"...it is impossible to teach; you may just learn to..."

There is an opinion that it is hard to find a worthy mentor, who is able for the reasonable period of time and good monetary compensation to make a man in the street the master of marvellous martial arts. Is it really true? Quite so! However, let's see how much there is commerciality and narrow-mindedness in this approach. It looks like you put a bag in your pocket for want of anything better to do, slip your coat on and have a stroll as far as the market to give yourself a tasteful treat.

Why do we actually think that there are so many worthy Teachers, that they live in the places and in the days what we live in?

Are there a lot of doctors in your city with whom you are ready to consult counting on their professional help? Perhaps you are surrounded by a great number of subtle tailors, capable of transforming your figure, far from ideal, with a graceful flow of draperies? We won’t speak of wise rulers. Even seeking after such men throughout the whole historical era, it is unlikely to find a dozen or two more of the people. There are few people of considerable talent in every branch of human activities! This is the first principle.

Teachers are not enough.

We remember that we are talking about the people possessing practical experience, able and ready to pass on the torch.

Historically, any experience gained by previous generations, was passed down in two ways.

1. From hand to hand (via people), or to make it more exact - from mouth to mouth. Often it was verbal communication by means of legends, parables, songs, poems, ceremonies.

2. By recording information on different mediums such as cave paintings, clay tables, scrolls, books, digital recording. This form gave the opportunities to transfer knowledge and experience to a much wider group of “those who so desire” to adopt it.

As for the creative activity and skills relating to the field of art, we may add that the experience was shared “from heart to heart”.

Once showing interest in martial arts, it happens that it is quite difficult to stop your curiosity. The first information sources, which “newly-concerned pupils” come across, are books and movies. Such information seems to be clear and easy of access. It might be well if these are fine books and masterly-shot films. Otherwise, getting consumer goods, the beginner will get rid of the erroneous notions and ideas what Kung Fu or Karate is about for a long time.

But is it possible to learn only from movies and books? The answer is simple: no! Nevertheless it is silly to reject their subtle opportunities. When you are ready, heartily-written books can help you find the answers to questions which bother you, and what is more important, they raise questions and state problems to you.

The issue of searching the teacher, who is able to inspire the beginner and guide him properly, is undoubtedly one of the foundational issues in the world of Martial Arts. No book and no movie can replace face-to-face contact. Moreover, traditionally, the experience in martial arts can be imparted by physical contact with the teacher (when working with him together) at the level of communication one state or the other, often against the backdrop of severe bodily fatigue. When the student is ready, this encoded form of knowledge transfer come back to his memory and his only remaining task is to repeat the earlier acquired things. So one cannot do without the teacher. The only help we will get is an occasion.

Is it hard? Do you feel despair? I may quiet you. You are not alone. You only need to understand and accept the fact that finding the teacher is not a problem, but a reality which is faced by everyone following the road of Kung Fu.

The second principle can be quite simply formulated.

There are no perfect teachers as well as there are no invincible masters.

First of all, starting the active search for the “suitable” mentor, you make great demands of the potential teacher. And who is to say that your criteria are not wrong and they will not let you down? Most likely, it is happening in default of experience from the new area.

Secondly, present-day ideas about the Kung Fu teachers are based mainly on the stories of some legendary masters (who actually existed or came of the folklore).

The search for this grey-haired, narrow-eyed “ideal” with the enlightened brow will mislead you. I would prefer not to have a mentor at all than follow somebody who can deceive you. My first-hand experience has shown that each of the three individuals, who influenced my progress in kung Fu, had significant personal and professional dignities and flaws equally. If there wouldn’t be blind persistence and the desire to learn something, parting with them would be inevitable at the very beginning. Cast aside your ambitions and requirements to the personal identity of the teacher. You have come to learn of the mentor, not to be friends with him – so do it.

Do not waste your time on long search for the ideal and expectations either. I tell you a secret. At first it does not matter whom you chose. Do exercises with the person who corresponds to the title of the teacher in some measure. Pay great attention and be critical to yourself and your teacher. Stand firm on the reality and do not idolize anybody. Time will show. Even if the first step was wrong, you have achieved the most important thing: you got enough information and practical skills to form your own opinion and not to make mistakes next time. Although, it may well be that your choice was correct from the outset.

It is time to understand what the difference is between the teacher and student.

First of all, the teacher has to possess several skills which are some values for his followers. They want to adopt the teacher’s skills during communion with him. The fact, that the degree of the skills possessing is not a great matter, is amusing. The main thing is a gap between the teacher and his followers.

Furthermore, the teacher is obliged to understand the mechanism of the system and the ways (methods) of teaching. As a result, two curious situations arise. It often happens that the master, who uniquely owns the material of the school, is not able to transfer knowledge to his pupils. He just doesn't know how to teach.

The opposite state occurs when the teacher himself has not achieved the heights, due to various reasons, but was enough gifted to rise his pupils to higher levels of skill. By the way, we can cite as an example modern sport: obstinate and talented pupils surpass the trainer.

How can we evaluate the knowledge and skills of a potential teacher?

It is almost impossible task for a beginner because of the lack of “navigation landmarks”, the main ideas which you notice.

None the less, it is quite possible to go without the advice and estimation of outsiders. Trust more your inner voice (intuition) and sequential thought. To ensure I am prompting two ways of gut check to a teacher. Take into account the only thing that any of your searches and conclusions has to have inner nature (or to be inside you). Have respect for the people, place and subject matter, no matter what you think about it. Respect is the first and most important condition of your progress. Also for your “health” it is useful to hold your tongue in the world of martial arts, even if you do not agree or you do not like something. After all, you were not invited here, so sit still and behave in a worthy manner.

Test for the existence of contradiction s between the knowledge and skills of the teacher.

1. The teacher is excessively expressive, constantly criticizes other schools, and often is very emotional during his explanations, may offend or insult his pupils with the criticism of their actions. At the same time, he is not able to demonstrate his skills on a high level of excellence to which he pretends verbally.

2. The teacher fills the pupils heads with tricks, but he can’t clearly describe the connection between them and the theory which is base for those tricks.

Test for the skills of others (more senior) pupils of this teacher.

The matter of any school, the “material"” the school works with, is a person. Thus, the pupils must demonstrate what their leader preaches. They are “litmus paper” in a way, which can reveal the ability of the teacher to teach. Many years the practicing students have to be comparable with their teacher in the mastery, at least partially.

The Nature of Deception and how to defend yourself from it

Suppose that you are lucky and the right person is found. It does not mean that they will sincerely teach you. This is only popular opinion that if you pay the teacher, he must teach you. Unfortunately for “those who don’t really desire” and fortunately for the genuine knowledge, this postulate does not work in the area of martial arts. You can’t buy the knowledge. On the other hand, one cannot be a naive child, who is afraid of defending himself from thin deception. In this regard, it is useful to know the nature and methods of false representation. It may take some time to detect lies, but it's better than to follow somebody’s delusion like sheep.

1. The first way to deceive is “a negative lie”

This is the most widespread type of misrepresentation. For the teacher, possessing an entire understanding of the system, it is simple to hide, to conceal, to keep something back (at first sight inessential things) to destroy the whole conception of the school. They will quite conscientiously train an unknowing pupil in the external forms of the school for a long time, not finding time to devote him to the simple principle that is in all demonstrated attacks, blocks and so on. In a real confrontation all the fragile structure will crash down, hurting physically and mentally its possessor (pupil).

2. The second way to deceive is “a positive lie”

It is more insidious and sophisticated form of lie that demands significant nous and knowledge of the material from the teacher. The teacher is forced to make to in such way so that no one notices like in a good detective story. In substance this is a method of perversion of the system main ideas. It means that the teacher deliberately teaches to make mistakes.

For instance, one of the cases can be mentioned the teaching of blows with a completely straightened arm in the terminal phase (this tendency is observed in the area of Karate for some decades). The open elbow joint is not only in the position which can cause a severe trauma, but also the blow is much weaker.

3. The third way to deceive is “systematic lie”

This is the most complex type of fraud. The material is given “non-systematically”. The structure of teaching is broken. This method you can often see in places where the business end of training covers the rest. The most exciting things related to martial arts can appeal some people and hold them for a long time. The instructor teaches all the techniques at once, he can offer advanced forms to the beginners. The exercise with weapon can be given before the thorough knowledge. The degree of skill of such pupils doesn’t correspond to the material, but no one cares. As a result mistakes are made and misconceptions are set.

The defence against possible fraud

All of the aforesaid does not mean that you will definitely fall for the bait of a charlatan. There are many worthy masters who sincerely desire to impart deep knowledge. Protecting yourself from lies, you protect not only yourself, but also the Martial Art from the things which defile its initial idea.

1. Learn to think critically (use this quality not only during practice, but in any day-to-day situation).

2. Learn the technics to be able to formulate your questions properly.

3. Ask the teacher and his pupils. Make sure that their responses don’t differ from the practice.

4. Study the literature not only on the chosen school, style, but also on allied disciplines. Educate yourself.

5. Compare and analyse the mastery of representatives of various schools.

Who is to blame and the causes of perversion when disseminating knowledge. Three pillars support the essence of the Martial Arts. These are Teacher— Teaching — Pupils.

Remove one of these components, and the temple of the art will fade away and cease to exist. The blame for the current situation on the perversion of knowledge in the area of martial arts can be equally distributed among Teachers and Pupils. The teachers for a score of reasons don’t hurry to impart knowledge (or are not interested in this). The pupils often are not ready to accept this precious inheritance. Is it worth to grope for an answer to the question of Russian classical literature: “What to do and who is to blame?” It may be more reasonable to admit the objectivity of the present and improve the situation with your little practice.

There are at least three objective reasons that contribute to the perversion of knowledge during its transmission.

1. The greater part of martial arts came from the East. The Asiatics are the original carriers of the knowledge. The individuals, who are capable of imparted non-perverted information, are not always infallible philosophers and sages. Not every master is overblessed with intelligence, broad-minded and can boast of great education. I personally met the Chinese, who had inherited knowledge and techniques of rare family styles of Kung Fu, but had had no formal education and teaching skills. If those were our countrymen, we would say that they came from “out-of-the-way place”. If such a “non-ideal” teacher has even sincere intentions to teach, he may be at fault, to implant wrong ideas in his pupils minds and transmit their misconceptions due to the cultural and social differences of our nations.

2. Recording mediums, mainly books, are not always trustworthy sources. It particularly concerns translated literature. The stumbling block is the fact that the translation (let’s say from Chinese, involving the great number of dialects), is not an ideal translation and, therefore, is only an interpretation. Even if it is an excellent professional job, there is no guarantee that the original meanings are transmitted without perversion, since translators (generally) are not master hands at martial arts.

3. A significant share of the blame in the perversion of the knowledge lays on us, pupils. I mean the European and American pupils. We try to adopt the art, taken from the origin of Asian culture, permeated and generated by different history, religion and traditions. There is no guarantee that even if we are taught properly, we will be able to absorb and hand down the knowledge to the next generation without perversion. After all, the very substance of our consciousness is deeply different from the mentality of the Eastern people.

I sincerely wish those who chose the road of Martial Arts to find their teacher and approach mastery in the chosen school. However, before you begin the practice, examine more carefully not only the teacher personality, but everything that surrounds him: his pupils, his ways to teach, the lessons location.

Originally, this article was published in magazine "Martial Arts" at 04.2014:

Igor Messing

Translated by Ekaterina Pryamova
Club “Jook Lum”, St. Petersburg, Russia

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