Early on in my relationship with Yi Ren Qigong—much too early, really—I decided I wanted to teach it. I started attending the teacher training portions of Dr. Sun’s seminars and eventually formally applied for, and was accepted into, the teacher training program.
It was rather an odd thing, because I could have attended the same teacher training sessions as an advanced practitioner, only I knew I wasn’t advanced.
At the first teacher training I attended, on the lung and large intestine organ pair, Dr. Sun had us practice how we’d lead our students through the movements of the lung/large intestine exercise while at the same time internally doing something different to balance and support their students’ energies. I could barely do the basic exercise, let alone do something else at the same time.
Dr. Sun divided us into two groups, and we took turn being “students” and “teachers.” As students, we were supposed to observe how the energies varied when the teachers did different complementary practices. I couldn’t feel anything but my own distress—and then I got worried that my distress, and my inability to do what I was supposed to do, might be confusing the energetic picture for the other participants. I offered to leave, but Dr. Sun said “No, no, you’re fine, you should stay.” I was grateful for his kindness, and I stayed.
Being in the teacher training program added hugely to my stress. Sometimes I would tell my friends that I had to do the teacher training because there wouldn’t be another training cycle for another two years, and, at 69, my biological clock was ticking. It would have been more accurate to say I had to do it because I am a person who prefers “now” to “later.”
However, there was also the fact that I was already a teacher. I was teaching taiji at my church, along with a fairly simple form of qigong, with 18 moves reminiscent of Yang-style taiji. I knew that my Yi Ren Qigong practice would eventually start to bleed into my teaching at church, whether I intended it to or not.
I also knew that once you start to teach, you step across an invisible line and you forever afterwards see the world of teaching and learning a bit differently, whether you are the student or the teacher.
Whenever I’d think that it was foolish for me to try to become a Yi Ren teacher—and this was often—I’d come back to “but I’m already a teacher.”
Teaching is hard. People who joke that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” must never have taught. The first night that I taught taiji, I stood at the front of the sanctuary and looked out at perhaps 15 people looking back at me. I vividly remember thinking, “Oh, my god, what have I done? These people are all expecting something from me—doubtless more than I can deliver—but there’s no way out. I said I’d be their teacher; I can’t go home.”
There are still times when “I can’t do this” will sweep over me in the middle of teaching a taiji class, followed by “I have no choice.” I think this might be relatively common among teachers. Martin, dear Martin, a better taiji teacher than I even hope to be, once told me that for the first several years he taught, he felt like a total fraud.
However, for all its being hard, teaching it also rewarding. I continue to teach at church because I like doing taiji and the qigong that I lead, and I want to share them with other people. When I’m teaching, I’m doing and sharing—and with some mighty cool people. I’ve learned a lot about taiji and qigong through teaching. I’ve also learned that my classes aren’t all about taiji or qigong, and they aren’t all about me. People also come to my classes for community; they come for each other—which turns out to be quite a relief.
I said that becoming a teacher changes everything. One way it changes things is the way of a double-edged sword. When you step forward and say “I am the teacher,” you are no longer part of the group; there is a distance. Given all my issues around feeling I don’t belong, why would I choose to make myself separate in yet another way? I don’t have an answer.
But that’s the negative edge of the sword.
The positive edge is that as teacher, I become a better person. I can let go of my own ego and want the best for my students and rejoice in their progress and discoveries. It was clear to me early on that D.D., one of the students in my first taiji group, would become better than me at doing and teaching taiji, and probably sooner rather than later. But that was OK. When I was with D.D. in other contexts at church, I sometimes felt jealous, because she was talented in so many other ways as well, but when it was about taiji, my ego didn’t shut down my heart.
Feeling that, dare I say, love for one’s students feels very, very good. I think it’s what Buddhists call mudita, or sympathetic joy, and really, you can’t have too much of it in your life.