How Fast Should We Learn
By Eli Montaigue March 2017
In most traditional martial arts there is this idea that you
must not learn to fast, or you will never get the true meaning of the art, and
never attain the highest skill.
Personally I think this has come from the old days when a Master didn’t want the student knowing to much till he got to know him, to see if he would be a loyal student, only then would the Master give away his family secrets.
Also there is the thing of it being dangerous to teach someone a deadly fighting art before that person has spent years proving that they are worthy of the art.
Well it’s 2017 now, we don’t live in 1800’s China.
Come on, deadly martial arts? No martial art is more deadly than a weapon.
If someone wants to go out and hurt people there are much quicker and easier ways than learning a traditional art, like go and buy a big knife, or in America a gun, martial arts today are for self defence, they won’t really help you much to go and hurt someone, they are there for when you are caught unawares.
Of course there will always be those people out there that want to learn how to fight to then go and start fights in the street, but these people are not going to choose the traditional arts because they think they take so much longer to learn.
In the traditional arts though, you are taught so much more than just how to fight, so there is a good chance that if a bully comes to learn from you, that the training will actually cause them to humble themselves.
I never say no to teaching someone if I think they are a bully, I want to teach them the most, as they need to improve their lives the most. Sure I’m not going to teach them point strikes straight away, but I will teach them the foundations of movement.
I have seen so many seemingly loyal and trust worthy students after 10 years of training turn back to being a bully, so sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to change someone, all we can do is help as many people as we can.
But if you look at all the young guys out there wanting to learn to fight, how many of them are going to take the long route? Not many I think, so all those potential bullies go to another club and learn just how to punch and kick to hurt people, you then have no chance of helping them.
So I think if you can show that your traditional art, Taiji and Bagua in my case, can be learnt much faster than they think, there is a good chance more of them will come to your class, now you’ve got more people you might be able to help.
Of course there are some things that can only come with time, but all the basics of movement can be taught at a faster rate depending on the teacher and the student.
All students will pick things up at different rates, and it’s important for a good teacher to listen to this. A teacher needs to give more when the student can take it, but hold back if the student has enough to work with.
My father Erle Montaigue always said that he has worked his way through all the shit to find the real stuff, so that we don’t have to. He also said that he hopes his students will be able to learn this stuff much faster than him.
He would often say in classes how my level of skill though out the years was of a higher level than his was at the same time in his training, (well maybe after the first 3 years, as I was not very good in the first 3 years)
This was not because I am some total natural at Taiji, quite the opposite in fact, it was because I had a better teacher. If I had to learn the way Dad did, I’m not sure if I ever would have gotten to where I am today. It was Erle who was the natural, he was able to take bits and pieces from all over, connects the dots and get to where he got to. Even his main teacher Chang, he didn’t speak much English, and he was not a skilled teacher, as he didn’t do much of it, so Dad had to make do with what he had, put most of us in that boat (myself included) and I don’t think there would be any Old Yang Style Taiji around today.
So for me the development of an art is not just about how good it is, but how good we can teach it.
The way that Erle use to teach back in the 80’s and 90’s for example was much more crude than it was in his later days, this meant that many people got what he was teaching, but many people also didn’t, even with regular classes.
Throughout the years Erle developed his teaching methods to better help people to learn, in the hope that everyone could learn, not just those with a natural skill like him.
Look at me in the videos when I was 14, you can see firsthand I did not have any natural ability to this stuff! In fact I was really a bit shit.... My big brother Ben was far better at it than I was, he picked up stuff in half the time it took me.
But because of my Dad’s amazing ability to teach even the worst of students, I rose up the ladder to become his named successor.
Often though he would not be able to break something down enough for me, so I would go off on my own and break it down for myself to understand it, then later that day I would go back to Dad and ask if I had got it right, sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't, if I didn't then I would go off again to figure it out, this is why I have a good ability to break things down for people, because it's how I learnt.
So I have taken on from this way of thinking.
I have seen so many teaches who teach all their students the same way, some people getting it, but there’s always those few who have no idea what they’re doing.
When I see someone who looks lost or confused, I go and offer my help, sometimes no matter what I try I cannot get the student to understand, so what does that mean? It means that I need more training, more training as a teacher, I’ll stand there watching trying to figure out how I could get this person to understand, and for the most part I have been able to figure out a way.
I had a guy in London who’s Brush Knee Twist Step Posture was just not right, and over the weeks it was not getting any better, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, then one evening I saw it!
I showed him what to change in his structure, and bam his posture was then excellent!
Now I have used that same thing for many others, so as a teacher you learn so much from your students, just being good at the art does not mean you know how to teach it.
Today the way I teach has people learning so much faster than 10 years ago, push hands in particular, I have figured out a way that even the most basic of student can understand, I have taken what Dad taught and tweaked it even further, not the actual methods but just how to teach them.
Sometimes when I say this people think I’m saying I’m a better teacher than Dad, far from it actually.
Sure you could say technically I can teach someone push hands in less time than Dad, but only because of the foundation built by him, he took a very rough system and created a way of break it down and teach is to everyone, he did this from almost nothing, where is I have been carried up the mountain on his shoulders and only walked the last 100m on my own, often still holding his hand.
I’ve said it before, he set the groundwork, the walls and the roof, all I’m doing is adding the trimmings.
Learn from everyone to improve your ability in the art and how to teach it.
I always consult the other seniors in the wtba as to how things should be.
When I go back to Australia I often go and attend Wally’s class as a student, or when I’m down in Swansea I attend Leigh’s class as a student.
Many of my students have given me great ideas on how to teach as well.
Remember that also sometimes learning something new can open up new doors, things that just weren’t clicking for you, often you need something different to get you to understand.
I have heard people say you should do Small San Sau for at least 5 years before even looking at Large San Sau. Well Dad taught me the Large San Sau when I was 15, just after I had finished learning the Small. The important thing to remember is that when I learnt the Large, it didn’t make me train the small any less, I still kept training in the small, and still do today, learning the large back then was just something extra and fun to give me new ideas.
Or things like the 12 deadly katas from dim mak, it was said that you should only learn one per year, these forms are only a few movements longs, learning one per year is how you keep your students down and under you, not how you help them to learn in the best way.
So to sum up, it is my opinion that you should teach a student something as fast as they are able to learn it, treat your students as individuals, and help them the way that is right for them, whatever gets them to move correctly in the shortest amount of time.
Don’t leave your students to “develop on their own” Not when they are beginners at least, if you see something wrong, fix it, give as much advice as you can, there is no danger in your student becoming a mimic, Dad taught me in this way, pedantic and constant corrections, and I am not a copy of him, I move in my own way with the principals he taught me.