My Search For A Teacher

Tips on finding the right instructor

One of the hardest parts of learning an Internal Art like Yoga or Tai Chi is the search for a good teacher. Without a competent teacher to get you on the right road, you are finished before you start. In this article I will detail my own search for teachers of karate, tai chi and yoga.

My search for a karate instructor started with visits to dojos (practice halls) not too far away from my home. I visited about 4 or 5 dojos and asked if I could watch a class. I really did not know what I was watching for, however I had purchased a book on karate and at least had a general idea of what was going on. My first visit was in New York City, where I visited a large well-known school. After I presented myself and asked to watch the class, I was instructed to stay in a certain area and not to move out of the area until the class was done. This seemed a little much, however I was intimidated by the chief instructor and kept to my assigned area. The class was impressive with about 50 students participating. I kept to my assigned area and approached the chief instructor after the class, standing along side of his desk. Apparently I was not following proper etiquette because he started screaming at me to get back to my assigned area. I thought that he was going to attack me or set some of the students on me. That was all I needed. Turning swiftly I ran out of the school.

I thought to myself as I left that it would not be so easy to locate a good instructor. My second attempt was a visit to a school of jujitsu and karate. My hopes were dashed when the owner of the school refused to permit me to watch a class, explaining to me that he was teaching secret techniques. As this school was in the basement of a public school located in a bad area, I was happy to get out of there. My book had not warned me about secret techniques. I continued my search with a friend of mine, as things did not seem to be going so good with my lone visits. Actually it was getting scary.

My next visit was to a small school located in the gymnasium of another public school. Here I was able to watch the class and while watching learned of another school from another visitor. The following evening I visited the school. Here I was, the only white guy watching a class of all black guys work out in a storefront. This place was traumatic, but the instructor seemed really good. I arranged to start my practice the next day. I stuck with this school for a year, however it was focused on fighting and I realized that I needed more technical training. I finally located the right school and instructor through word of mouth. I stuck with him for the next 15-20 years.

When I decided that I needed a more spiritualistic modality, I turned to Tai Chi. Please don’t ask me what I thought spirituality was. I had no idea other than the way I felt. Upon my first visit to a well-known Tai Chi school, I was hooked and signed up for the next available class. An internationally famous teacher ran this school and I was looking forward to his instruction, however my hopes were dashed when he announced that he would be leaving for Taiwan in the following week. Having been impressed with the school, I decided to stay on and ended up staying for over 15 years.

While practicing and teaching Tai Chi, I started looking into yoga. Being a veteran of teacher searches, I started visiting and taking classes over a two-year period at various schools. After classes I would speak to the instructors. Obviously yoga schools were a lot less intimidating than karate schools and I was in no hurry to sign up. One of the more intimidating practices at many yoga schools was the correction of postures by the instructors. These corrections, if not done perfectly, produced injuries and I made it a point to tell the instructors not to correct me in the classes. Finally after many classes I found my present teacher who I am with over 10 years.

Listed below are my suggestions for finding a good teacher.

1) Watch, and if possible take some classes.
2) Talk to other students about the school and teachers.
3) There are no secret techniques.
4) Feel the energy of the school.
5) Talk to and question the instructors.
6) Does the school feel right to you?
7) Is the school clean and neat?
8) Don’t settle; keep looking around for your ideal school.
9) Most importantly, in a school of the internal arts the teacher must have had the experience of a certain degree of illumination. Without this experience his or her teachings have no substance. The teacher is here to guide the student along the road to a greater state of consciousness. This consciousness is revealed in the students every day life experiences. This cannot be passed on without years of training on the part of the teacher. If you practice at a school and do not feel this illumination, keep searching.

Internal Arts are meant to give the student the road map to the discovery of his or her true nature. Spiritual growth and spiritual healing come from right practice over a long period of time. Daily meditation along with awareness is needed to connect mind body and soul. Put yourself in the right hands and commit to your practice.