How do you like my Zeppelin reference? I’m not a super huge Zeppelin fan, but I found the title amusing.
Anyway, just the other day I was thinking about my wing chun training, how I have been CONSISTENTLY doing the forms 10 times a day (Sil Lum Tao and Biu Jee once each, Chum Kiu EIGHT TIMES TOTAL), along with 1000 punches (because I do 100 punches at the end of each form). Back when I was with the previous school, I barely did the forms at all or did any kind of training on my own.
Now why is that? Well, I happen to feel that when it comes to martial arts, you need a leader who inspires you to do better. Up until recently, I didn’t have that. What I had was someone who was concerned about their cash flow.
I am not a Sifu myself, so some people might say I should keep my mouth shut on the subject. However, such an argument is ridiculous. That’s like saying, “You’re not a supervisor, so you can’t criticize the one you have at your job for calling you worthless every day.”
Clearly, such behavior would get sickening after a while. So I think that, just like the employee wants a supervisor who does NOT treat them like crap, a martial arts student has the right to expect certain things out of their teacher. If they don’t get those things, then they should consider relocating.
And not for nothing, but I want to be a Sifu and open my own school someday. By observing what others do, I can figure out what kind of Sifu I would like to become.
Dwelling on all of this got me thinking about what a Sifu is, what they shouldn’t be, what they should do and what they should never do.
PLEASE NOTE: I use the term “Sifu” here because I study kung fu, and that is the title they are given. If you study karate, then it would be “Sensei,” and so on. Just keep in mind that when I say “Sifu,” I really mean any martial arts instructor.
ABOVE ALL, A SIFU SHOULD BE A TEACHER.
Obviously, you are there to learn a martial art from them. However, I think their teaching should go beyond just the techniques themselves. They should teach you to live by a code of respect. If there is an underlying philosophy behind the art you study, then they should teach you that.
In wing chun kung fu, the underlying philosophy can be summed up in three words: “Accept what comes.” When an attack comes in, you don’t resist your opponent. Instead you flow with them. This mindset has opened up a whole world to me that, sadly, most people keep themselves closed off from. I have applied it to all parts of my life, especially in my dealings with other people.
What do I mean? For example, when I meet someone, I don’t care if they are white, black, male, female, Christian, Muslim, a bookworm, a jock, or anything like that. I ACCEPT WHAT COMES, and that includes whatever traits people may have. Let’s say someone is pro-choice while I am pro-life. Okay, well…in the long run, what harm does their different stance do to me? Why can’t we get along simply because there is that difference?
As I get older, I am finding out (much to my dismay) that I am pretty unique in that approach to dealing with people. So, moving on…
A SIFU SHOULD BE INSPIRING.
Do I mean that you should look at this person and want to be them? Not necessarily. When I say they should inspire, I mean that they should make you want to do better…not just that you idolize them.
A SIFU SHOULD BE COMPASSIONATE
Do I mean volunteer at food banks? No, but then again…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they volunteered to teach self-defense to domestic violence victims.
What I mean is that a Sifu should be understanding of their students’ lives and situations. As disappointing as it may be, most of your students will NOT be filled with the same passion for the art as you. Their attendance and passion may wax and wane…not to mention their bank accounts might not always allow them to attend class.
Don’t judge them for it. Instead of berating them for their lack of attendance and/or devotion, try and understand them. Odds are there is more going on in their lives than you know. Either that, or they were never meant to be a devoted martial arts student anyway.
Obviously there are more things to what a Sifu should or should not be, but I think this list is a good starting point.
To be honest, I thought about sharing the experiences I had with my old Sifu and comparing them to the new one, but you know what? I’d rather take the high road and not air all the dirty laundry.
All I can do is ask that you trust my judgment…that I know I am in a more positive place with my current teacher. Some people look at what I did and think I am a man of zero integrity and loyalty.
That is 100% not true. Integrity is the exact reason I LEFT the other school. As for loyalty, I will be forever loyal to those who I respect. When a person attacks me simply because I have interests other than wing chun (interests that are FREE, mind you) and passes judgment on my entire life simply based on my class attendance record…well, that is NOT someone I can respect.
SO WHAT DO YOU READERS OUT THERE THINK? WHAT MAKES OR DOES NOT MAKE SOMEONE A GOOD MARTIAL ARTS INSTRUCTOR? I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW YOUR OPINION!