret parts of the system – but traditionally these are learned first, not later. (3) Learning order and speed seems haphazard and ad-hoc, without a clear rule. (4) Regarding secrets again – seems in general that teachers abhor teaching them… except to certain exceptional students. Perhaps it makes sense, but not being exceptional, I feel a bit lonely 😀

  3. Kevin Gaudette says:

    While re-Watching my YouTube videos of Shanghai’s Liu He Ba Fa Master Yun Yin Sen, where the students are not attentive/motivated sufficiently to “catch” a subtle/non-didactic learning opportunityI’m continuously re-minded of:
    * the words of Master T. T. Liang…—“Steal My Art”
    * the LHBF Five Word Song—“If one thinks there is a Method, then that thought is in vain.”

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