About 6 months ago, we published an article entitled “A Fool for a Teacher“. When you are done with this one, hit the link and check it out.
I have a Facebook friend who is a friend to several of my students and a fellow FMAer who follows this blog. His name is Mustafa Miroku Nemeth, a student of Guro Antonio Lucero–where he studies Kajukenbo and Doce Pares Eskrima. He is a scholar and a warrior (remind me to tell you guys how important the scholar/warrior is to Asian cultures): Mustafa is a high school and college teacher who is more than just a teacher to his students. He engages them, gets them to think, poke and prod, investigate, question, discuss, argue and take the colored glasses off and see the world for what is really is. “Mr. Nemeth”, as he is known by, is a true hero to his students. He appears to be a demanding teacher, yet, semester after semester I see kids of all walks of life posting on his wall: “Mr. Nemeth what class are you teaching this semester?” He has his own followers, which a real teacher has. Not just an instructor who imparts curriculum material, he is a Master who guides young minds and each student is a protegè who is no longer the same after a semester with him; hungry for more, they follow him from course to course and I am positive they will talk about him for the rest of their lives. Rarely does one encounter teachers like this, whether in the academic world or the martial arts world. I am rarely on Facebook for anything other than business, and my email is answered more by my students than me. But when I am on Facebook, his exchanges with his students engage me more than his martial arts posts. I know from his approach to education that his approach to the fighting arts is holistic and pure.
As a teacher of teachers, I appreciate that, and I recognize the power of teaching with a passion rather than with degrees. I once heard a Christian friend tell me that some church preachers teach their followers the part about the Shepherd, while the good ones introduce them to him. I’ll give you a few minutes to reflect on that one.
Question: Who was Socrates’ teacher?
One of the greatest educators and philosophers to ever come out of Europe, Socrates taught his followers to think and question and understand the world they live in. Notice I did not say “students”. I said “followers”. I doubt that Socrates licensed others to teach his method. He probably did not travel the world teaching for a buck, while he may have travelled to study–those who wanted to learn from him travelled to see him, study with him, and they were forever changed. There was no rush to get “certified” and run out to teach and certify others. I don’t know for sure, but I am willing to bet that over the years, his curriculum changed as he understood more and more about the world he lived in and he hoped to get his followers to evolve from his research and theories, and improve and improve, until his own methods became antiquated and elementary. In other words, the great teacher hopes to make his students better than he ever was. He is slow about running out and hanging his shingle. His purpose for studying is for understanding and developing. When he feels that he understands his subject enough to want to share it, he then begins to teach while continuing to evolve and grow. Those who canonize what they know and instruct others not to deviate from their method, excuse my language, don’t know what the hell they are doing. Some teachers who are not very confident with themselves will try and convince others not to learn anything else. They may feel that they have the best method, and will encourage their students to argue and prove their theories to be superior–but they will never try to supress their students’ growth. Some may even want to be known as the best fighter in their school. Yet the best teachers, the true Masters, will do all they can to ensure that their students surpass anything they accomplished themselves.
The difficult part is to find the student who will do what is necessary in order to be taught that well.
Back to the martial arts, my friend Mustafa trains like a warrior. I don’t know if this originated from something he read on my blog or in my book, but I noticed that Mustafa (great name, btw) throws 500 kicks and strikes daily. He is as diligent in his commitment to his fighting art, as he is to the art of teaching. Careful not to take credit for anything he knows, he credits the source of all his knowledge each time he shares it, and is constantly searching for more information. From what I’ve read of Socrates, this was the life he led in his quest for knowledge. And the reason we don’t know who Socrates’ teachers are, is because Socrates was a Master who made Masters. Socrates gave us Plato, Plato gave us Aristotle. The students surpassed the teacher, as it happens in the best of martial arts schools.
When this commitment is made by the teacher, he often creates tigers who can beat the teacher. And when the tiger himself is committed to the true study of the art, the true development of the skills, and true testing of his progress–he becomes the Master. Tigers who become Masters don’t always come from other Tigers. Jet Li came from Wu Bin. Mike Tyson came from Cus D’Amato. Emin Botzepe came from Leung Ting. Bruce Lee came from Yip Man.
But what about those who’s skill seemed to come out of thin air? Who can take claim for the power of Mas Oyama? Who taught the Mayweathers? Who was Jigoro Kano’s teacher? More than just martial arts, some of the greatest of any craft have had “fools for teachers”. Who taught Prince to play the guitar? Who taught Michael Jordan to play basketball so well? We know that the poet Rumi was taught by Shams, but who taught Shams? Maria Ranier Rilke, a German poet, inspired thousands with his “Letters to a Young Poet” but who taught him to write? Sometimes we are fortunate to find great teachers to show us the way, but often we are not. The big question is: How can we ensure greatness when we must guide ourselves?
The answer is simple. Intense research, intense study and training, and then when you “get it”–intense teaching. Like the immigrant father who sacrifices his work career with low paying wages in order for his children to get a better education and make a better living than the father–you must use your own life in order to build for those who will come after you. Sometimes, you were not meant to be the student of some great Master, perhaps the fortunate students will be the ones who will follow you. Instead, you must build that greatness yourself in order to impart this to them. What I see in the martial arts today is that too many of us strive to become fighters when we lack the skill foundation for success, some of us strive to become Masters and teachers of teachers when we lack the knowledge and experience to teach from, and not enough of us are simply searching for truth. We should be looking to learn as much as we can about the art, develop the skills to our full potential, gain the experience for our full understanding, and then in complete sincerity, impart this knowledge to the students who will continue our work, our progress and surpass us. Some are fortunate to find teachers and guides in the art like Mr. Nemeth, and whether we do or not, we must pursue perfection as if our teacher was a fool, and strive to surpass our teachers. And when we feel we have accomplished this, pass what we know to someone else, with instructions to do as we have. For a teacher who remains the best fighter in his school has given his students no one but a fool to learn from. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Thank you for visiting my blog.