Had an experience that was so eye-opening, that I had to text myself a note. See, I was driving down the street a few weeks ago and decided to stop at a store for a soda. (Random thekuntawman fact: I love 7-Up, not much of a cola fan) So I made a U-turn and pull into the shopping center to go to the store, and when I get out–what do I see? A martial arts school. A big, nice one. You know, the kind with the padded floors, wall-to-wall mirrors… a franchise. Except this one had a group of students hanging outside (it was around lunchtime), waiting for the instructor. What a travesty.
What? You mean that didn’t seem awkward to you?
Well, this is a sin that I violate myself. Students should never arrive to a school, for a scheduled class, that is closed. Never. You know what time classes are. So let’s say class begins at 11:00. You get there at 10:55. You have to get dressed, pick up a little, talk to the new visitor, check the voicemail, make small talk with the students–and begin class around 11:25. Sound familiar? Yeah, well it sounds awfully familiar to me too, because I use to do this all the time. It is safe to say that an instructor should not plan anything personal or business within an hour of class time. This is your job, and what happens if you are late habitually on the job?
Yup, you get to experience the wonderful pleasures of looking for new work.
Back to my story, I greet the students, go into the store next door and when I come out they are still waiting. Curiously, I walk next door to peek inside. “Advanced class?” I ask. “Mixed”, they say. One guy is Advanced (Brown Belter), then a smattering of Yellow and White belt students. Because they are a semi-Chinese style, I suggest that the Brown Belter should get his younger brothers warmed up while they wait. After all, class is wherever you happen to be–even in the parking lot. Good advertising for Sifu, I suggest. Wait. Am I a martial artist, they ask? Boy am I. I introduce myself while they take shoes off to start practicing, and the Brown Belter shows me a piece of his form. Apparently, he’d heard of me and the fact that I had practiced Wing Chun in my youth (my favorite cousin is a Wing Chun Sifu). He had been a member of my friend’s WC school years earlier and wanted to show me the two versions of Chum Kiu he knew. After that, he requested to see my form. I give him my philosophy about doing demonstrations to strangers–a huge violation in the TCMAs–and direct him to this blog. I also inform him that there is some footage of me demoing kung fu forms on youtube when I was 14… Google me, I tell him. And then I big them a good day and get in my car and leave.
End of story? I thought so. But not quite. See, the students look up my school and are impressed with my background. They look up the youtube clip and liked what they saw. Conversations led to more conversations, which led to other conversations with classmates who have been to my school, and the next thing you know I get a phone call from a young man two steps away from the Black Belt telling me that I am “the real deal”.
Do you see where this is leading? I was merely making conversation with a few people like I normally do, shamelessly plugging my blog and giving my opinion. But the friendly encounter backfired and now I have students looking at my school in a more positive light than their own. All because some Sifu left his students out in the Sun because his Walmart/McDonald’s/Panda Express run was more important. Tell you what; I’m not a forms guy, but had I demoed a form for them, they would swear I was Jet Li. (not that I’m good at it, but I am certainly more convincing than a Kenpo guy pretending to be Chinese style) Your school is a business. But it is also a home. And you wouldn’t leave your children outside the doors to your home, and your students are no different. If the Sifu had other commitments that would make him “normally” late, he should give a copy of the key to Brown Belter and have him warm up the students or teach basics till Sifu arrives. Sends a much more positive message. But don’t fret young people; we all do it. It’s just not a practice we should be partaking. Had I been a hostile Sifu, it would have been bad. Had I been a teacher who steals students, it would have been bad. If I were a back-biting Sifu, it would have been bad. Let this be a learning experience, because it was one for me. Like I said, all appearances of being hypocritical aside, *I* violate this rule. But no more.
I’d also like to share a few more related rules:
- Teachers of a style should avoid lengthy conversations with another teacher’s students, if that teacher is not around. Especially–avoid disagreements.
- When encountering advanced students of another style, it is okay to treat them as junior teachers. I teach my advanced students to treat other teachers as equals. They’ve put in the time, after all.
- Never demonstrate for students of another style unless you are in the setting for such a thing. It can be misconstrued as showing off if you do.
- It is not a good idea to criticize another teacher to his students. I have seen lifelong friends become enemies after violation of this rule. I sometimes compliment a student’s teacher (even when I don’t mean to) out of politeness. Yes, it is a violation of thekuntawman image, but sometimes I’m an old softie.
- Don’t offer instruction to students. I would even go so far as to say don’t accept students under obligation (like a contract) to another teacher. I certainly do not violate this. If a student does not have any loyalty the other teacher can count on, would I want him? Not me.
- Teachers, arrive early so you can unwind and get the school and yourself ready for the arrival of your students. They are–after all–customers. You want their experience with you to be positive, focused and not rushed at all.
- Instruct your advanced students to take over as “Sifu” if you are not around. This will help prepare them for leadership.
- Keep yourself skilled enough that they are not calling another teacher “the real deal”. They will always meet other teachers, but if they don’t believe their teacher can take almost anyone, something’s wrong. Check that.
Please take this article as just a suggestion, not a criticism. The purpose of this blog is to share information. Thanks for visiting my blog.