It is said that the student who sleeps on floors is learning the real lessons from his Master. He is the one who spends idle time with his teacher, learning the lessons that are normally not taught in class. He treasures the conversations with his teachers and hears the inner thoughts this teacher has about the martial arts and the role of the martial artist. These things are usually not recalled in the middle of a martial arts lesson, where the teacher is mostly thinking of the technical side of the art. Especially in today’s martial arts gym, where we are halfway thinking of our students as customers: the money they pay helps us keep the lights on, feeds our children, and pays our mortgage. Therefore, we happen to know that too much lecture in class means our pupils are not burning calories and learning new stuff, and they might go elsewhere.
You might laugh at this, but I knew the community was in trouble when I actually lost a student to a “24 Hour Family Fitness” Kickboxing class. After a sparring session, the student emailed me and said, “Guro, I’m sorry, but I got popped in the nose last night and I realized that I signed up to learn how to fight–not actually engage in fighting…” Don’t laugh, many of you have lost students for similar reasons. Just not all martial arts students are man enough to confront you (even by email) and say, I don’t like sparring.
I have slept on the floor of every master I have ever studied from in my life, with the exception of two men–a Tiger/Crane master I learned from in Taiwan when I was 9, and an Espada at daga master I studied from in Dau, Philippines. As a result of that weak relationship, I barely remember their styles and I don’t remember their names. But my teachers whom I spent day in and day out with–I know things about them some of their own children don’t know. A few nights ago, I was going through the footwork patterns of my Jow Ga master, Chin Yuk Din, with my intermediate students. As they practiced, I told them of the changes I made, the year I made them, and the first 5 students I taught them to. I also informed them of when my Sifu made his changes, and the year he made them: it was 1983, and I was 14 years old. I explained the old way, the “new” (1984) way, and the new “new” way, which I made in 1992. Why is this important? Because students need to understand the logic in the art they are learning, and it sometimes gives value to know the historical and creative DNA of the system you are studying. Some of the changes I made were based on conversations I had with my Sifu, some were based on the White Eyebrow he taught me as well as his friend who also taught me, and some were skills and preferences I developed as a Kuntaw fighter. Does this information change how they execute the techniques I teach them? Not really, but it certainly enhances their knowledge and helps the students understand why we do what we do and give value to what they are doing. Who knows? Maybe one of them will want to change some of it back?
I always advise my students to struggle in the path of their art. I know it’s not always easy. Sometimes you have marital problems and don’t feel like training. There are the times that you have monetary problems. You may feel like you’re not getting any better, you gained weight, have medical issues or you just don’t have time. I had a student who, after competing successfully–even in a contact tournament–joined a boxing gym and lost a match to a beginning boxer. He got depressed, joined several other schools, and then returned after a short hiatus. When he returned to class, he told me, “Guro, I’ve been all over the place and you have a wierd approach to the martial arts. But no one has your philosophy to the art, and no one’s method is better.” Or something like that. He is a reader to this blog so I will let him comment if my version is too different to what he actually said.
This type of stuggle and prioritizing of the art in your life builds character. My teachers have seen me sacrifice a career in the Federal government, bypass a formal education, good jobs, marriages even… for this art. Those who understand this type of pursuit of something you love know how it changes you. It cannot be duplicated with convenience and easily reached training programs. Look at the musician who sleeps in the rain, plays on street corners, writes music in the coffee shops while drinking the one cup of coffee he can afford. No musician is quite like this guy. And he wouldn’t give up playing that guitar for all the money in the world. And how the guys who do open mics and takes lessons he finds on Craigslist would kill to have his skills and ability. One guy will tell some woman he loves her, but then you eat peanut butter sandwiches in order to mail her and her children money every month, travel 200 miles by bus to see her every few months when you can afford to see her–and she knows who loves her the most. There is something to be gained by placing your craft at the top of the list of priorities–over cruises, over romance, over that new convertible you are saving for–and it can’t be duplicated through a seminar or DVD, and certainly not learned in 24 Hour Family Fitness. There are those who would only do this art if it was easy to get and easy to get to, and they will never be equal to the ones who sleep on floors to get to the feet of their teachers. Some get it, some don’t.
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