Friday, July 20, 2012


     Just some thoughts I had regarding these two subjects.  Thought I'd share them with all of you...

     One of my teachers regarded teaching as the noblest profession because it is only through teaching that we, as humans and societies, make any progress at all.  If the teachers are poor or don't take their jobs very seriously, what hope do we have? 
     Good martial arts teachers are extremely rare.  This is not something that we have come to face in our modern times; it is a problem that has always existed.  Even in the days of the "old masters", good teachers were very rare.  In fact, a number of the revered "old masters", although they possessed great personal skill, were terrible teachers who were unable or unwilling to effectively transmit their knowledge.  Being a "master" (whatever that is) does not necessarily infer that one is also a good teacher!
     Many martial arts teachers nowadays regard their primary task as making money or becoming famous (which leads to more money).  While there's certainly nothing wrong with achieving and maintaining a good income, a teacher must never compromise his ethics or art to do so.  If he does, he's not a good teacher.  People used to ask me why I taught martial arts; what I hoped to gain from it.  I would usually tell them that my objective was to teach students who would become more skilled than me so that they could carry on the art after I depart.  And that's still my objective.
     Being a teacher is certainly a tough job.  You get to know each and every one of your students; their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes...and you want them to succeed.  It's much like being a parent.  While you may love them, you know that they're going to have to suffer many physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual beatings and injuries before you're done.  You cannot FORCE them to keep going.  All you can do is encourage and sometimes that isn't enough. 
     You try to be a good model for them (although I haven't done the best job in this regard).  Martial arts skill isn't something you can simply hand over to them on a platter.  I once daydreamed about having a magic wand that I could wave and impart great skill to my students and then I thought, "No, that would defeat the whole purpose and process of learning because it is through the struggling; the pain and dings and bumps and bruises and falling down and getting back up again...that one builds discipline and character.  Without the pain and struggling, no discipline or character is developed." 
     So you love them but you know that they will suffer and hurt from time to time, just as a parent knows that his or her child will certainly fall many times and get bumps and bruises before he/she learns to walk or do almost anything else in life.  What is really disappointing is to have a student give up for one reason or another.  There is little you can do.  THEY must make the decision and if they decide that they want to give up and quit, then so be it.  You wonder if it's your fault; if you failed somewhere along the line.  Was there something more you could have done?
     You prepare for each class (and usually don't get through all the material).  You set exams and hope that everyone does well.  No teacher wants to have to fail a student.  And, especially in the upper ranks, you may pass a student and then wonder if they really deserved it?  Did you do the right thing?  After all, he was rather weak in this form and those techniques need you wonder.  And hope.
     There's a world of difference between a schoolteacher or college prof and a martial arts teacher.  We get into the student's heart and soul.  We have to.  We see him as he really is.  We're not trying to simply teach him how to spell or add...we're trying to teach him how to live and become a better, stronger person.  The college prof doesn't necessarily care what kind of person the student is, as long as he makes the grades.  But we care.  The fact is that a student with the wrong attitude cannot hope to really learn the material or gain true skill; his mental, emotional, or spiritual shortcomings will have a dramatic impact on his ability to learn and apply martial arts.
     I think many martial arts teachers stopped teaching because of the heartbreak of seeing potentially good students quit because they couldn't take the discipline or didn't want to "put out" what it takes.  In my life so far, I have taught maybe several thousand people, but only a handful have made it into the upper levels.  All the others dropped out along the way.  Maybe they got whatever it was they wanted and that was that.  Maybe they couldn't stand the struggle.  Whatever the case, only a few made it.
     And you always reap what you sow.  Sow a little, get a little.  Sow a lot, get a lot.  Surprisingly, many people don't seem to believe or understand this.  Students come to class (or practice on their own) only now and then...and then wonder why their skill isn't improving; why their classmates have passed them by...and sometimes they blame the teacher.  It isn't the teacher's fault.  You know where the blame goes.  And believe me, your teacher can tell very quickly if you have been practicing regularly or not.
     The martial arts world (especially nowadays) can be very confusing and you have to try to keep things straight.  Again, you have to trust your teacher to tell you the truth. 
    It is because of YOU that teachers even exist.  Without good students, where would we be?  YOU are the future of the art.  There will come a day when it's left up to you.  Your teacher will not live on this earth forever.  So learn all you can while he or she is here.
     There are many, many temptations along the path.  Some involve money or compromising your ethics or morals and values.  Don't be fooled.  Look to your teacher for guidance; he/she has been down this part of the path already and knows the pitfalls.
     A life of martial arts is a life of pain.  A former associate of mine told me this many years ago.  From Hong Kong, he said that in the Orient, people who undertake the study of martial arts fully expect to suffer all kinds of pain for as long as they practice the arts.  They do it anyway.  Don't think that this is all without pain.  Au contraire.  The question is in how you deal with it; will you give up and give in, or will you press on?
     Remember, those of you who are teachers are also students.  Those of you who are students are also teachers.  You teach your teacher without knowing it; you teach your family and friends and acquaintances on a daily basis.  Strive to be a good and responsible teacher and a strong, inquiring student.

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