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 Teachers: Role Models, Friends or Just Instructors
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southernkungfu


USA
584 Posts

Posted - 11/28/2007 :  11:31:39  Show Profile  Visit southernkungfu's Homepage  Click to see southernkungfu's MSN Messenger address Send southernkungfu a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Martial Arts Teachers: Role Models, Mentors, Friends or Just Instructors

There are many titles for what we call our Instructors in the martial arts community. Sensei, Sabunim and of course Sifu. Each of these has a traditional meaning associated with the role they played but in today’s world of social decline and dispersion of etiquette what does it mean to be any one of the above. For purposes of this article as I am a Chinese Martial Artist I will use the term Sifu as it is what is familiar to me.

Let’s take a trip back in time to the 80’s when I began my training. I recall walking into my school and meeting the man they told me to call Sifu. I was sitting in his office this heavyset guy and he asked me what I wanted to do, what I expected to get out of the training. Of course I went with the obvious safe answer of “I want to learn how to defend myself and lose some weight while I’m at it.” He spoke about the training and what we did there. I have to admit it was intimidating when I heard about 2 ½ hour classes 3/4 times a week and watching all the things the guys in there were doing that I thought I would never be able to do. But he helped me set some goals, change my habits and offered me some direction. He also set some “rules” for his students. No smoking. No Fighting (unless necessary) and No drinking (I was underage the older students this was not a rule for). If he found out (and he always did) that we were starting fights or basically representing ourselves poorly he would not train us.

We all respected him and wanted to learn so everyone for as best as I can remember followed the rules. He also had another rule which eventually I had to break. He told us that outside of the school we were not to call him Sifu. Inside the school he was always to be addressed as such but if we saw him at the mall he wanted us to call him by his name. Over the years I had developed such a respect for him that it would have been like calling my parents by their first name. I trained with him for 6 or 7 years before I moved away but to this day recall how much he helped me. He offered us guidance and gave us direction when we needed it. He provided counsel for to me and many others in our school on a very personal level. In my 20’s he offered counsel to me and my family when going through a rough time. To this day it saddens me that I lost touch with him and still wish that I could locate him. After him I trained with two other Sifu’s one who came close to being the friend that Sifu #1 was he taught me a great deal and opened up some interesting aspects of the Martial Arts for me. Unfortunately he moved away and although we kept in touch for many years eventually we lost touch as he moved out of the country.

Then there was Sifu #3 someone who has a great knowledge of Martial Arts and also taught me a great deal about martial arts and introduced some new ways of thinking. He was no where near nor was he interested in being mentor material to any of his students. At the stage that I began studying with him I was not seeking a mentor but a teacher and perhaps the closeness in age made the relationship different. After several years training in what was a new setting to me (more commercial) I learned a great deal about him which disappointed me a great deal. He had a great front on for the outside paying customer world to see, another for those he would call friends (like me) which he used to get things he needed and when he had no use for them any longer he simply walks away. Fortunately, I learned a lot of great things from him – unfortunately, I also learned some harsh realities that not everyone “Instructor” is a “teacher”.
To me the word Sifu or Teacher, whether you ask for it or not comes with some inherent responsibilities. You are a role model for your students (especially younger ones). You set an example and paint a picture of what they want to be. As their Sifu you are in a position of authority, influence and have the ability to alter your students lives for better or worse. For the first 15 years of my training this is what I was taught. My teachers lead by example and it’s not a matter of them being the “perfect” role model as they certainly were not perfect. But they understood they had a responsibility and lived up to it and didn’t hide behind the “I’m just an instructor.” Statement. They were “teachers” they had discussions with their students, taught them right from wrong, showed them respect and did not take advantage of their trust and respect.

In today’s Martial Arts world of commercial schools and MMA mentality (nothing against MMA I love it), it seems that real “teachers” are a dying breed. Students don’t respect their teachers anymore, in part because their teachers don’t respect them and also because there are no consequences for poor behavior. As long as tuition is paid they can learn. The quality of instruction is often sacrificed so that there can be more students. Basic instruction is let go and requirements for advancement are dropped in lieu of good attendance.

I know it is possible to offer quality instruction and still make a good living. I know several people who have and as such as become well respected businessmen and “mentors” in their communities. They are real Sifu’s, real teachers and never lost sight of their responsibilities as such. This is something which in my small opinion has been lost in a vast majority of today’s schools. The ones that do adhere to this are mocked and/or told that they are living in the martial arts dream or stuck in a movie storyline in which the teachers actually mentor and feel responsible for their students.

It’s not a question of tradition or what’s right or wrong. Not every teacher in history has been a shining example of moral integrity. Some of the best have not been – the question is one of personal reflection and how one wants to be viewed. Does one want to be remembered fondly as a great martial artist, teacher and/or mentor or a great martial artist that no one really cares to remember.


DJCaldwell
Administrator

Sifu at Large



USA
102 Posts

Posted - 12/03/2007 :  14:51:28  Show Profile  Visit Sifu at Large's Homepage Send Sifu at Large a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Wow! What a post!

Let me see if I can offer anything...

quote:
To me the word Sifu or Teacher, whether you ask for it or not comes with some inherent responsibilities. You are a role model for your students (especially younger ones). You set an example and paint a picture of what they want to be. As their Sifu you are in a position of authority, influence and have the ability to alter your students lives for better or worse.


This strikes me on a daily basis, as I work almost exclusively with youth. But one thing implied here (I think), but not explicitly stated, every student wants to be like their Sifu. Whether I want it to be that way or not, that is the way it is. If I cuss a lot, my students will too. If I drink, and run around, and am rude to people and use people, that is what they will learn to be like.

It is an incredible responsibility.

And there is another point that I almost always overlook - this same rule applies to adult students as well. The role of Sifu is one of the Father figure as well as teacher. And when someone, even an adult, places themselves in the role of a student, they will emulate the teacher.

In the situation you described, I am brought back to another place and time. The man in question in my memory was never my Sifu, instructor or mentor. But he was a Sifu to others. He ran (and still runs) a Taiji school. He took tremendous advantage of me financially, as his school was struggling, and he brought me in to help offset some of the overhead costs. He continually changed the working agreement to benefit himself, and I finally walked. But while I was there, I saw him run a student off with his disgusting sexual advances. He got free labor out of his students at every turn, as well as getting free meals from them nearly every day.

quote:
Students don’t respect their teachers anymore, in part because their teachers don’t respect them and also because there are no consequences for poor behavior. As long as tuition is paid they can learn. The quality of instruction is often sacrificed so that there can be more students. Basic instruction is let go and requirements for advancement are dropped in lieu of good attendance.

I know it is possible to offer quality instruction and still make a good living. I know several people who have and as such as become well respected businessmen and “mentors” in their communities. They are real Sifu’s, real teachers and never lost sight of their responsibilities as such. This is something which in my small opinion has been lost in a vast majority of today’s schools. The ones that do adhere to this are mocked and/or told that they are living in the martial arts dream or stuck in a movie storyline in which the teachers actually mentor and feel responsible for their students.

It’s not a question of tradition or what’s right or wrong. Not every teacher in history has been a shining example of moral integrity. Some of the best have not been – the question is one of personal reflection and how one wants to be viewed. Does one want to be remembered fondly as a great martial artist, teacher and/or mentor or a great martial artist that no one really cares to remember.


I think this sums up the point very nicely.

All of this - Very well said!


Wallace Smedley
Hung Gar
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funnytiger



USA
27 Posts

Posted - 12/04/2007 :  08:26:38  Show Profile  Visit funnytiger's Homepage Send funnytiger a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Awesome post, DJ.

Being a Sifu is definitely a task that should not be taken lightly. It is a lot of responsibility, as you stated. I worry sometimes about the pedestal that some people put not only their Sifu on, but some of their Si Hings and Si Jeis. Sometimes people forget they are human and are allowed to make mistakes. I only hope that when they find out that they are human like everyone else, that they will be able to continue training despite their imperfections.

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What's in YOUR kwoon?

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southernkungfu



USA
584 Posts

Posted - 12/05/2007 :  11:37:19  Show Profile  Visit southernkungfu's Homepage  Click to see southernkungfu's MSN Messenger address Send southernkungfu a Private Message  Reply with Quote
That is always the hard part when faced with realities in many aspects of life but especially when it comes to training. At a young age and even when older as Wallace said people tend to want to be like their teachers. When their model is smashed, some are not able to recover and bounce back. It's a hard lesson that all too many people in MA in general face.

But the important thing I try to tell people who find themselves in those situations and I've said this to my own students - it's great to train and be "inspired" by others but you have to find the motivation and the desire to do these things within yourself. I hope that in that eventually they will find that self motivation and strive to continue despite what happens to them in the future. I only have a handful of private students - for some I'm their first, others not but for me I just want to be someone who can help them to get to where they're going be it with me for years or finding it in themselves to do something else.

That's part of what being a "teacher" means for me and I love it.

DJCaldwell
Administrator
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Kew-Do



USA
920 Posts

Posted - 12/30/2007 :  09:16:37  Show Profile  Visit Kew-Do's Homepage Send Kew-Do a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Nice Read...

I agree with all of the post, I can't really add anything more to it!

Hope your Family is well Damien!

Sifu, Weygandt

"They are all perfect"...
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Alerten22



USA
104 Posts

Posted - 07/26/2008 :  22:48:31  Show Profile  Send Alerten22 a Yahoo! Message Send Alerten22 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by southernkungfu

When their model is smashed, some are not able to recover and bounce back. It's a hard lesson that all too many people in MA in general face.

DJCaldwell
Administrator



In exactly what way can a students model be smashed i ask you.
We talking about them failing to live up to what they claim, or we talking about the teachers continuously taking advantage in some sort of way the students.

For me it was when I spent three years training with Sifu Jamal El (He shouldn't be considered a Sifu honestly, and rather just a senior student that couldn't improve) and the whole time he gave me the understanding that I would be eventually learning to fight after i prove myself physically capable (which was originally the 2 year mark) and after the three year mark coming up i decided to try and manipulate it out of him (the same way he treated me many times for many things, you know i will admit i did something wrong, but i will also admit it was inspired by him, and taught that thats the sort of relationship i should have) He then finally decided to beat on me while sparing instead of teaching me. Oh and i was extremely naive and I continued in the spar for a long enough time that he didn't only get once chance to hurt me but rather many and each time he did.

Now I don't want to get all down on everyone here. I just felt I had to share. He was my first teacher, and me thinking i would find safety in the other teachers at the school most of the rest did the same. I guess on some level I deserved it, but I'll tell you what it was all inspired by bad teachers, and braking my trust. As if i was a pawn as there student and they played with me to get what they wanted.

Honestly now thinking about being a student in that situation I want to bouce back but it just isn't that easy. I can concretely set goals as Kew-Do so very nicely once advocated i do. But I fear i will not go where i want to, should that stop me from trying hell no but just the thought of it hurts before i even have noticed it. I guess thats because I'm going in like a fighter instead of going about it the way a monk would.

The Rigid person is a disciple of death; The soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life. -Lao Tzu
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