We cannot treat our teacher as one who is there to service us.
We are not customers but students and we have to consider how much he has given us by teaching us skill that it has taken him many years of study to learn
When I first began studying Qigong, I had little concept of what it meant to study with a traditional Chinese teacher.
I thought that I knew all about respect.
However, it was the Western concept that I knew, not Chinese. I soon realised that I knew nothing about the respect that one pays to a teacher. I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit it now, but I even questioned my teacher about one of his rules on the very first night of meeting him.
Knowing what I know now, I was lucky that he did not stop me from coming to any future classes.
For those having been brought up in the west, we often have the idea that we go to a class and pay a fee for a service rendered.
It is actually much more complex than this and with a good teacher you become part of a family of people who are interested in learning the same thing.
Over the months and finally years, I found that the persons with whom I have studied have indeed become my family. Our hearts are the same. We all respect our teacher as a father and he in turn looks at us as his children.
This is not something new in China but dates back over hundreds of generations when a martial art or other skills were kept in one’s family. I observe new people coming to class and see how much they enjoy not only learning traditional Chinese skill but also the atmosphere of the people in the class.
I also see how people in the classes change as their knowledge of the skill progresses. I do not only mean physical changes but changes in their nature.
They become calmer, more grounded. It is rare that a “bad” student will stay. It is like anything, like will follow like.
Those who do not stay find that their heart does not quite fit and so they leave to find another teacher or class to suit their ways.
I have realized that the study of any traditional Chinese skill does not only consist of learning the art itself but of morality and principle.
I have learned this through listening to lectures at my teacher’s seminars, listening to him talk amongst his students at a meal and also by watching my fellow students and how they behave.
In the west, we often approach a martial arts or Qigong class with the attitude that we are there to learn a series of movements and nothing more. It is much more than this, however.
We cannot treat our teacher as one who is there to service us. We are not customers but students and we have to consider how much he has given us by teaching us skill that it has taken him many years of study to learn.
Our teacher is not there to sell his skill. We should pay for our lessons out of respect.
Traditionally, a student would give their teacher Lai See,a red envelope containing money.
I he teacher never had to ask for this. It was given because this was what was right and proper.
I recently met with a Chinese master who had been invited to the West for a seminar.
This master was offered only half of the seminar proceedings and had to pay all of his own expenses besides. I find that the organizers are not truly interested in helping to promote good skill but rather business people wanting to make money from someone else’s reputation.
This is happening more and more.
One only has to look at the Internet to see Chinese masters being promoted all around the world. Of course not everyone means to does not just mean calling your teacher “Sifu”.
It means treating your teacher like a father and listening to what he says, doing what he says, even if you feel he may be being too strict or tough with you. A part of respect is loyalty and this should be through both bitter times and sweet.
This can be especially hard for westerners to accept as we often have too much pride. We have been nurtured to think that we are all individuals and special in our own right.
We do not easily accept criticism and often our instinct upon receiving some is to fight back and defend ourselves.
Sometimes the reaction can be even more severe with the person cutting the relationship completely. We have not been raised with the concept of yin and yang and that of balance and so we often approach things with the attitude of things being totally black and white, right or wrong.
Life is rarely like this and is more often grey, somewhere in between. The Chinese have a wonderful concept of letting another person have enough space to recover themselves, more conurn mis known as saving face.
The night I questioned my teacher, he was rightly quite angry with me but instead of telling me to leave, he explained the situation and allowed me face. He never said to me how foolish I was by questioning him although certainly in looking back, I was just that.
Sometimes we think that we are the one who is helping our teacher by coming to class and paying our fees. For instance, if we did not pay our teacher, then he would not have work so we are helping him by coming to class. Who is helping whom, though? We come to a teacher’s class like an unfilled cup and leave overflowing. As we practise Qigong we find our illnesses going away.
Can we really put a price on our health?
I recently watched an American program in which the foreman of a closed American automotive factory traveled to Japan to entice a car company thereto reopen the factory in his town.
This auto factory was this town’s major source of employment and when it closed, most of the people there became unemployed. The Japanese company agreed to reopen the factory and in the beginning the workers were grateful, even if their salaries had been reduced and they were working longer hours.
Soon, however, they became discontented and did not like to do the things they were told to do in order to improve efficiency. They wanted things back they way they were before the Japanese took over.
I saw how pride blinded these people and how quickly their gratitude died. The Chinese have a saying, “From sleeping on the street, I let you sleep on my floor. Now you ask for a blanket.” Many students feel they are
doing their teacher a favor, however, really it is the other way around.
Good skill comes from a good teacher and a good teacher does not just know good skill. He also knows about sacrifice, duty and morality.
If a person’s heart is not good then their skill will be limited. Having a good heart means the mind is balanced and that this person can look at things clearly.
This person could also be said to have learned the arts of Martial Arts.
by Tse Sin Kei