It goes without saying that not all teachers (of any subject) are equal and that is probably multiplied to the nth degree in the martial arts which doesn't allow for standardization to quite the same degree as other subjects might. There are of course ongoing attempts at standardization and classification but the martial arts are still very much of a melting pot and one is often left wondering who is teaching what and where did it come from.
Enter the beginner?
Given this prodigious output of styles and teachers, how is a beginner, who knows virtually nothing about the martial arts?how is such a person to find the right teacher?
And is that the right question?
Maybe there is no "right" teacher. Maybe the right teacher for me is not the right teacher for you.
So it can get a bit complicated?
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Questions such as these simply do not arise for most people. They join their neighborhood club, pay their fees, get graded a few times, get a nice colored belt maybe even a trophy or two, tell their friends they are a brown belt in such and such a style and?that is all they want. And I'm not here to argue with that, but?
If you're real serious, if martial arts is your reason for living, you will need to find the Right Teacher and that means that you will have to do some serious searching. Both internally and externally.
Because the Right Teacher will not appear miraculously on the horizon when you first decide to be the next Bruce Lee. And so, almost by default, beginners tends to think of their first teacher as THE RIGHT TEACHER! Which is understandable because they don't know any better. They have nothing to compare their first teacher to, so the first teacher is THE BEST. The beginner is totally convinced of that.
However, as time moves on the beginner may begin to experience some disquiet. Some things don't add up. The first teacher may be a bit overweight, or not as fit as he could be. Maybe he doesn't answer questions satisfactorily?but hey! nobody's perfect and all things considered the first teacher is still The Best, and that's all there is to it, right? Nonetheless there is talk...there is talk of another teacher down the road who is (blasphemy!) even better. The beginner puts all those preposterous notions aside of course, but...
There are now some cracks in the facade.
Not fatal, but it is through these cracks that the doubts seep in.
That, at least, is what happened to me. I was absolutely convinced that my first teacher was the best, but?I checked out the new teacher down the road (no harm in that, is there?). Then I joined up and started the cycle all over again. And then again and again and again?
I tried judo, ju-jutsu, Hsing-i, Pa-kua, Tai chi, Shaolin and a number of other styles the names of which I now forget. Nothing changed. The teachers were all promising to begin with and, truth be told, they were all quite capable in their own way and I learned a lot from each and every one of them but they were only technicians. They knew the techniques, and that is all they knew. And I wanted more, so I moved on. Just what I wanted I was still not sure of?
An astute reader will now see the obvious. One's Search, one's Quest, is part of one's over-all Training. A very important part. Why?
Because it is all part of a learning curve. You are learning not only new techniques but you are learning something infinitely more important: the Art of Discernment! The Art of separating the wheat from the chaff. The Art of separating the Real from the False?
And yes, it is also the Art of recognizing the Real Teacher when he or she finally appears.
You see, that is the secret. Finding the right teacher is only the half of it. Recognizing them to be such is by far the more difficult and important half.
Let me ask you a question: how often does a student find the right teacher and continue to walk on by and not know the difference?
It happens more often than you might think! I've seen it again and again and again!
The thing to bear in mind is that the Right Teacher may not be (and usually isn't) the Hollywood stereotype. The Right Teacher may be an unassuming little fellow who runs a little corner store, is disarmingly self-effacing and has maybe one or two students who are equally unimpressive. In short this is not really the sort of person who matches your mental image of a deadly warrior. Or he may be crude and rude and obnoxious. And (blasphemy again!) he may not have your best interests at heart!
In other words, not all Masters fit the Hollywood mold! You really do have to keep your wits about you on this because the Right Teacher will confound your expectations nearly every time!
The "secret" then is to keep training, keep looking and to develop the Power of Discernment so that you can see below superficial appearances. (This will stand you in good stead not only in your search for a teacher and but also when you are in a fight!)
There is a saying that when the student is ready, the Teacher will appear. And that will happen when the student has developed a keen sense of discernment.*
*Author's note: by discernment I do not mean cynicism. The "been there, done that" attitude will not help you find a Teacher and if perchance you do, that Teacher will not be interested in teaching you. Real discernment has a quality of humility: you don't know the answer, you don't even know if there is an answer, but you will not stop searching.
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