I think I’ve told this story before. When I was 18, I was a student of Boggs Lao, whose school was called “Black Knights” Kuntaw. We were practicing when a visiting teacher came for sparring. When he informed Boggs of this, Boggs told him to just pick someone. The gentleman asked him who the best fighters were, and again, Boggs told him to “just pick someone”.
I would love to be able to tell you that all of us beat all the man’s students, but it isn’t true. Each of us that fought won some and lost some. Each of that teacher’s students won some and lost some too. But the notable thing here is that Boggs barely looked up from his newspaper while we sparred enough to know how we all did. In fact, he did not inquire until after they had left. When I asked him some time later why he did not just have the best fighter we had spar them, and why he didn’t watch, Boggs told me, “If I was a bad teacher, it would have mattered.” He was confident that he had trained us properly and knew that no matter who walked through the door, even his beginners would be able to hold their own. This is one of the experiences that guided my teaching philosophy.
Boggs was a unique man though. Most of us who trained with him trained every day. His specialty was sparring bare handed. He was, in my opinion, the Filipino version of Mas Oyama. ALL of Boggs’ students were dangerous fighters, and I strive daily to reproduce what I saw during the short time I trained with him. But he was the exception.
Each teacher, if he spent ample time with his martial arts, will have his own ideas of how the art should be practiced. Many of these are simply that: ideas. Many teachers will not go out and test these ideas, nor will they have the ability to develop the ideas to its potential in the form of skill. But in order for a style or system (even just a teaching philosophy) to be valid, it must have produced at least one fighter who is the living, breathing example of what that style is all about. Someone must be the one everyone in the art can point to and say, “this is what you have to look forward to, if you study our style.” Someone must be the example in the system, and be the person who can prove that the style is valid. I believe that most systems lack this, and that is why many styles are obscure, unless they get a good writer or a lot of students.
Many teachers neglect to see to it that this is done. Wait–too many teachers neglect to see that this is done. The benefit to having a “perfect student” is that all of the teacher’s ideas are manifested in a person, and the validity of its innovations are proven. It is through this person that true modifications can be made. The teacher can either be that person–like Mas Oyama was to Kyokushinkai or Wong Fei Hung was to his version of Hung Gar or Bruce Lee was for his Jeet Kune Do. Or he can train a student who will be his style’s champion–like Emin Botzepe was to Leung Ting’s Ving Tsun, or how Buzz Smith was Lito Lanyada’s Kuntaw champion here in America, or Iron Mike Tyson was for Cus D’Amato’s boxing. But for a system to have true respect in the fighting world of martial arts, we must have someone that we can look at as the best example of this art’s potential.
As a teacher, I want to emulate Boggs Lao, in that all my students should be that person. It is the reason I have not promoted any full instructor in my 18 years that my school has been open; I have a standard that I want fulfilled for my teachers and my students must dedicated enough of their lives to meet it. I have students that are close, but not there yet. The question is, am I being unrealistic? I think not. I take a lot of pride in producing many good fighters. But I have another level that I would like to see them reach, and the older I get, the more I realize that it can only be achieved with full-time study… at least for a short period. A minimum of three training sessions a week, or more than 6 hours of training a week. It will take a full-time effort. With the same level of commitment that one pursues a college degree.
As a young man, I was my school’s champion. Now, at 40 years old, I am hoping to train the next one.
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