The problem with students

Presume you have finally found the only teacher who is decent, and falls in the frame of all your criteria. This teacher is a quasi-legend hero from whom you are happy to learn. However, such joyful euphoria may be replaced by thoughtful skepticism.

You found the teacher, this is a fact, but this is not the fact you will accept as a student, nor the essence of what you will be taught. You should remain reserved once having found the teacher.

In the second part of this article we will discuss the problem of traditional oriental apprenticeship, which in many respects moved to the West in Martial Arts. In the past, novices trained on the site of closed gates of the school, which was a monastery or simply the home of the teacher. Over time, the most advanced pupils fell into the courtyard where they continued to practice under a heightened status. Later, only a few of them became close to the teacher and were allowed to enter the house. These few who were elected to take the art out of the hands of the Master and pass it to the next generation could practice away from prying eyes in the back rooms of the house. Such a phased selectivity was justified by high (sometimes too great for the ordinary person) requirements to the personal qualities of the student. Accordingly, the number of devoted students was very low.

Currently, there is a stormy popularization of Martial Arts and an increased numbers of schools which has effectuated a reduction of the requirements for the students, and often abolished the requirements altogether. So here we are, hundreds of thousands of clueless pupils flying around the world, "students for one day" so to speak. For fairness, it should be noted that the same problem exists in many sports. Not all, not always, and not everywhere are all people accepted to learn. Although, it happens for various reasons.

Often, the obligations of teachers to the students are known and understood only by the teacher. As a rule, these requirements are hidden. They are not declared, and may vary from school to school. As a result, the student never knows what to expect. Thus, do not doubt yourself. If you signed up for a class and are a new one in the hall you are being looked at and slowly evaluated. In general, the criteria to be met by the "true" disciple lies in the moral and ethical realm. Particularly important is the traditional ritual of reverence and an internal respect for the relations with the teacher. Your talents, abilities, and unique qualities are les important to your teachers than your behavior. In the classroom, you could absorb proposed material more quickly and achieve better results in the practice than your teammates, but say one disrespectful word or make one thoughtless frivolity and you lose your privilege of gaining access to the knowledge for a long time, perhaps forever.

There are many legends about the loyalty of the student to their mentor. Insidious checks connected with the moral choice to remain faithful to their master, even under the threat of physical destruction served as the basis for many Chinese novels. The requirement of devotion to the Master has not disappeared, and is still valid. A student has a better chance of gaining access to the knowledge by means of their loyalty and morality than the exhibition of their talent.

From the mental qualities of the student comes the highly valued ability to imagine. One of the well known methods of teaching new material is "sowing seeds.” In the absence of imagination, the information that was taught and repeated by the student will soon be erased from their memory. An inquisitive mind, intelligence, and imagination can bring the student to a wider understanding and use of what they saw, and can allow them to bind this understanding with other elements of the system. The ancients said there is no need to go into the forest to imagine what it is about. It is enough to look at one tree.

Often the eastern way to describe a human quality is presentation of what one does not have, instead of what one does have. This was applicable to things in every day life as well as to Martial Arts. It is believed that the necessary qualities of a "true" disciple foster in himself at the course of employment. This lack of valuable qualities or abilities (an emptiness) is an advantage rather than a disadvantage for new pupils. There is a widely known saying that to pour fresh water into the glass, you need to throw out the old contents.

From my personal experience, I can list the qualities that make it very difficult to approach the knowledge in traditional schools. Though the list is non-exhaustive, they are typically: laziness, carelessness, recklessness, gambling, resentment, greed, arrogance, self-righteousness, optionality, negligence, slander. The picture is clear. Each of us, of course, denies the existence of such a bouquet of qualities in our personal character. No less important is not what we think of ourselves, but how others see and perceive us. I want to reiterate: nobody called you; you came and asked to be taught. Thus, probably, you should think about how you look like from the side if you want to succeed in such a delicate matter as Martial Arts.

At the moment you begin to feel the practice in the hall becomes for you something more than simply a lesson of physical activity along with knowledge of self-defense; when you are drawn to the place of practice and you wait for your class time, only then are you born as an apprentice.

In general, the large community involved in Martial Arts, could be divided into three groups:

1 "Surfacers". This is a biggest one - 90%. These are people for whom a class is some amusing game. The time in the hall for them is a fun and pleasant exotic sauce. They just think that they are studying.

2 "Honestiers". This group is much smaller in number, about 9% of the total population of students. For these people, the practice has become a favorite and serious hobby. They are constant and consistent in relation to the school and studying. Their intentions are genuine and the work they accomplish in the hall features diligence and desire to attain tangible results. They are trying to engage in Martial Arts.

3. "True disciples". Such group is miniscule. It’s about 1%, likely, even less. For such people, there is no difference between an ordinary social life and Martial Arts. The practice has permeated their lives and changed their inner essence. They live by the same principles as they practice. The practice of such people has transformed into real knowledge. The place where they practice legitimately qualifies as a School.

P.S. I want to support beginners who have not yet thought about the problems described above and have not yet determined their true intentions. If you have just taken the first step and so far something has gone wrong, do not despair. After all, you're on your way already. However long the road may seem, it begins with this first step. Remember that walking on this path is the true purpose that yields true happiness.

Originally, this article was published in magazine "Martial Arts" at 05.2014:

Igor Messing

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

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