Friend: "So, you teach tai chi?"
Friend: "What style do you teach?"
Me: "I don't teach a style. Style is a personal expression of an art. But the art is not a style."
Friend: "Okay. What art do you teach."
Me: "An art cannot be taught. It is too profound and too personal for one person to pass on to another."
Friend: ".....um...okay. But you do consider yourself a teacher. Don't you?"
Me: "If I flatter myself, yes. I call myself a teacher."
Friend: "Well, then what do you teach."
Me: "I teach people."
I encourage students to find themselves, their power, their balance, and their place in the world. I try to find ways to help them understand their relationships between the mind, the body, the environment, their peers, their families, and the universe. I try to help them to feel how every thought has an emotion, every emotion has a physical effect, and every physical effect resonates throughout the Universe.
I try to help people to find balance and harmony within an inherently violent world, by realizing that balance is a verb, and harmony is a constant process. Self defence is best practised in peace time, and that inner peace is a powerful weapon in times of conflict.
The most effective way for me to do this is to let go of style, dogma, and even the art itself. I have to find where each student is and start there. I can't lead them from somewhere that they are not.
In this respect, teaching is like self defence.
For when we are in combat, we must know the enemy and know ourselves. We must follow in order to lead. We do not strive to control so much as to regulate. We do not confront conflict so much as adapt to it. When an opponent has begun an attack, it is already too late to stop it. Confronting a stronger opponent's strength head-on is usually the least efficient method of defence.
Likewise, when a student has difficulty understanding a concept, dogma will never conquer misunderstanding. I must try to see what the student sees. I cannot force my understanding upon them. But I can help them see through their own understanding, and to expand their view. In the process, I learn to be more adaptive, more responsive, and better at my art.
Early in my career, I would encounter students whom I thought to be unteachable. At the very least, I doubted their ability to grasp the finer points. I have learned, since then, to suspect such students of being divinity in disguise. When a student with an obvious mental, emotional, or physical disability comes to class, part of my mind says, "What secret super power does this one have?"
I have also discovered that the best way to teach students is to learn from them.