(Excerpt from the book Central Pivot of Fist)
By Wang Xiangzhai
The master-disciple system is often praised as something beautiful and full of virtue. But even the best things may become deviant and degenerated: In martial arts circles, students believe if they refuse to swear loyalty to their master, they will not get to learn his secrets. Teachers believe that students who have not undergone such a ceremony are not loyal enough to be taught the real stuff. Unfortunately, this system is in practice everywhere – but things shouldn’t be this way.
And what about those teachers who have only the most shallow knowledge of martial arts? If they have nothing of value to offer, what secrets could they harbour? But even if someone has acquired precious knowledge: keeping it a secret will deteriorate the essence of the art. Some masters even keep secrets within their own schools, denying their own students the straightforward teaching they deserve. I do not understand this. It is indeed the worst behaviour. And, as a result, weird styles and stupid theories are flourishing. No wonder martial arts often appear to be endlessly obscure! I can’t help to feel sorry for so much waste of time and effort!
It can be stated that the essence of martial arts is as wonderful as the principles of nature. Martial arts are indeed as deep as the mysteries of Heaven and Earth. However, if you practice without understanding basic principles, you will never grasp the essence. But if you are practicing according to those principles, you can keep studying for your whole life without ever exhausting the possibilities for further development. Why then keep secrets?
Everybody should see other people as members of a family, and think about them as equals. Only then will peace and harmony prevail. Imagine a situation where everybody else was gone and you would be the only person left on Earth. Maybe your selfishness would have achieved its highest goal. But what would life be like? I fear all the happiness of mankind would have been destroyed forever.
Many of our societies are experiencing troubled times, and as lots of things appear to keep going from bad to worse, separatism is spreading like an illness. In this situation, science and knowledge, our natural heritage from the beginning of times, should be shared across national borders. Nations should act like parts of one shared world, rather than enemies. We all live under the same sky, and the rays of the sun do not discriminate. So how can we impose artificial borders by withholding our knowledge? Such behaviour is beyond contempt.
In teaching martial arts, I don’t reject any students. I teach as best as I can. When a student asks questions, I try to explain the issues in the best possible way. I am most concerned if a student does not understand or fails to master what I am teaching, and I strive to enable my students to pass on some valuable skills if they become teachers themselves. So, I feel deep regret if I notice that someone is listening without being able to understand, or that my students understand what I am teaching but fail to practice. When I see that someone understands and practices, I feel happy. This is great relief for me.
I don’t call myself a master. What is important is to appreciate the spirit, the feelings, and not to concentrate on names and titles. I teach the real thing. Although I don’t call myself a master, those who benefit from my teaching are treating me as a master. The empty title has disappeared, but the essence has remained. Has anything been lost?
On the other hand, if someone is deceiving people by teaching weird styles and stupid theories, his students will go through a ceremony, will bow to him and swear loyalty, calling him “master”, but in the end, when the absurdness of his teaching becomes clear to them, they will hate and despise him. What about the “master” then? Only an empty title will remain, devoid of essence.
When there is a division between master and disciple, the concepts of respected authority and subordinate follower arise. In this situation, a student who becomes aware of a mistake in his master’s teaching will not dare to question his master’s authority for fear of offending his status as a teacher, so in the end, he will keep his doubts to himself. In case he does talk to his master, the master will feel rebuked, and fearing that his authority might be in danger, the master will prefer to admonish his student instead of correcting the mistakes in his teaching. How can this be called the essence of martial arts? I would rather conclude that the master-disciple system is not beneficial for martial arts.
Sectarianism and conflicts between differing schools also prosper as a consequence of the master-disciple system, resulting in the establishment of uncountable schools and a chaos of different, often opposing, concepts. If this situation continues, martial arts will never regain its essence and glory! And the chaos continues…
If a student makes progress, he has found a real master. But if he bows three thousand times and says the word master eight hundred times, without making progress, where is the master? What is the meaning of such a title then?
Unsuitable though it appears to me, the master-disciple philosophy is so deeply rooted in martial arts circles, that I am afraid we will not see it replaced anytime soon. Nonetheless, I suggest getting rid of it altogether! This is my opinion. After all, nature, our greatest teacher, teaches all of us alike.