Sifu William Kwok - Building a Legacy Part 2
As practitioners, we should maintain the spirit of self-improvement and determination that competitions allow us, but not limit ourselves to the structured rules and regulations of an organized sport, which will undoubtedly impact the core of our training methods, and distort the original principles of Wing Chun. After all, every martial arts system today has its advantages/disadvantages and unique core values. If someone is seeking to learn a martial art to fight competitively, Wing Chun might not be the most suitable choice.
STRIVING TO BE A BETTER TEACHER
My interest in teaching started when I was assisting my traditional Taekwon-Do teacher, Grandmaster KIM Suk Jun, a disciple of General CHOI Hong Hi in 1998. Both Grandmaster Kim and Grandmaster Wan have significantly influenced my knowledge in martial arts teaching.
After I completed my graduate coursework at Harvard University in 2003, LaGuardia Community College of The City University of New York (CUNY) offered me a teaching position as an adjunct professor in managerial studies. It was an excellent experience that changed my vision towards teaching. The community college body was diverse. My students were of all ages, and had different learning abilities and cultural backgrounds. The college suggested that I strictly follow a syllabus and a set of teaching guidelines.
However, after the first examination, I found that such approach was not quite effective on teaching my students; only few of them did well, and many did poorly.
I have learned that effective teaching should consider the students’ learning experience and background. All students are different. Some are good at learning via a visual or an auditory method, while others are more tactile or analytical. In a group setting, I need to actively adjust my teaching methods to maximize the class efficiency and the students’ learning experience, rather than only focusing on the teaching curricula. I believe that a good teacher should adapt his/her methods to suit the students.
I am fortunate to have gained several advanced academic degrees, and have recently been attending classes of Physical Education at Columbia University for a third Master’s Degree to further develop my own teaching skills. Such exposure has helped me formulate my own impressions on how to further spread and improve the teaching of Practical Wing Chun. I am always open-minded to explore new ways of teaching, because as martial arts systems evolve, so should teaching methods.
I have heard some people say it is better to study with a part-time martial arts instructor than with a professional, full-time martial arts teacher. They have the idea that full-time teachers only have business in mind and do not unreservedly deliver the knowledge. However, would you rather seek medical care from an amateur medicinal enthusiast, or a full-time professional doctor? In order to improve and make progress in the field of martial arts, we do need the guidance of professional teachers and researchers.
Full-time professionals devote all of their time to the study, and have accumulated valuable knowledge and experience. Without professionals, progress would be restricted and established pieces of martial arts study would be lost. Just like in every profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers. It is not wise to completely disregard a profession based on a few bad experiences.
DISCOVERING THE WAY
Similar to science, there is no “finish line” in martial arts; a good student never considers he/she has already mastered a technique. There is always room for improvement. Modern technology is developing rapidly everyday to adapt to the changing needs. By the same token, martial arts practice should constantly evolve. Researching and discovering better ways to execute techniques is essential for martial arts.
In addition to Taekwon-Do, many martial arts (Jeet Kune Do, Aikido, etc.) share “Do” in their names. It means the “path” or the “way”, a direction for our mind and body to follow in order to achieve the best version of ourselves. Although traditional Taekwon-Do and Wing Chun are very different, I believe that they share the fundamental idea of a practitioner finding the “Do” or their way, through practice of martial arts culture and techniques.
It is important to appreciate our history and what our predecessors taught us. However, being too obsessive about copying our predecessors’ techniques does not allow us to progress. Surely, without the past, there is no present; but, if we only live in the past, there will be no future. Our journey should not only be about the number of techniques we learn, but also be about discovering our path, “Do”.
There is a saying in Confucianism: “Knowledge from learning without thinking is soon forgotten; thinking without learning will make you self-righteous.” Any knowledge we learn without thinking becomes useless; the ability to transform knowledge into wisdom is power. This approach has not only helped me improve as a martial arts practitioner, but also as a human being.
As teachers, we are not only responsible for passing on Wing Chun knowledge to our students, but also for preserving the martial arts culture. More importantly, we should help them improve their mind and body together, and guide them to discover their “Do”. Ω
Sifu William Kwok is the founder of Martial Arts Studies International (MASI), an organization that embraces and respects traditional martial artsworldwide. The goal of MASI is to preserve and promote traditional martial arts by offering education programs that improve existing teaching methods, modernize martial arts techniques based on the science of movement, and educate the public about the true values of martial arts through public events.
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