How to Be the Student of a Mean, Old Cranky Master….
In other words, “Mean and Nasty Old Master, pt II“. But this really isn’t “part III”, because this article is about his student.
Martial arts students today are mostly too soft and fragile to be a student of a real master. They are impatient, too reliant on ill-deserved compliments and require too much darned attention. The old master seems mean and nasty, because he isn’t like your grampa. You’re not his baby; you’re his apprentice. He won’t overlook your weaknesses and faults. He doesn’t think you’re perfect, although he secretly wants perfection from you. He seems like you irritate him, but he is actually proud of you. It’s just that in the process of teaching you his craft, he wants you to suffer and learn things the hard way–the same way he got it.
You must understand that his harsh criticism, his unforgiving way of demanding more from you in practice, your silence, and his endless demand that you practice more and more–and his lack of praise for you–are the only path to true confidence. He is preparing you for the harshest of opponents, and for him to be easy on you when he knows the rest of the world will not is not just unrealistic, it’s unfair. Few masters had an easy climb to mastery. Most had to suffer and sacrifice for it. It has nothing to do with money. In fact, the best Masters had no money to spend on private lessons and comfort. It is through the steep, uphill climb to learning that you will develop the strong legs to stand on your own ability when you leave the “student” level and become an expert yourself.
When studying with old masters, you must learn about their struggles in order to understand the genetic make-up of your teacher. Each type of teacher and their experiences will determine the method they impart these lessons to you. Far too often, students with potential will leave a great teacher because of his lack of understanding of what it takes to be the student of that great teacher. I recently read a review of Master Wu Bin‘s training when he was teaching in Minnesota. The mother of a student had harsh things to say about his “lack of teaching ability”, stating that her son had learned more in a few months and made more progress from a school called “Family Tae Kwon Do” (or something like that) than from a year of “wasted” training with Master Wu Bin. You must be kidding. I’ll let you read up on Wu Bin and you tell me if any learning would be “wasted” with this living legend.
Learning from a young teacher, or an inexperienced teacher is quite different from an old, experienced master. Young teachers focus on curriculum and a large number of techniques. Young teachers value the amount of knowledge they have, and look at factors such as athleticism and agility to gauge progress. Old teachers, on the other hand, value a student’s ability to fully understand the art and through application. Inexperienced teachers put a lot of effort into promoting quickly and political affiliations. Fighting teachers value proven fighting skill. Teachers whose base of knowledge consists of mostly forms will value forms ability over other skills in the art. Knowing what kind of master you have will help you become the appropriate type of student for that teacher. The old Master can either be an old fighting teacher, and old forms teacher, or an old political teacher.
- The old fighting teacher will talk of fighting skill most of the time and will encourage you to get in front of many opponents
- The old forms teacher will talk of perfecting form in order to gain the key to all martial arts ability
- The old political teacher will talk of lineage and inheriting and preserving the system
Often students who want one type of training will spin his wheels with a different kind of master. Or perhaps you will want what that Master has to offer you, but you have chosen to be the wrong kind of student to get it. Know what makes your master tick, and what it will take to absorb his lessons. Learn all you can about your teacher before you decide if this is the school for you. It may just be a bad match.
And most of all, understand that the path to learning is not always pleasant. The master before you is at the end of his road, and regardless of how comfortable his training is for you–he really wants to pass on decades of knowledge he earned to you in the short amount of time he will have you. Make the most of that time, because when it’s gone–you may not have a second chance for this kind of learning again.
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