“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

Take a Favorite Student

Now, before you get all up in arms about how Mustafa Gatdula is advocating favoritism, give me a chance and hear me out.

I am pretty much opposed to a traditional, age-old idea:  holding back knowledge from most of your student base and pouring all you have into one or a few favorite “chosen” group. This is common mostly in Kung Fu, but a natural tendency for martial arts teachers of all backgrounds and cultures… we are the Masters who “show up” when the student is ready. The truth is that most of your martial arts students will not be as committed or as serious or even as gifted as you’d like. It is commonplace for the student with seemingly “natural ability” or a knack for skill or just a fanatical student to get most of the attention… especially when they come into the school 7 days a week and practice like no tomorrow. Favoritism is a negative way of describing the practice of discipleship–called the “bai si” in the Chinese Martial Arts or “nang alagad” in the Filipino martial arts. This is a student who has pledged his allegiance to a teacher and is allowed into an “inner circle” of study with the hopes of being a future Master in the style.

The practice is rooted in the lack of suitable inheritors of a Master’s art, as many teachers took his art and its secrets to the grave. Often, the most precious bits of knowledge a Master had acquired is held for the student who will best represent his teacher. And sadly enough, this student never appears. I have known Masters to have gone to the grave without having that “perfect student”. I have also seen Masters turn over systems to inferior students simply because his best students moved on, or he just never had one.

Then there are those teachers who only want to pass on the best parts of his system to a worthy student who has paid his dues with dedication, practice and service. These students are even more difficult to find today, as we often must compete with our students’ career goals…. we are looking for the next future Master of our arts, but the ones we thought would accept the baton want to be rich lawyers instead.

So what is a proud teacher to do? Let his art die with him? Force a son to study the art full-time, rather than pursue his true life’s passion?

This question is not easily answered. The ideal situation is to have a ton of students who want to become teachers one day, who are naturally gifted with ability, have a good work ethic, and enough money saved to train with us every day. Not likely. So, do we turn these techniques over to a student who may forget them in a few years? Or a student who will sell them on DVD? Or give it away for free on Youtube to show off how he knows some rare style or technique? You will have to think this out. Many teachers do not possess techniques worthy of such consideration. Most of us know the same junk you can buy on video or catch in some random clips somewhere. But then there are those of us who actually have something unique, that very few have seen, that–if executed properly–will enable any fighter to gain a huge advantage over his opponents. We just don’t pass stuff like that down in a random Thursday night sparring class to a group of students who have not proven their worth to have this knowledge.

So, many teachers will assume a favorite student. One who has promised to train with his teacher full-time, possibly forego a college education or career to do what his teacher wishes. A student who appears to want the same for himself that his teacher acquired in a lifetime of learning. This student will know his teacher more intimately than even his own children, be privy to secrets about his teacher or his teacher’s upbringing, and learn things about this art that the teacher wouldn’t sell for a million dollars. Few of us can assign a price to what we know, and it is even that difficult to find a student we believe is valuable enough to do what we hope they’d do with it.

This is one of the secrets of the art:  Rarely will a Master impart all of his knowledge to anyone but a select few. Trust me, any Master who disputes the existence of this type of information is most likely not a “Master”, or does not possess anything so valuable he would screen who gets to learn it.

So, I advocate doing this if you have valuable art. If you do not have valuable art, then share what you know with whomever you please. But just know that a teacher who releases all he knows for a price either has no sense of value for what he has, or what he has is worthless.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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2 Responses to “Take a Favorite Student”

  1. […] besides the reasons I present in Part I, a good reason would be if you wanted to preserve your art as you wish to have it preserved. Every […]

  2. This rang a bell in me: “a teacher who releases all he knows for a price… What he has is worthless.” I have heard that the masters with the real art hesitate to teach it, and those who bought their knowledge will sell it in a heartbeat. As in those systems sold on video you speak about. I own a lot of those dvds and you’re right. Its all the same and its nothing special. I hope to be fortunate enough to encounter such a school, Guro. Thank you.


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