Over the weekend, an old friend of mine called me, who teaches Kung Fu on the East Coast. He is a well-known Sifu who had once ran a Kung Fu class in Cameroon, Africa, and very well-versed in Martial Philosophy. After about 30 minutes of talk about old times, we started on the subject of teaching westerners vs. “all others”.
Let me offer a caveat: When I speak of “Westerners”, I am referring to Americans… any race/ethnicity. I know how testy some of you martial artists get these days.
The conversations started with this: talking about how people in third world countries (whatever that means) and lower income backgrounds tend to pursue their education with more enthusiasm and zeal. Then we talked about how neither of us see anyone in America in serious poverty, after seeing what those in other countries endure. Then we talk about how many here in this country do not take full advantage of opportunity. Then we talked about how this affects many martial arts students’ approaches to their study of the arts.
Sooo… I told you all that to tell you this: Teachers do not always pursue teaching as seriously as teachers in other countries either. We in the West take a very nonchalant attitude towards teaching, and the result is mediocre–very mediocre–students. There is something in this community in general that tells many teachers that competition is ugly, and trying to outdo the next guy is wrong. Many of us believe that we should just mind our own business and not worry about what other teachers are doing, and train for “self preservation, not trophies and accolades”. We are taught to allow students to “express themselves” and not to “push our preferences and philosophies on our students”.
I don’t think so.
See, if we are looking at true self-defense, we must be as dangerous as the fiercest fighter. And you can’t develop that kind of prowess while ignoring the skill of the next guy and trying to be so darned friendly to everyone. Fighters must thicken their skin and be in a state of constant comparison to others, and look for opportunities to test themselves and their skill. We must learn to welcome criticism and challenges to our way of doing things. And most of all, we have to want to be the best at what we do. This is self-defense and combat, not a hobby or pastime. The warrior must live and breathe his craft, and he must be better than as many people as he can. You can’t do that treating your martial arts like band practice. I often hear martial artists talk about getting their students “ready for competition”; this idea is an indication of poor instruction. If you are training your students correctly, they are always “ready”.
The teacher of the arts must strive to make his fighters “Supermen”.
What do I mean by that? The Superman is a fighter who is stronger than most, faster than most, more agile that most, and tactically and strategically more adept than most. As Guros, we have to use every training session to get closer to that goal. Every training session, and every successive level of learning must demand more physically from your students. As they progress, you have to set goals and put those in front of your fighters to make them fail, so that they will work harder to overcome. It amazes me how many martial artists do not do this. As if simply attending classes will improve a fighters ability to take on any man on the street. This complacency in training is what creates not just mediocrity, but inferiority, in our students. How can we ensure that they are stronger than their counterparts in the arts if we do not put them against anyone but each other? How do we know if their knowledge will stand up to the knowledge of the guy down the street if they don’t go up against each other?
This isn’t about trophies, guys, it’s about seeing who is better, and seeing if you’ve gotten better.
But we can talk about competition and sparring another day. Today, I’d like to talk about how we are training our students. The martial arts class should be about training and development, not just academic learning and practice. It’s about who has the most destructive ability, not who can do the drills the fastest without dropping your sticks.
It is the job of the martial arts teacher to see to it that his students are becoming faster and stronger and more successful in their skill. This is accomplished by emphasizing striking power, counterstriking, and sparring ability in our classes, not drills and prearranged sequence. On the Inayan Forums, I read a statement that the martial artist should “just have faith” (I don’t remember where I read it, sorry). I strongly disagree. There are some things that you would have to “have faith” in, like perhaps your knife fighting, but many of those things can be tested to a degree. The competition, for testing and purposes of growth, is the safest place for students to test at least some of their skills. It’s much better than testing nothing, just because you can’t use your eye gouges and groin shots. For the martial arts student, as he learns, he must be in a state of developing to his potential. And this is something that is not happening in most schools. We need for our students to be light years ahead of the average man on the street at least physically, and there should be almost nothing they can’t do. If you look at the quality of martial artists in many countries, they are like Supermen. Here in the U.S. they aren’t much different than most people. That should never happen in a martial arts community. Make your guys stand out, and your martial arts training will have a purpose.
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