Exceed the Teacher

I have long held the opinion that the best teachers train his students to beat him.

Many take pride in saying that they could never best their masters, as if to say that “My teacher was so good, even as an old man–he could beat me and all my classmates.” Supposedly, this meant that because the speaker had a master who was that good, he must be that good because he is his student. How untrue. Now, if you trained full-time as a young man, and can not develop the skill using knowledge an old man gave you to beat the old man who can no longer do the things he used to… One can deduce one of three conclusions:

  1. Your teacher was not that good.
  2. You are not that good.
  3. You are lying.

Hope this doesn’t hurt too much…

First, a good teacher must at least be able to duplicate his own skill in his students. He should be more knowledgeable by the time he is a teacher than when he was young. He would know all the mistakes he made when he was younger. He would foresee the barriers to perfection he encountered himself, and remove them so that his students do not have to face those hurdles. On top of that, many of the lessons he learned on his own, through reflection, experimentation and practice should have all been manifested in his teachings. Ultimately, they should have all come out in the next generation. Each generation of students should be an improvement over the previous generation, as the teacher becomes more experienced and knowledgeable as he ages. If not, then his teaching has not benefited from experience. Either that, or the teacher possesses the knowledge, but not the ability to transmit the knowledge. Bad teaching.

Secondly, a student must be able to take what the master has taught him and drill them to proficiency. He must baptize himself in the memory and stories of what his teacher once was and strive to exceed that level. What good is a student if he cannot live up to the expectations of his teacher? Of course, your masters took pupils to make sure that his knowledge and experience is not wasted. If the master spent all those years researching, training and testing–and then taught someone, and that someone is inferior to his own ability–what good was it? Teach to create something mediocre? Do businessmen go into business to barely scrape out a living? Students who accept mediocrity in order to brown nose their teacher’s legacy are indeed unworthy of being taught. I would hope that my all my advanced students can defeat me. I take pride in being able to still move like a young man at my age, but there are many things I can no longer do. I’ll be damned if I pour 7 years of instruction and eating home-packed lunches in order to give my students better training and instruction–just for them to be unable to whip a 43 year old, balding man. Exceed my ability, or you are a waste of my time. Please aspire to become better than me. That’s why I teach.

Lastly, there is a misconception that your martial arts is superior if your teacher could defeat everyone, including you at your fighting peak. Please. That stuff is for Kung Fu movies. In the real world, people get old. We get thyroid disorder, arthritis, cancer, we gain weight, we get tired, some of us have suffered brain damage from fights when we were young (all of the above). No one expects you to look like you were 23 at 43, except in Hollywood. If a man must embellish stories to make himself look good as a teacher or student of a teacher, then I would say that man suffers from misplaced priorities. And the more dominant your master was when he was young, the more beat up he will be when he is older. Yes, we will stay in somewhat good shape for men our age. But fighting damages the body. Show me a former fighter who at 50 does not have old stitches and missing teeth and joint problems, and I will show you a man who spent all his time on the sidelines–not the mat. Like I said, I love to see old fighters who can still move. All of my teachers were such men. But they were all shadows of what they once were, and there is no need for me to make up stories of how they somehow found the fountain of youth. If you want credibility, then let’s tell credible stories. My teachers lived hard lives. They were not always law-abiding men. They had things in their lives I would be embarrassed to post on this blog. But they had good fighting arts, and my youth was proof of that, and my students’ skill is proof of that.

If you want your fighting art to be timeless, them train your students to beat you. There is no shame in losing to a student; it just means their master was one hell of a teacher. If you are a student, try, try, and try again to kick your teacher’s ass. Because when you do, he gets all the credit you want him to have.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

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

4 thoughts on “Exceed the Teacher”

  1. “The one following his master’s teachings, all the while adding his own personal touches, will move forward, while the one who is satisfied to just reproduce what his master taught him is doomed to stay still.”
    The Anthology of Secrets of Martial Arts in Chinese Oral Tradition – Yoshino Nagai

  2. A friend of mine was having trouble accepting the fact that he was no longer the fighter he used to be and that his student was surpassing him. Being a Star Wars fan, he told me that he came across a quote that helped him accept this change. It rings pretty true and it ensures that the art evolves and is stronger in the next generation.

    Choose someone as a successor and you will inevitably be succeeded.
    Choose someone hungrier and you will be devoured.
    Choose someone quicker and you won’t dodge the blade at your back.
    Choose someone with more patience and you won’t block the blade at your throat.
    Choose someone more devious and you’ll hold the blade that kills you.
    Choose someone more clever and you’ll never know your end.
    Despite these cautions, an apprentice is essential.
    A Master without an apprentice is a Master of nothing.
    -Darth Sidious

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