The Wu Tang Approach To Teaching Kung Fu

In the Wu Tang Martial Arts system, our instructors do not just train people to become elite fighters, but turn them into the future leaders and teachers. Without knowing how to teach, you will never understand your techniques. If you cannot explain when, why, and how a movement is used, then you do not understand all aspects of the movement yourself. Therefore, in order to fully comprehend all physical and cognitive aspects or martial arts, one must teach.

When students enter our doors, they often do not expect to learn more than exercise or self defense. These are the beginning aspects of martial arts. This situation presents the first problem: how can we, as instructors, change the mentality of experienced students from that of someone who wants to get better by learning more, to learning by teaching. It is a complete role reversal, one that is unexpected and sometimes resisted by students. After all, students come to use to learn martial arts, not how to teach. Teaching is difficult. Often, experienced students do not want to teach as that was not their goal coming into the school. Generally, those students plateau in their learning. It is acceptable if a student chooses not to continue growing, but for those who truly want to get better, they must teach.
Another problem arises from those who want to teach. How, as instructors, do we teach how to teach? It is a question that is rarely asked as most teachers have taught for generations, and it is taken for granted that they will always be there. Exceptional teachers have often taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Like new kung fu students, new teachers often make mistakes, sometimes at the expense of students. But, as teachers continue to teach, they learn, just as how a kung fu practitioner learns by continuing to practice. Teachers are still students, and always will be. They will often forget how difficult it was to achieve their level of expertise. They forget the discomfort of learning a new skill or the struggle of failure. However, these factors reinforce the mental aptitude of the teacher, an important aspect of martial arts and life in general.
Teaching is about changing the mindset. Students should be able to not only look up to the teacher as a principal figure and role model, but capable of having an interpersonal relationship. At high levels, communication and the exchange of ideas is essential to learning. Encouraging students to come forth with questions will help both parties grow. Students will challenge teachers, but more often than not it will be a mental challenge and not physical. By dropping ego and allowing students to challenge you will often expose the character and mindset of a student, very important aspects in deciding how to teach a particular body. Some students feel as if they need to prove themselves to the black belt members that they are almost as good. It is important to balance their ego as well. Moreover, a teacher needs to understand a student’s actions and address each situation individually. Be too harsh and the student feels threatened and angered; be too soft and the student will think they are better and feel less inclined to listen. Ultimately, a teacher must be able to balance the ego of both self and students and address each person as an individual and treat them as unique. Obviously, it is impossible to answer every question. However, you should be able to point the student in the right direction for finding an answer. How this is done is up to the discretion of the teacher and is learned by experience. Oftentimes, it should be considered to not give the student the answer, for the purpose of expanding the student’s thinking. Doing this will allow martial arts to grow instead of being limited to the knowledge of a handful of people.
Communication with the entire class is also essential. Teachers must be able to explain important concepts as well as understand the right time to do so. The student body must always be kept in mind. The volume, tone of voice, and vocabulary must be changed depending on the age and personalities of your students. The concepts you choose to revisit and emphasize should also be based on your students. Communication is not limited to just how to speak about concepts, but on directions and addressing behavior. Directions should be brief and easy to follow; addressing behavior should be direct and assertive, in a private area if necessary.
Analysis is another key concept to teaching. Creating a class curriculum that addresses both strengths and weaknesses of students will help them grow. Since a teacher is an experienced student already, it must not be forgotten that practice makes perfect. Students can’t be expected to grasp concepts immediately. On the contrary, this means concepts and class activities should be revisited every so often. Do not show students more than they are capable of learning. Details should always be stressed. Slowing down the learning of students not only helps retain them, keeping them hungry for more, but also improves small intricacies of their techniques. Teach by leading not only to review material yourself, but to keep control of your class. Understanding the pace and capabilities of a student can only be learned by experience. All resources necessary should be used in order to achieve the goal shared by both teacher and student.
Teaching is an important aspect of kung fu and martial arts. Aside from the obvious reviewing of material that was previously learned, a teacher better understands both themselves and people. Being able to analyze students and actions helps analyze techniques and realize situations. It is important to keep an open mind and consider all ideas by other people. Keeping these ideas in mind, all a teacher must do to become a better is to teach more, a philosophy that mirrors new students looking to improve as martial artists. People cannot dwell on what to do, but to just do more and experience what works and does not work for you as an individual teacher, similar to deciding what works for an individual student. There are many ideas when it comes to teaching that students learn by experience. However, there is one clear conclusion that all people can agree on. To become a better teacher, you must teach.

Sifu Marvin Go

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