The next topic I feel I need to breach is “what are the qualities of a good kung fu master“. Of course this is highly subjective, but I’ve met a few in my time and I’ll try to find some commonalities in the ones I respect the most.
The first thing I have seen, is that they have some kind of natural flare, big personalities which come across in the passion they have when teaching or when performing. When a good master does a form, you can see their personality come through in their performance. Likewise, when they are teaching applications you can see a kind of excitement as they throw you around, punch you, grab your hair and generally beat you up! I have found that the best masters are always kind of rough around the edges, not the monk-like characters stereotyped. They often smoke and drink, and most definitely fought a lot when they were young. At the same time, the master should be a kind person, who looks after his students. In Chinese culture the master-disciple relationship is a very strong bond, just like father-son. While Chinese culture emphasises filial piety, and respect to elders, there is a mutual relationship where the master will often take care of the disciple; taking an interest in and providing support in daily life. Putting themselves on a pedestal and demanding blind obedience are not qualities of a good kung fu master.
Now they may have spent their whole life only practicing one style, or they may have trained under many great teachers in different styles, but regardless they should have experience. What do I mean by that? I mean that your body needs time to be “moulded into a martial arts body”, in Chinese this can be refered to as Shou (cooked/ripened). Just like a fine wine (or Pu Er Tea!), it takes time for the qualities of a style to become embedded in someone. The unique power or energy of someone who has trained for a lifetime is hard to describe in words. But once you have felt it, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen people teaching a certain style they only learnt a couple of years, but getting away with it because they are good as Sanda or something else. Well if you are going to learn their Sanda, then great, but if you want to learn that certain style, you aren’t gonna get the Real McCoy.
Experience here can also mean combat experience. This doesn’ve have to mean competitive experience, a lot of the elder generation grew up in an environment where street fighting was very common and problems were solved through violence. And don’t believe a teacher who told you they have never lost. If that is the case, they didn’t fight anyone worthy! My teacher has told me about his losses as proudly as his wins and so I suppose we could also say that humility and honesty are also important qualities of a good kung fu master.
Unfortunately there is a culture of secrecy in China, which I suppose is a remnant of the old society where martial arts was actually a weapon and people guarded certain techniques or skills in the way modern militaries guard certain technologies. However, times have changed, and peoples attitudes should change too. Now I’m not trying to say that you should be able to turn up at a teacher’s door and expect to teach you the most advanced part of their system from day one! Of course the right thing should be learnt at the right time, and a student does need to be checked out to make sure they are suitable to keep. What I am trying to say by openness is that a teacher should not be pulling the wool over your eyes. I’ve encountered people who are willing to take students money, or willing to keep students under them, but they try to give away as little material as they can, and deliberately withhold important information so the student will never really progress. A teacher who is like this tends to be the one who makes a lot of promises to you early on, and constantly tells you how lucky you are to learn from them and the like. Just because a teacher is good himself, doesn’t mean you will also get good under him.
These are just a few qualities I can think of, but at the end of the day, different teachers will suit different people. The important thing is finding somebody you can really click with. It’s often said the teacher is more important than the style. So get out there, visit different masters, try to get a feel for the similarities and differences, and hopefully you will be form your own ideas about what are the qualities of a good kung fu master.