Training Beginners

I sometimes get asked whether training with beginners is boring or pointless. When you advance to a certain level of skill, it can be frustrating to have to train “below your skill level.” However, I choose not to view it that way. After spending a significant amount of time (years actually) as the only I-Liq Chuan guy around and having to build a group from beginners, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity presented by training with a beginner.

It is tough to advance your skill when your abilities are not being challenged. As with any skill, you need to push your limits to broaden your understanding. The value of training with a beginner is not in pushing your limits. What training with a beginner does is force you into a teaching role. The best way to learn something is to have to teach it. You may think you know something, but trying to pass on your knowledge reveals gaps in your understanding. You need to fill in those gaps by approaching the skill from many different perspectives so that you can deal with the myriad of different backgrounds and unexpected questions you receive with beginners. While you may not advance your skills interacting with a beginner, you can still deepen your current level understanding and solidify your basics. That in itself is invaluable foundational training.

Training with anyone, beginner or advanced, is an opportunity for mindfulness practice. Training should always involves focusing the mind to be aware. Boredom can set in while training with a beginner, but this is a fault with the advanced practitioner rather than the beginning student. Zoning out with a beginner is losing your attention to the moment. The goal of the practice is not just to develop superior martial ability; it is also to hone one’s awareness to perceive the conditions of the moment. It is also prudent not assume that the beginner is inferior in skill. Someone trained in another art is only a beginner in your art. You need to pay attention simply because a “beginner” may still penetrate your defenses due to inattention or incomplete understanding on your part.

With the role of the teacher, there is an element of gratification from training a beginner. It does take work to pass on knowledge, and teaching can sometimes take a fair bit of mental and physical energy. But watching the light bulbs turn on as principles click is highly satisfying. The more I teach, the more I get to observe understanding blossoming. Watching the growth of understanding is a nice perk of the teacher’s role.

Training a beginner is never really boring. The training process with a beginner can be tiring as you may need to assess and correct poor movement patterns, find ways to prod their understanding, and present concepts from multiple perspectives. All that effort can be rewarding though. You get to deepen your understanding, get extra mindfulness training, and most importantly, build up your future “advanced” training partners.