“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”

The title of this blog entry is, of course, George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote that is often paraphrased. It is not a knock on all teachers but critical of the proliferation of bad teachers in all disciplines and crafts.

Magic is no different. I think there are many people who “teach” magic and take on “students” who have no business teaching because they themselves are not adequately equipped with the necessary skills to teach magic. Ultimately, this hurts the art.

Practitioners of other arts such as a dance or music spend decades practising or performing their art before they dare consider themselves teachers. But, individuals who have learnt a few magic secrets and techniques and have been in the art for barely 5 years assume roles of teachers and take on “students”. It is quite absurd if you think about it.

Of course, I can’t speak for any other country but my own. Singapore is a very young country and so it is no surprise that we are even younger in terms of magic history, tradition and knowledge acquisition.

Personally, I do not think there is anyone in the country yet qualified (based on my criteria) to be a “teacher”. Someone who is a practitioner, thinker and student in the truest sense and has mastered all aspects of magic performance.

The secret technique know-how is just one of many skill sets needed. As important (or even more important I feel) is the thinking behind the magic and the tacit knowledge of timing, misdirection, psychology, rhythm and communication. It you don’t have a high level of these fundamental wisdom and are not a world-class communicator, it is tough to be a good magician, let alone a teacher of these skills.

While I consider myself a well-rounded student of the craft with a good balance of academic study and practice of the craft, I have only just started to fully put the “right” (right for me that is) timing, misdirection, psychology, rhythm and communication into my magic. And, this is more for my close-up work than stage craft, possibly because I have been devoting much time in the past 2 years in furthering the basic skills that I have put into professional practice since 1993. It is a sense of personal joy and fulfillment that I have achieved this quantum growth in the art.

However, I still think I am a far cry from being a teacher or having any students. I’m also way too young in age and time as a student of the art. While I have shared my experiences and expertise that I have acquired over the years in magic as well as original technical designs in illusion but that is not teaching.

While others have learnt from what I have shared at this point in my career and magic learning journey, they are not my students. I have also offered suggestions and informed opinions to younger magicians but I have learned just as much as they challenged me to think in ways I had not considered before. This has benefited my own magic.

Just like how martial arts has evolved to a mixed martial art form, I feel magic is the same. The student of the art needs to learn from multiple sources and masters of different disciplines. Bruce Lee got it right when he said “no way is the way”. Bruce Lee was a great fighter not just because of his technical ability but also his superior thinking and philosophy in fighting.

My most influential teachers in fundamental magic thinking have been Juan Tamariz, Ascanio, Dai Vernon, Slydini and Albert Goshman. However, I am not their students.

As great as they are/ were, even some of them had a “flaw” in the way they taught. They insisted their students only did it their way. In fact, they would be upset if their students performed routines other than those taught to them. The problem is, what works for the physiology, natural rhythm, speech patterns and natural abilities of one performer cannot work wholesale for another.

Teachers should be able to identify what skills are best suited for a student’s attributes and guide the student to develop styles and techniques based on their strengths. An Amos Bronson Alcott quote says it best to wrap up this entry:

“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.”

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About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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