16 Lessons from Qigong Instructor Trainings

Dragon and Tiger ClassThis June, my qigong teacher Bruce Frantzis will be offering a two-week Dragon and Tiger Qigong instructor training on Maui. Over the past 10 years, I’ve attended most of the instructor trainings that he has offered, as well as many weekends and week-long retreats.

Being in an intensive learning environment at these events is great for your personal practice.

If you’re thinking about teaching this material, though, you have to be smart about how you approach these trainings. While getting certified is an important step in the teaching process, too many people see certification as an end point.

Here are some of the  lessons I’ve learned about what you should do, before, during, and after the training.

1. They are the single best opportunity to invest in your own practice long-term.

The material you will be exposed to will continue to reveal itself through practice for several years.

I don’t really know how to describe it in normal language, because it’s not the typical linear learning process that most of us are used to. Think of the entire experience as one big experiment in farming. Bruce will be giving you seeds at the training, and if you water them with regular practice, all kinds of interesting things will emerge later on.

2. The training is not an end point in your learning process.

There are people at these events who pay their money, get their seeds, and then start to daydream about all the brightly colored vegetables  that will grow from the seeds someday. The go home and put the shiny package of seeds on their shelf, telling all their friends about the great vegetables they’ll harvest soon, and showing everyone their packet of seeds. Six months later, they all but forget about the packet on the shelf and have returned to their regular lives. The seeds never get planted. Nothing grows and more importantly, they miss the chance to be nourished by what they would have harvested if they had truly approached this as a farming opportunity. That’s the problem with treating the training as an end point.

3. Be the farmer.

Going in to the training, you want to prepare your soil as best you can. You want your soil to be well-tilled so that the seeds have a fertile place to grow. If you show up at the training and you spend all your time hacking away at fresh ground, trying to learn the movements, you’re missing the real learning opportunity.

4. The more you are “re-learning”, not just learning, the better.

No matter what your current level of practice, when you get to the training, you will break down and refine everything you already know.

5. Pay attention to how you are learning in addition to what you are learning.

If you do this stage well, you will go home with a clear progression to follow for your future practice and your future teaching.

The “how to learn” dimension is like plotting the rows in your fields. If you mark everything off well, then your plants are more likely to thrive. Most people don’t do this. They get caught up in little details or go off on a weird practice tangent, fixated on one new feeling.

Instead, you need to alternate between deep focus and feeling, and big picture thinking and reflection.

6. Bruce will teach something in a hour that I have easily turned into a seven-week course at Brookline Tai Chi.

Instructor trainings are designed to be comprehensive, but in a compressed time frame, that means you’ll have to go back later and work out the details.

7. Take notes after class.

If you do the right kind of note-taking, you can glean the structures of how the material is organized, which is incredibly useful when you start teaching. In these trainings, I prefer to take notes at the end of each teaching block, not during the flow of class. When you’re there and you are hearing something for the first time, try to feel it in your body and practice it. Then, your note-taking at the end of the morning or afternoon session will be a reflection on something you’ve already experienced.

8. Look for patterns in your notes.

When you start paying attention to the patterns in your notebook, you can also start to see how Bruce teaches each piece and then layers new ones in. He has a very clear rhythm of introducing new material, then letting people absorb it, then letting people struggle with it and practice. The Senior Instructors are great at pointing the way to this level of information too. The hard part is that you are there to learn and absorb it yourself, so you have to get used to paying attention to multiple levels at once.

9. Be in sponge-mode.

At these trainings, you’ll feel things you’ve never been able to connect with before. When that happens, try to absorb as much of the feeling as you can. Don’t over think it, but get good practice reps in while you can still feel what it is ultimately supposed to feel like.

10. Don’t get addicted to the master’s help.

People get stuck here, being able to feel new things that are actually well beyond their current level of practice. When you leave, you have what I call “the Bruce hangover” because as you go home and practice, it really doesn’t feel like it did when you were in his field. That can be frustrating, but you learn over time that you can work through the material and arrive at real integration. People get hung up on the shortcut of having a master put something in their bodies though.

11. Start over at the beginning.

When you go home, the best thing to do for your personal practice is to go back to the very first thing Bruce taught and day one and start practicing from there.

12. Keep  up your personal practice beyond teaching hours.

The interesting thing about the relationship between teaching and personal practice is that you need both and they have to be separate. You can’t rely on teaching time to be practice time. In the past, when I slipped on really having a separate personal practice, my teaching would suffer and I would feel like crap. At the times when I could keep my own practice going, on top of teaching, the teaching would really blossom.

13. Keep your personal practice out of the classroom.

Don’t teach whatever you are interested in at the moment. I think that’s kind of selfish and myopic. Why would a beginner benefit from something that you are practicing, 5, 10, or 20 years in?

14. Don’t teach anything you can’t clearly see going on in someone else’s body or that you can’t demonstrate on command if they put their hands on yours.

Really, you shouldn’t be teaching anything you’re trying to figure out yourself. In the most extreme case, if you have to stop and think about choreography, you shouldn’t be teaching choreography. If I have to fumble around to get my joints pulsing, or I can only do it every 3rd time, I have no business teaching it to someone else.

The material that you should teach to other people is material that you’ve learned and integrated and you really own.

15. Don’t overestimate what your students are ready for.

Most of the time, I see new teachers overestimate the depth of what their students can learn anyway. Practically, everyone starts teaching beginners. When you start your first class after the training, you have to teach people the moves. This just means that you have to keep all the really cool stuff you learned at the training under you hat until you’ve developed students who are ready for that material. As you develop them, you’re developing too, so it all works out.

16. Teach and you will harvest.

I’ve taught 15-20 hours a week of classes and private lessons for the last 7 years and I have to say that my personal practice has grown in some pretty awesome dimensions that I didn’t anticipate. The hard work of keeping teaching and practice separate and keeping them both going really does pay off.

So if you’re seriously considering going, you have six months to get ready. 😉

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  1. Kevin Hartwell says:

    Thank You for the tips Dan. Lots to keep in mind.
    I suppose the next question might be how to prepare for an instructor training? Rather than simply practicing the set over and over, is there a formula to prepare for instructor trainings that would best prepare someone for such an event?
    Many Thanks,

  2. Hey Kevin,
    In terms of how to practice the set? I would say this applies to real deep training in general, as well as preparing for the event. You want to be able to practice in different “modes”. What I mean is, when you do the set, you should be able to choose a theme and stick with it for the duration of the set. Themes for Dragon and Tiger would include:

    Feeling your etheric field
    Following the pathways
    Timing and flow of the physical movements
    All the different breathing techniques and patterns

    When you get ready to teach, you’ll need to be able to differentiate focus like this and stay with it, class-by-class, and set-by-set. Ultimately, that skill will help you help your students more.
    Does that make sense?

  3. Kevin Hartwell says:

    So the way you train is similar to the way you would teach. Like you said, focusing on one theme at a time until you (or your student) nail it.

  4. The cool part is that it’s not a linear process. The more you separate the different modes of practice and then cycle through them, the more connections you’ll discover between them. This is one meaning of what Bruce calls, “Separate & Combine” that goes beyond sequential skillbuilding.