More Than a Business, Revisited

Now, I hope I’m not sounding judgmental with this article, but even if I do I don’t care because this blog is for people to read my opinions…

My biggest complaint about the FMA community in the West–and now the Philippines–is that the Filipino arts is treated as not much more than a commodity. Not everyone, I know. But for most people it is a skill people will pay for, and teachers offer it to anyone who is willing to pay the fee. Teaching is very canned and impersonal, and I have seen many organizations where every student learns exactly the same thing. I don’t want to spend too much time beating up a dead horse, as I am sure most of my readers have heard this point being made over and over…

So, let’s switch gears here and get to the meat of my article.

I have noticed on my articles about Ama Guro Billy Bryant, that each article brings me a ton of email and a few comments from prior students. I will see compliments made publicially, but receive private messages that are less than flattering. I will get questions of his whereabouts, or what training with him was like, or offers to compare notes, etc. But you will notice, for about the last 10 years or so that everyone is looking for him:  old students, friends, training partners… The man was more than just a martial artist, he was an influence. Whether someone simply knew him, trained under him, or was a training/sparring partner–Billy left his imprint on the martial arts experiences of everyone he touched. No one was the same after meeting him, even if they hadn’t learned anything from him, Billy Bryant changed one’s perspective and expectations of the martial arts and what it can do for us.

There are not many teachers out there who have this sort of influence. I have seen teachers receive respect simply because they are teachers. Or some teachers will have inferior fighting skills but no one would dare say it because of who he is. But every blue moon, you might meet a martial artist who raises the bar… This is a martial artist whose knowledge and skill are rarely seen or felt, and even if you only see them one time, you never forget it. Many martial arts students may go their entire lives and never meet such a person. Some will. A small number may meet several such men and women. And when you do, you never forget it. And this is why many of the students of the late Bruce Lee had never taken a new teacher after Lee’s death in the 70s. With his skill level, almost anyone you encounter may seem inferior. I feel this way about my grandfather. Most of my Kung Fu brothers felt this way about our Sifu, Dean Chin. I have seen many fighters end up self-taught after leaving a great master’s tutelege, and even succeed, without a teacher. These masters just have “it”–that something that cannot be duplicated or faked–and those who are touched by them search for it, or are spoiled by it.

For those of us who have encountered such masters, we are attached to our teachers and friends by some invisible string, instead of a business deal… and that’s my point. It has nothing to do with money, and men have left their homes to go and study with such masters. It is no surprise that many students will spend their entire lives looking for that teacher they lost. Do you see where I’m going with this?

If you have a good teacher, get as much time as you can with him or her. Don’t take them for granted, because who knows the next time you may get to train with him again? I am happy to see that Billy left behind so many students and friends that love him. But I am wondering how much regret is out there? How many of these folks ask themselves, why did I leave this teacher? How many left over silly things that now seem insignificant–like overdue tuition, financial trouble, or personality conflict?

In Eskrima, the techniques are simple and easy to learn. But the real lessons in Arnis is not in the movement of the drills and techniques–they are found in the many conversations you may have with your Master. The many practice sessions, the many sparring sessions. As a student, your job then is to uncover as much as you can while you are there, so that when you walk away, you will be satisfied with what you have obtained. Don’t promise to return, because most likely, a student that quits never will.

And the next thing you know, you are a middle aged man on the internet looking for a teacher who is irreplaceable or may have passed away. In 1999 when I had first moved to the East Coast, and old classmate of mine contacted me. I hadn’t seen him since the 80s, and when we finally got to speak, the first thing he asked was how Sifu was. I had to regretfully inform him that our teacher had been dead about 15 years. He said to me that he had planned for many years to return to DC to pay his respects and visit our teacher and was surprised at how much time he lost. When I last saw him, he was lean and rock-solid. The man before me was overweight, balding, and left with a martial arts void he may never fill.

If you have a Master around you, don’t lose him until he is taken from you. It isn’t about the money. Your martial arts teachers are like family, only–you may not know it until he is gone.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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