I’ve made a few comments here and there about “hijacking your child’s life”. This came from a foolish complaint I made as a teenager about my grandfather’s attempts to make sure I became a martial arts teacher. Over the years, I had argued with several of my ex-wives about wanting my children to follow in my footsteps and become a martial arts teacher, the same way I became one. My thinking is not “weird” or “outdated”; it is one that is commonplace in the traditions that many of you are following. It only sounds strange because your teachers have not taught it to you.
A father has a right to raise his child the way he sees fit. If I want my children to speak perfect English–or to be multilingual–it is my prerogative as a parent to give them the education they need to grow up speaking multiple languages. If I decide that I want my sons to memorize the Quran, it is my right to enroll them in the classes to learn to become a hafiz. If I decide my children will learn my religion, and not study history from a Euro-centric point of view, as a parent I have the right to homeschooling them and provide the books and education I want them to have rather than to leave it up to a school system that does not value my wishes for them.
And if I decide that I want my children to receive a martial arts education, it is my right to “hijack” their life and have them spend their days practicing and studying the arts. Excuse me if I find video games and television shows to be a terrible waste of time and brain space…
The arts we have today whose past masters and founders we respect often came from this practice. Some were raised in martial arts families. Some chose a life of training. Yet the arts would not have developed had we been passed down a martial art that was practiced casually by it’s masters–as a side hustle to some “other job”. The fighting arts must be treated as a true vocation, not as a hobby. This is something that require at least one person’s life to be consumed by it–a lifetime of practice, comparison, and contemplation–and then the results of that research should be passed down to students. Where a martial art is treated as a part-time passion and then passed down, you will find information learned by rote and very little innovation and development from generation to generation.
The truth is, only one or two out of a lifetime of teaching will yield this kind of commitment in a Master’s lifetime. Even where some men have found a way to make a good living by teaching the art commercially, it would be rare to find a man who is actively researching, testing and developing his martial art. For many teachers and masters, an entire lifetime may reveal that no student has devoted himself to such training and growth in the art. I have seen in my life, at least 6 men go to the grave without finding that ultimate student. I know one whose best student died of AIDS. I know of another who poured himself into his son, just to have his son turn into a meth addict and get sentenced to life in prison. I have met two here in America who asked me to become their students, because they were dissatisfied with their student’s martial arts paths. Both masters died after passing the torch to their students, unhappy with the outcome of their life of training and teaching.
And let me say, I have met over a hundred martial artists who laugh at the notion that a Master takes his secrets to the grave–and ridicule that anything valuable was lost.
So, is there any surprise that some men have chosen to make their children their ultimate student? Of course not. Here is a student who will never quit. His tuition is a non-issue. He will not be allowed to say, “Guro I’m tired. I’m going to take a few months off.” He won’t run off to college or get married and trade that in for all the effort you’ve poured into him. You control how much access he has to distraction, what influences he encounters, how often he practices. If there were any flaw in his martial arts skill, you could fix it with these words: “Meet me in the back yard.”
I have met some Masters whose sons and daughters were average. Yet I have seen many more whose children surpassed the skill level of anyone you ever met. Donnie Yen’s mother is Bow Sim Mark (a friend of my Sifu). Helen Liang studied under her father, Shouyu Liang. Dan Inosanto had his daughter Diana Lee. Poi Chan had his daughter Mimi Chan. My older Kung Fu brother Raymond Wong trained all his neices and nephews and they all excelled… I could go on, but we’d be here all day. The point of all this that while some teachers will go on through life hoping the next guy walking through the door will be his ultimate student, some masters will turn their children into that ultimate student. They have an art that they know is valuable, and as loving parents we do all we can to see to it that our children benefit from this knowledge.
To train one’s children full-time is not as bad as many people think. Here in the West, we have very little contact with our children. We leave for work in the morning while they go to school. When they come home from school, we are often still at work. Some kids do activities and we pick them up from home, drop them off while we run errands, and then get them when they are done. Occasionally, when there is a recital, or a game, we will be surprised at how much our children have learned! How is this possible? And then on the weekends, we may or may not do the family thing. Sometimes, they have their activities, and we have ours. This is why some kids develop interests we know nothing about, or have favorite activities we dislike, make friends with children we don’t approve of, get pregnant, become rebellious… you name it. Is it so strange that some people spend most of their free time with their children? A friend once remarked at my stack of photos of my children, that 75% of the pictures are either in my gym, or the children are doing martial arts in them. Why is that a remarkable thing? I have been practicing the arts full-time all my life, isn’t it natural that my children do too? In fact, I homeschooled my children because I mainly work at night and I did not want baby sitters raising my children. As a result, I did not have to fight with my kids to practice the way other martial arts parents do. My children will watch a martial arts flick as quickly as they will reach for Spongebob. They know how to use a stick and a blade. They can box, spar, and fence. My children not only enjoy sparring, but when they hit the gym they automatically start practicing. They have several sets of sparring gear each, and several changes of uniforms.
Oo. Am I bragging? 😉
Well, I have made it a point to raise my children as martial arts children. We talk about them opening schools when they finish college. (oh? did you think I actually gave them a choice?) They talk about how their school will differ from mine, and if I can afford to, I will retire and allow them to take over my business with me as a figurehead and assist with classes. This business is a lucrative one, and how many children can say that they will inherit a ready-made business with a reputation that is known worldwide, when they reach adulthood? Yet the martial arts is more than an occupation; it is a way of life. It is a method of staying healthy. It is a mentality. It is a vocation. It identifies who we are, and one day, it will define our children as well. We are not (as I called it in a fit of anger at my mother as a rebellious teenager) “hijacking” our children’s lives. We are passing on to them a family heirloom that most people around them would envy to have. It is a legacy, and another branch of our art’s family tree. We wish them the best, and we ensure that they will be among the best. Perhaps they do not understand that concept now; but, like eating broccoli and cleaning their room and studying their lessons–they will one day be glad you made them do it. And if you’ve done a good job at it, they will make their children do it too.
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