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Modern ideas...

People attend martial arts classes seeking fighting skills and are surprised (even upset) when the instructor is terse with them.
They are expecting some sort of personal trainer or maybe life coach offering 'spa night'. Get a grip?
It is important to remember that your teacher's role is to prepare your mind, body and emotions for combat.
In a fight you will get punched, kicked and thrown to the ground. Being weak and soft will only get you hurt. The instructor's job is to toughen you up without you becoming macho or a bully.

Hitting requires training

Most people couldn't punch somebody to save their life. They lack the technical know how, the accuracy and the will to fight. In a fight, untrained people typically panic and go to pieces.
Your instructor needs to train you. This requires them to be firm with you.
Discipline, strength, stamina, resolve, courage, patience and intelligence will all be necessary. All the strengths that you possess. We have no need or use for your weaknesses.


Your mindset in martial arts practice is different to what you require at the supermarket, at work, socialising with friends or family, or when driving the car. Lapses in concentration when driving a car could cause a crash. If you 'space out' in a martial arts environment, you could be hurt or harm somebody else.


In Japan, martial arts are classified as being either 'jutsu' or 'do'. Jutsu means 'science' or 'method'.  A jutsu class teaches technical skills, techniques and combat.


'Do' means 'the Way' and refers to the study of the Tao. A do class teaches refinement of character/spiritual development.
In practice, a do class teaches both spiritual development and combat skills, whereas a jutsu class only focuses upon combat.

Internal arts

The Chinese internal arts have always taught do and jutsu together.
The material is just too dangerous to be taught to students who have not worked to rid themselves of negative emotions, pettiness and hang-ups. The teacher is responsible for the process of refinement.


The Art of War lists the qualities expected of a leader. One of these is the need to be stern. Definitions of 'stern':

  1. Serious and unrelenting, especially in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline

  2. Strict and severe; using extreme measures or terms

  3. Putting someone or something under pressure

Damaged goods

Not everyone who joins a martial arts class is well-adjusted. Many new starters have a 'chip on their shoulder'. Some people have their own agenda.


Beginners frequently want something for nothing, and resent being asked to work for the
fighting skills. Martial arts classes are designed to temper the ego and quash arrogance.
A student must learn patience and humility, respect and consideration. Invariably, this means not getting your own way.


A good teacher will do their best to integrate arrogant students into their class, to demonstrate humility, to offer an alternative way of behaving.
They aim to temper the student's ego. To cultivate a change of attitude. But one or two hours a week simply does not add up to much.
Ultimately, the influence of the
instructor is mild. The responsibility for change rests with the student.
If the student does not want to change - or becomes argumentative and defensive - the instructor may eventually ask the student to leave the class.

Most students ask too many questions too soon. An inquisitive mind is not wrong, but too much questioning often signifies that the student failed to practice enough or didn't take time to analyse and investigate the problem on his own.

(Adam Hsu)


Martial arts instructors are sometimes seen as being stern and aloof. Even unfriendly. It is important to recognise that their role is not to make you happy. This is not the service industry.
The teacher is obliged to teach the art to the highest standard they can manage. A good tutor will not allow compromise. Quality comes first.

Personal trainer?

Your instructor is not a personal trainer. They are not obligated to please you or give you what you ask for. Tai chi cannot be taught piecemeal.
You cannot pick and
choose how and what to study.
If a martial arts instructor had to choose between bowing to the demands of the consumer marketplace or closing their class to the public, many would close their class.
Teaching hand-picked students is better than diluting the art.


Corrections are not criticism. An instructor corrects the student because they care about the student's progress.
Suggestions, possibilities and alternatives all serve to broaden your horizons and open the mind to new possibilities.
A reminder encourages the student to remember the basics, to focus upon the underlying
The student should be grateful when corrected, because the correction offers an opportunity for change, for improvement.


In a martial arts class, the teacher insists upon good manners. Why is this? Because the teacher is educating you in the appropriate form of conduct.
Real manners stem from
sensitivity and consideration. They are not something you can learn by rote. Being polite takes very little effort. It is not about remembering to behave a certain way.
It is about listening. It is about respect. It is about being patient.

Lazy culture

Modern culture is perhaps the laziest in recorded human history. Technology, conveniences and fast food have created a society of obese, lethargic people.
The so-called 'third world' countries scrabble to maintain a baseline living standard whilst the West wallows in luxury. It is the responsibility of the teacher to be firm on lazy students.


Arrogant students may seek to jump ahead and bypass certain stages of learning. This is the outcome of naivety.
Lacking an understanding of what is to come, how can they conceivably gauge what is important, and what is not?
In order to advance through the syllabus, some degree of quality must be demonstrated.


Second-guessing the teacher is foolish. Inevitably you are lacking the entire picture. You are making a judgement from an incomplete perspective. Your initial grasp of the situation is usually limited.
It is only with time and consideration that a deeper purpose emerges.

Student point of view

Were a teacher to share their deepest, most profound insights with a student, it would be a waste of breath. Understanding requires context.
Lacking the necessary foundation, a student would dismiss the insight as irrelevant. Why? Because it means nothing to that person at their current level of progress.
Usually, a student has no real idea what is important in the greater context of their tai chi study. They pick and choose based upon their own opinions, expectations and limited experience.
Pearls before swine?

Taking advantage

It is quite normal for most students to take a class and the teacher for granted. Sadly, it is a sign of the times.
Our culture has become very selfish and many people genuinely believe that the world revolves around them.
Occasionally, a student chooses to moan/complain/vent their frustration at the instructor.
What can the instructor do about this? Should they indulge the student? No.


The teacher is responsible for the class. They are responsible for the safety of the students. They are obliged to preserve and maintain the quality and pragmatism of the art.
Therefore, the values and concerns of the instructor are not those of the student.
The student cannot relate to what motivates the instructor, and must trust that the instructor has their best interests in mind.

The sensei is not a therapist. The goal of the dojo is to make healthy people healthier, physically and psychologically and spiritually. It cannot be expected to repair badly damaged human beings. As so if a member exhibits serious personal problems, the sensei's job is to get rid of him, gracefully if possible, forcefully and definitively if necessary.

(Dave Lowry)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 5 January 2003