About the martial arts family

Last time I wrote something about the teacher in martial arts and “Shu-Ha-Ri”. Today I want to write something about the knowledge transfer through the teacher.

A teacher lives “his karate”. Ideally in everything he does it’s mirrored what I would call “karate”. An attitude towards life, a “way of life”. The technical and physical side of karate are only one part of this; inner attitude towards oneself and towards other people is another.

What happens when I go to train at my dojo as a student? I meet my teacher and get into direct and personal contact with him. I learn correkt movements, he pushes me, encourages me and provides support.

At a workload of 10 hours per week (and thats the bare minimum in the first 4-6 years to learn comprehensive karate at the Shu level) a teacher is more than just a “trainer”. A trainer meets 10-20 students 1-2 hours a week. A teacher meets his 4-8 students for a minimum of 10 hours a week.

The teacher exemplifies through his own life; through example. In the truest sense of the word he “impresses” his students. With this much shared time conversations about daily life happen naturally and both get to know each other and even help with private problems.

In the chinese martial arts forms of adress have a familial reference (father-teacher, grandfather-teacher) which shows this close connection. One becomes “family” and learns from the “older ones”. A teacher educates his students like he would his children. He wants to pass on his skills and experience.

In contrast to a real family this “bond” is by choice. It is the decision of the student whether he accepts a “father-teacher” that “educates” him in martial arts and likewise it is the choice of the teacher whether he adopts a “student-son”.

Why is this linguistic excursion this important?

It shows the way of teaching in a traditional martial art. A teacher is no “trainer” that practices some superficial movements in massive classes. He is also no “teacher” like the ones we know from school where 20-30 students are educated at once.

A teacher is like a “martial arts patriarch”, a “martial arts father” that educates his children. In the “martial arts family” like in a real “extended family” the older ones look after the younger ones, support them and educate them through being an example.

In chinese and japanese families the confucian image of the family with a strict hierarchy that appears “strange” to westerners was (or is) the norm. This has nothing to do with “sects” but former society.

The knowledge transfer inside a “martial arts family” happens through daily direct personal contact with the other “members of the family”. Like in a family one vouches for another, helps another or argues with another. One grows on one another. The teacher (father-teacher) is the intermediating and guiding authority (OK, OK, of course today it is the mother or wife but lets stay with the classical confucian image).

If one has gained acces to such a family and gets corrected by the teacher and older students on a daily basis a different knowledge transfer happens than it would if one would be “visiting” and training only 1 or 2 times a week. In an hour every few days it is impossible to learn what “family members” learn that train 2 hours each day. The things a “family member” learns in one day the non-member learns in a week. In one week a “student-son” learns more than others in 2 months because the “skill transfer” isn’t linear but exponential (were it linear it would be but a month) .

The student profits from a close connection to the teacher through fast acquisition of physical skills. But for this to work the teacher has to have enough knowledge aquired! If the teacher himself doesn’t stem from an intact “martial arts family” where he learned through this system (like his “father-teacher” before him) then he cannot transfer knowledge. Like we saw much time is needed to build a “martial arts body”. And only then the Shu stage is completed.

When one has achieved this the teacher is going to give his permission to educate own students. Its like a son grew up and starts a family of his own. The “father-teacher” became a “grandfather-teacher” and the “student-son” a “father-teacher”.

The student-son that has gotten to the stage of Ha still lives under the roof of his own father and can ask him if something is unclear or ask him to look after his own children.

As a father of 2 wonderful children and with my parents in the same city I can say how helpful this is! Of course I educate my children according to my own ideas and my parents accept and respect this but help me anyway and educate my children when they are with them.

The “grandfather-teacher” is not going to mingle in the education of his “grandchildren-students” because that is the job of the “father-teacher” but he will “educate” them when the grandchildren are training with him sometimes.

The new “father-teacher” will grow into his role as a father; he will make mistakes but continue to evolve. Children are astonishingly good teachers. Because the “grandfather-teacher” has seen all of this and raised children of his own, the “father-teacher” will ask for guidance and advice from time to time.

The education of own children is nothing other than the journey through the Ha level. When one has educated own children one knows where attention has to be paid and is an “experienced father”. One has achieved the stage of Ri and can help ones own children when they raise children of their own.

When one has own children one will realize fairly quick that one meets nearly only other families. Not because one doesn’t like “the singles” but because a common topic for conversations is missing. Whereas one talks about day-care centers, Pampers, evolution of speech or education, people without children talk about parties, one-night-stands, movie nights and so on. It is a different world (sure one knows it but is is different). It is like this with martial artists from such “martial arts families”. One can talk to other “fathers”, “grandfathers” and “sons” but not to people that don’t have direct or intact families. One will always talk at cross-purposes.

By the way: No father in the world would demand to be called “daddy” but the children will do it in an intact family because daddy is daddy and everything “daddy” stands for.

Likewise in the martial arts family: A teacher is the teacher for his students and no teacher would demand to be called “father-teacher” (sifu) or sensei (the one that came before). No, for the students it is pretty clear that there stands the “father-teacher” and so they call him such.

“Sensei” is no title and no adress – it is an inner attitude of a student!