As I was conducting some private classes this past week with students that are currently out of the country, it struck me how well they were doing and how well they were able to retain and maintain the information and training that I had given them via their online lessons. Even though these two individuals started with me here in our NYC headquarters, their professional lives have taken them far, far away. As we progressed over time with their online training, I saw that they were able to maintain a clearer level of focus than many students that are here in person on a regular basis. I took a step back and pondered this situation, and came to the conclusion that because they had “less,” they were able to make “more” out of it. “Less” meaning that they didn’t have daily access to the training hall, to their peer group, and myself. They had to learn how to work on their own and foster their own progress. This got me thinking about the pros and cons of group and solo training, and how both are necessary facets of your martial art training, but neither one should take precedence over the other.
Group training is really good in the beginning, when you don’t want to be alone and don’t necessarily want to be singled out. You don’t have the skill level to do the techniques on your own, but when you train in a group, it’s like singing in a chorus. You can skip a couple of notes and then jump back in. You also must do group training first to form a base line. Training in a group will force you to do things you don’t like, because the team is going to be required to do a certain amount of kicks and punches, reach a certain level of performance, and you have to keep up. This is a challenge, so you need the camaraderie of the group class to get you through the hard times of training. There’s nothing better than sharing pain and frustration with your classmates. You can carry each other, and that’s great and completely necessary.
Group training is great because you feed off the energy of the wave, like in a sports game, and you ride it. However, you can get hooked on that, and then when the group’s not there, you don’t know how to bring out your own power. You may think you’ve been producing your own energy; meanwhile you’ve been siphoning off from other stronger individuals in the team. If done too much, group training can foster a wrong way of looking at things. In this case, the individual becomes incapable of getting the job done or assigning their mind to the task, because you’re always waiting for someone else to show up to give you energy. This means all this time you’ve only been riding the wave. It’s ok to ride the wave sometimes, but how about you initiate the wave and drive energy towards it.
When you start to learn more, training on your own is a good way to develop your personal interpretation, focus, energy and learn how to draw power from yourself. A lot of students have an issue with crossing over, because many of them get caught up in the class atmosphere and become incapable of discovering their own personal power. So, it’s necessary to spend private time on your own to learn your own head, so to speak. Otherwise, you’re always waiting for the group. What if Johnny and Janie don’t show up to class? Then what do you do? How do you find that internal focus and drive to be able to push yourself to train just as hard as if you were with a team?
If you’re removed from the group, you have to find a way to motivate and push yourself. Solo training teaches you to become self-reliant, self-sufficient and self-empowering, which ultimately everyone has to do in their marital art training. This is the unique thing about Kung Fu. The team may help you along your journey, but ultimately you must plot your own way. It’s not a team sport. It’s a solo effort. Solo training allows you to see clearly where you are when you are removed from the team. You may find that after training solo for a while, training with the team constrains you from being able to explore other avenues and being able to tap into your own personal power.
Solo and group training are like having two feet. How would you like to have one leg? You’re hopping around on group training only, or lonely self-training only, but if you have the two, you can actually start walking and moving forward. Both solo and group training pose challenges that help the individual martial artist rise to another level of performance. You cannot opt out of one or the other, and you cannot subsist on one or the other. You need to participate in both.
The onus of training in either group or solo comes from the individual. You may see someone say, “I just want to train by myself.” They may not want to look bad in front of others or risk feeling foolish. But if you don’t go thought that, you’ll never overcome your inhibitions. You have to get up there and take it. I can remember being a very shy teenager and not wanting to participate in group class because I didn’t want to be singled out or want everybody to be looking at me or judging me. But this is all in your head. Everybody feels the same and is just as trepidatious about stepping onto the floor and looking stupid. But once you start participating you get over it quickly. Because the task of training is so challenging, you don’t have time to dwell on how you feel about it. On the other hand, those individuals that just want to do the group class are hiding from themselves. They don’t want to put in the effort it takes to grow beyond being part of a team and self-actualize their own personal drive.
You need to be somebody who’s able to work with a team but still able to work individually. If you’re able to do this, what corporate entity would not want to hire you to be part of their management or part of their overall team? See how this concept applies to daily life? You’re a part of a family unit, yet you still maintain your individual qualities and traits. This resonates through everything you do. It’s a skill set to transition from team to individual, from group to solo. You’re able to maintain your private thoughts, feelings and understandings but still meld with a team.
There’s something to be said for both sides. If you come into a team and it’s all about you, you missed the point. It’s a team effort; it’s group training. On the flip side, if you can’t train solo because you need others around to bolster your ego, that’s not good either. On either side, it’s not about you; it’s about coming away from “you” to find the “you” you’re supposed to be.
-Sifu Paul Koh高寶羅師傅