Robert-Chu-Sau-Lei-Wing-Chun-Combat-02Many martial artists don’t know how to teach. Some may be great fighters, great at forms, knowledge, history, champion sportsmen or even possess the deepest secret knowledge of their systems but learning how to teach is an art unto itself. Teaching is a separate skill and requires knowledge in language, social skills, and communication. All students learn differently. Many think it’s easy to earn their “black belt” or recognition as an “instructor”, open a school and have their own students and collect tuition, but it really is not that easy when you see students drop out one by one. When you see students losing interest, words alone will not motivate them or yourself to keep them focused on the long-term gains of regular martial arts practice.
A teacher of the martial arts must possess a genuine love for their art, and not look at it as some potential money-maker. You owe it to your students to make teaching and learning fun and successful by helping students reach their personal goals. I taught for my teachers for a long time and developed my personal style of teaching. Many teachers bestow a certificate that says a student has reached the rank of a “Sifu”, “Master”, or “Instructor”, but in my opinion, I do not think that automatically makes a person a good teacher. Teaching students and learning from teaching them is how one becomes a great teacher.
Interaction and communication is how one can get one’s message across. Humour is one of the ways to get my lessons across. Also, sharing with them many personal anecdotes and experiences I have had along the way. In this way, teaching is fun for me and training hard is fun for the students. Develop their bodies and minds and offer a keen spirituality as well with your lessons. Your curriculum needs to be varied. You should have a lot of drills and exercises and different facets of the art to emphasize at different times. As different students learn differently, it is best to have a mix of practice time, lecture, training with equipment, partner exercises, forms and weaponry to vary the training.
In my own class, I have a list of subjects that I prepare and sometimes brainstorm with my students. I can create a list of topics and ask my students to contribute. Using my own wing chun class in Los Angeles as an example, some ideas for different classes included: applications of wing chun against other arts, distance applications, learning to take the outside gate, body structure vs. no body structure, use of throws, use of joint locks, long and short weaponry, testing of structure and body connection, footwork patterns, regaining structure, defending when backed up against a wall, leg vs. hands, two against one, use of common martial arts training equipment, Chinese terminology of martial arts, Chinese history and martial arts, Chinese medical theory as applied to martial arts, physics and martial arts, Qigong and martial arts, The mental centreline, breakdown and analysis of the centreline, and on and on. The list is endless. These subjects are reviewed on a regular basis and I make sure I can prepare in advance for them. In this way, teaching never becomes stagnant or unimaginative and students can grow and attend for the topics in advance.
Teaching is sharing and communicating. Different people learn through different senses and you have to accommodate that. If you’re a boring teacher, you will lose students. If you’re too strict, you will also lose students. I have learned to teach by the students I attract. I originally wanted to teach only Chinese students, but later found that I could teach anyone really interested. I was faced with having to also teach my students a bit of Chinese culture, history and language so they could understand the context in which the martial arts developed. I have found that this made for a better, more educated martial artist and did not take away from their skill development, but rather, enhanced it.
I usually want to know more about a student before accepting them in the school, so I always make it a practice to have a personal interview with a prospective student to understand what they want and why they train. I have to be in tune with that, in order to better know how to teach that individual. Often because of my book or magazine articles, I get people who email me and ask about how much class is and what the schedule is and where I teach. They are often put off because I ask them questions of their goals and background. In essence, it is a screening process, because I am sizing up that individual to see if they will be a good fit for the class. In the past, martial arts training was only between people of close relationship and for people of good character. I still think it to be the best way to have students.
Many teachers do not have a knack of teaching. They talk a lot but say nothing. Some just drill too much and say nothing. What are your student’s goals? Encourage discussion, questions, and interaction. No monologues but discuss principles and concepts. Expand their minds and see how martial arts can fit in their daily lives. A Chinese martial art is not taught like some martial arts with lining up and barking commands and militaristic attitude. We have fun and we train hard and have to understand the essence and functionality of the art in a family setting.
I hope I gave the teacher or prospective teacher some insights with this column. Through helping others reach their goals, you also help yourself. Don’t put yourself up on a pedestal as a teacher. Make yourself assessable and easy to approach and you will always attract great motivated, intelligent students. In my years teaching in Los Angeles, I have always been blessed by great students and I believe it is my teaching style that attracts and keeps good people.