Making of a Master, pt II: The 99th Technique

There was once a Master of barehanded fighting, who was known for having 99 techniques in his system. He was very picky over who he would accept as a student, but–like all Masters–needed to eat, so he often took students. Although he accepted students when he would rather not have, he insisted that pupils started with the first technique, and earned the next successive technique through many grueling tests.

Students rarely held on past the 20th or so technique, but occasionally a student seemed promising and would make it to near 70 or 80. As the numbers neared 90, the tests became more challenging, and the Master demanded more and more from his student. Many years passed, and the Master was now in his 60s, never having any student make it all the way to the 90th technique. However, one student did everything right. He was now at 89, and the Master began talking to him about humility and service and patience.

The student was young, but diligent. His only fault was his ego. The student would work hard to improve his skill, but it seemed as if it were not so much to make his art better and earn the next technique–but to make himself look good, as this student liked to brag. The Master, knowing this, began to slow his pace of teaching, until he finally reached the 98th technique. At this point, the teacher stopped teaching… instead choosing to make his lessons lectures on character and philosophy. The student, having bested all the local champions and even some masters, began to show a lack of patience, and started to doubt the existence of a 99th technique.

One day, he approached his Master, and discussed leaving his teacher and starting his own school.

The Master insisted that the young man had much to learn, causing the student to smirk. The young man invited his teacher to test his skills. If he could not beat the young man, he should be free to go. If he was overmatched, the student would stay.

You should know what happened next… The student fought–and was defeated by–the 99th technique.

There are many lessons behind this popular story. But I will focus on its application for the teacher.

  • Teachers must always keep their skills superior. Not just because you want your school to look good by having a skilled master, but you should retain the ability to test your students yourself for as long as you can. My own grandfather was still sparring me when I was in my 20s, and he was in his 70s. It gives your students a reason to try hard. Lazy, out-of-shape teachers do not motivate student bodies. You are better able to get your points across when you can demonstrate the material you teach in real time.
  • The best learning one can receive is learning that comes the hard way. This is the most reliable information a student has:  those things that he has seen, felt and experienced. When a student is spoon-fed his lessons, he has no reason to believe in it, outside of blind faith. Save that for religion. As a fighter, you need real, practical experience.
  • Insist that your student earn their knowledge, if you are concerned about your art being respected. If the art is easy to come by, the student will cheapen it, as your art is something to be bought and sold. Treat it as a family heirloom and your students will value it as well.
  • Only promote students when they have allowed themselves to be molded into just the type of martial artists you want them to be. You do not owe them anything, as their teacher. In this industry, certification is earned, not purchased. If there is more for your students to learn, make sure they learn it! Do not reward mediocrity. Doing so lessens your value as a teacher.
  • Your art is something that should be bequeathed to only those who have demonstrated that they will do what you ask them to do. Now, this is only if you value your art as such. Some of you see your art as not much more than a commodity. If you are one of them, this article is not for you. The rest of you are teaching more than just techniques. You are passing down the lessons you learned from a lifetime of experiences, and these things should not be handed over to just anyone with a buck. You are bestowing your legacy as well, and how you treat it will reflect on how you will be remembered.
  • I have always been told not to teach everything in my art. Even a student of 8 years can betray you or go away. Always keep something for yourself. When you are satisfied with the progress of a student who has learned all you are willing to share with, then reveal it. This is why some Masters adopt certain students as “sons” or members of their family. This is also known as “bayat” or “bai si” in some cultures…

Not all of you will possess this kind of information, or some of you will develop your arts to this level. Learn how to treat your system; it will be preserved for generations. Fail to do it, and your art will fall by the way of splintered subgroups or even dissolve.

Thank you for visiting my blog.