The saying "the self-taught individual has a fool for an instructor" is often sadly true. However, it is equally true that a beginner without access to a competent teacher can learn something from such instructional tools—if they are geared to beginners. Similarly, studying any good instructor's videos is a legitimate, if challenging, way to improve your understanding of what you learned from him or her while in class.
However, if you have experience in another martial art or modern taiji style, it can be easy to convince yourself that you immediately understand most or all of the bagua basics being taught either in class or on a video. Such arrogance is usually self-defeating. Look at it this way—even though both activities involve knowing how to skate, is a hockey player also automatically qualified to be a figure skater, and vice versa?
Proper study goes hand in hand with frequent review, especially of the material you think you already know. I have found errors, small and large, in my efforts almost every time I
have reviewed material I thought I had understood. It is not making mistakes that is prob-lematic—we all make errors with new material—the real error lies in failing to correct the mistakes you know about, from arrogance or plain laziness.
Once you have some real knowledge, it is very useful to watch and study as many videos by as many different instructors as possible. This allows you to compare notes on the different ways of interpreting what you are learning.
Unfortunately, many of the instructors making videos are doing so specifically to augment their incomes and are less concerned about an accurate transmission of what they teach than they would be with their own students. However, it is equally true that the majority of those buying videos or dvds will watch them once or twice and then relegate them to a shelf without ever trying to practise, much less master any of the forms and methods shown.
As in all things, not all tapes are created equal, and it is not always possible to identify a bad video until you have wasted both your time and money. It is important to remember that even a talented instructor can produce a video that is poorly lit, hard to follow, and needlessly repetitious. It is also sadly true that some instructors will purposefully include errors to the video instruction as a way of ensuring that those who study only the videos will be identifiable to those in the know if they ever meet them.
We tend to judge a product by its cost, and this is not always appropriate. A lengthy, high-priced tape may give you little of value while a more modestly priced, hour-long product delivers insights and tactics worthy of a lifetime of study. Similarly, don't automatically reject the tape produced by an unknown martial artist and assume that the one by the famous expert will be necessarily better—this is not always true.
When considering the purchase of a particular video, pay attention to whether it is a demonstration or instructional tape. A reputable producer or distributor will indicate which it is in the advertisement. The former are really only of use for comparison purposes, or if you have learned the material in person and need a record for home study.
You should also realise that a tape/dvd produced in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan may be labelled as instructional when it, by Western standards, is hardly more detailed than a demonstration tape. It is important to remember that traditional teaching was often done largely in silence and by example. You copied the physical movements of the teacher to the best of your ability, and that was that until you were accepted into the inner circle of senior students.
If you are bewildered by the variety of videos available by mail, try to rent copies of the ones that might interest you before buying. Martial arts supplies stores as well as some New Age bookstores often rent instructional tapes. You can also read the reviews that sometimes appear in the martial arts magazines. Such opinions are not always impartial, but they are a starting point for comparison shopping.
You can learn a great deal if you study videos in a disciplined manner and then have the opportunity to get corrections or advice from someone who actually can do the forms and methods with some competence. It is much harder to fool yourself about your progress if, for example, I tactfully remind you that "your thumb doesn't go there" when you are demonstrating the Toad in the Hole Posture you just taught yourself from one of Erle's videos.
It becomes essential to review the tapes you have used at regular intervals even when you have a working competence in the material covered. If you are a relative beginner, as you learn to pay attention, you will find that you suddenly see aspects of the material you had never suspected existed when you first started. Perceiving, as opposed to just seeing, what is being demonstrated is even harder (for many years) than trying to copy it physically.
As you develop more skill and over time, you will probably go through a stage in which you don't think you are learning as quickly as you are capable of doing. For example, as adults, you are free to buy advanced videos and try to incorporate the physical differences between what I teach you, and what Erle is doing on them. Just keep in mind that you are stuck with my opinions and guidance, and I expect you to do as you are told when it comes to the forms and methods that I teach.
I don't want to be too discouraging, though, as for the intermediate level student—but not beginner—studying instructional videos can be an excellent learning experience. If you have a lot of aptitude, you can actually shave some time from your learning curve. However, you can also go off the track so much that you will undo all the real progress you have made since starting to learn from me. You will also find that there are a few overt and many subtle differences in the way I teach the forms and methods compared to what is on the videos. This is for a variety of reasons, and I make no apologies.
One last thing, please, do not borrow one of Erle's or another instructor's videos and copy them instead of buying a copy from the source. Infringing on copyright is illegal and cheapens the value of your efforts to learn. I know that many people today don't think of duplicating cassettes or burning cds/dvds as being theft, but—rationalise it all you want—doing so remains theft of intellectual or artistic property.
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