Shuangbaotai dilettantistica - compete
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To compete or not to compete?

or: Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master (Leonardo da Vinci) ... And the teacher who does not learn from his pupil

During the Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Shanxi Yang Style Taijiquan Association, last July, The 3rd Traditional Yang Style Invitational Tournament was held in China. I wish to share my thoughts on this subject.
Why does anyone take part in any competition? There are many reasons, from the wish to support the association in which one is involved and that organized the competition, to one’s desire to challenge herself and others.
But now I want to discuss this from an educational viewpoint. Participating in a competition or a public demonstration event allows us to understand how we react in non protected situations. It helps us to better ultimately it strengthens one’s own character. Whoever takes part in any demonstration or competition knows the particular kind of stress that one feels before the event. It is not the same for everybody, of course, but facing it is a good thing for everybody, in order to learn how to master it. This is true for any kind of trial we must deal with, going from a school exam, to a presentation at a public meeting, to a job interview. Before facing these trials we experience some tensions coming from our dread and may only wish to run away. There’s nothing wrong in being scared; only it is important to face our own fears, overcoming the wish to flee. Once we have confronted it, we will know it and we might be scared again next time in the same situation, but it will be different anyway and less overwhelming for sure.
Many people suffer from exam anxiety and avoid such situations because they fear them; the result they get is exactly what they were scared of: failure. They would have had at least a chance to pass, if they had just tried.
This is an integral part of the training of my students. I always urge them to compete, to give themselves a chance, assuming risk and responding to a challenging situation.
What are the benefits? They gain better knowledge of themselves; a greater trust in their own ability, openness to confrontation from an even position, which allows them to face various challenges in their life in a calmer, cooler way. Besides this, the particular kind of psychological - mental tension that we experience before a competition keeps us active and makes us younger. As the muscular tension keeps the muscles active, this challenge keeps the “mental muscles” active. It is not harmful, it is beneficial instead. Therefore, aside from being a good training to endure psychological tension, it is really training for the brain.
Can any instructor compete in a contest in which their students are involved? Yes, I think so. And what if they fail in the competition? Anyone can fail! The instructor is a human being and this is a good way to prove it!
Do they lose their trustworthiness in front of their students? Not at all; they model the qualities of a self-assured person, one who takes a real risk. A person that is able to take this risk is able also to take care of their responsibilities. The students will understand that this person will be able to take care of them, and lead them individually to learn as much as possible. This kind of teacher can run the worse risk (which is the better outcome from my viewpoint) of getting lesser scores than their students, perhaps being surpassed by them.
Why do I say that this is the best result for me? If a student of mine surpasses me, they will enhance my position in front of the others. First of all, because the successful student had a really good instructor! I agree with Leonardo da Vinci, when he said: “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master”. In fact, I had a hard time achieving my actual knowledge and ability, therefore if I can transfer these to my students, they will need to spend less effort or, even better, reach a higher level of knowledge than me with the same effort. Furthermore it makes the other students understand that they too can have all what is needed from their instructor and will learn all what they can. They will understand that the teacher gives them everything that they know at that moment, unreservedly, knowing that learning never ends.
I don’t stop at Leonardo’s dictum. If such was the case the teaching/learning process would be just transmission from one container to another. I believe, instead, that it is a creative process, in which both parties gain. Once I have guided my students to a good degree of knowledge, I will be free to learn from them, in the creative process of knowledge, where student and teacher interact and exchange mutually. This spiral process will lead us to evermore deepen our abilities and knowledge. Receptive and creative students motivate me to teach to them, and I myself learn more and more. On the other hand, by teaching to them I will be able to solidify my knowledge, making it steadier (I perceive this process as “compacting”). This settled knowledge will take a smaller space, will be automatic, I will not need too much energy to keep it, and I will be able to use my free energy to learn more, in a helical process. That’s why I like to complete Leonardo’s thought: “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master" with this one~: "and the teacher who does not learn from his pupil”.
So what is the function of an instructor? Teaching of course or, even better, teaching in such a way that the students can learn! One who has the skill to be able to adapt the teaching method to the learning abilities of each student, so that most of them can become independent and, if it pleases them, become instructors too. What kind of instructor am I, if I cannot admit that my students can also become instructors? A school must train students who are able to become emancipated, or it is not a school.
The example of the family is quite natural. In a family the parents raise their children, nurturing them and teaching to them what they know, with examples and words. This process has an inherent goal: that when the children will be grown, their parents must leave them alone on their path. There will be exchange among them of course, but it will be an even one, and the parents will start to learn from their children, until the children take the turn of caring for their parents, in a natural and circular process.
What is the source of respect for parents or teachers? A person that is able to always renew herself, understanding the situations; who also knows when it’s time to give way, and thus she gains respect.
Understanding awhere we are at in the training process is not always easy. Sometimes a public performance can help the instructor understand when their student is ready, and can help the student know if they are really ready to take flight. Participating in competitions/demostrations outside of one’s usual confort zone helps this goal very well, besides being exciting and amusing!
(Roberta, 21/10/2007)