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The Closed-Door Student

By Master Chris Peck

The Yin and Yang are ever present in our lives, our world and the universe. Just as there is darkness and light, male and female, positive and negative, there is also the "Student and Teacher". One cannot do without the other. It's the equivalent of an ice cream sundae without the whipped cream and cherry on top. From this union a bond develops and the relationship of the "Student and Teacher" flourishes. Throughout the history of the Chinese Martial Arts the student/teacher relationship has been most revered. If the student is, "Baptized by Time", he or she may become a Closed-door student.

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master peck Closed-door students are indeed very rare and hard to find. Obviously, they are the teacher's best students. My teacher, Grandmaster Frank DeMaria (Chinese name, Ma Fo Ren), has been studying and teaching the Chinese Martial Arts for about four and a half decades. In 1978 while fighting and demonstrating Kung Fu in Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C., he caught the eye of the legendary martial artist, Great Grandmaster Ch'ang Tung Sheng, (the King of Shuai Chiao). Ch'ang saw true Kung Fu spirit (Jin Shen) and fighting prowess in DeMaria. The following year Grandmaster DeMaria became the adopted Godson of the Great Grandmaster. An historic bond grew between the teacher and the student. De Maria had become a part of the Ch'ang family and a closed-door (the original Chinese means indoor, or in-house student) a very prestigious position indeed.

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Becoming a closed-door student is quite simple. All you have to do is practice! Now, what kind of practice are we talking about? We're talking about practicing perseverance and discipline in training, honesty, dedication, trustworthiness, loyalty, courage, selflessness, or what is called in Kung Fu, Wu - De (proper etiquette and respect). It doesn't sound so simple now, does it? All of these extremely high attributes are obtained through one method: to follow the Way. Following the Way is simple if you so desire it. How does one go about following the Way? ASK YOUR TEACHER !!!

chang, grandmaster, master peck Ch'ang Tung Sheng, Grandmaster Frank DeMaria & Master Peck pose for pictures at a fight in Taipei, Taiwan in 1978

There is a developmental process in becoming a closed-door student. Before a person joins a Kwoon (martial arts school or training hall), he will first have the thought of doing Kung Fu. At this point, if he or she acts on that thought, the prospective student will have already met with his/her teacher. This is because the wheels of his Karma were set into motion. The potential student has now made the decision to train in the martial arts and karma will dictate where and who his teacher will be.

When a person walks into a Kwoon, he usually doesn't know what brought him there. He might think that he wants to learn how to defend himself, or he might want to become more physically fit, or he might think he needs more discipline in his life. It really doesn't matter what the reason is, if the student is destined to become a master, nothing in the world is going to stop him/her. It is all there for him/her.

"If you wish to succeed in your Kung Fu training, you must build your life around your Kung Fu, and not build your Kung Fu around your life."

Once the student has started training, and if he is lucky, he might be noticed by his teacher in the first or second year. I remember it taking about three years of dedicated training and perfect attendance before my teacher could remember my name. My teacher didn't remember my name because, he was more interested in how I developed. A student's name is not as important as the character and development of the student. The true identity of someone is not in his or her name anyway; it is in their soul, their spirit. That is what a teacher wants to know. It's the character and sincerity of the student that he is getting to know.

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The teacher will always be on the lookout for a student who can develop the above attributes. The teacher only desires that the right student will show up. The teacher will have hundreds or thousands of students before he finds his closed door pupil. Most people will stay for about a year or two. That is usually enough time to satisfy the beginner's needs and/or curiosity. And if the student must leave his/her training for some reason and he is on good terms with his teacher, he will always be welcomed back. Then again, the student could go on training for four or five years. By this time, he will have had thorough training in his art and will begin to feel fairly comfortable with it.

If the student continues training, and the teacher decides the student is ready to become a disciple, the teacher will then give out more information and more responsibilities. The student will then go into the intermediate phase of training. By now, the student should be realizing that the Kung Fu is much more than he thought it was when he started. He should be seeing that there is more than just the physical and mental aspects of training, and that he now needs to cultivate his spiritual essence. All along, however, he has been told that the true essence of the martial studies lies in the journey of spirit. Instead of looking outward toward the body/mind and the control of them, he now has to turn inward toward spirit as well. The student has no choice but to turn inward, because that is the only place to find the true self.

Regrettably, at this point, the student might become bored with his studies; he may lose interest or there may be conflict in religious beliefs. The daily study of spirit (meditation/contemplation) seems like tedious work compared to the dynamic nature of the external kung fu training. However, if the student accepts it and makes the transition smoothly, and realizes the unity of body, mind and spirit, he will be a step closer to becoming a closed-door student.

"The true essence of the martial studies lies in the journey of spirit."

The teacher, however, is still waiting and trying to wake the student up. You see, while the student is learning the kung fu, he will go through many changes, trials and tribulations in life. He will be given tasks and duties to perform by the teacher. A task could be anything from washing the Kwoon floors, windows and toilets, to the writing of an article or a book. The student, on the other hand, must also show personal incentive to do many things. When Great Grandmaster Ch'ang was in his early training years, a family member told him that his teacher, the famous Ch'ang Fong-yen, loved the song of a particularly rare bird in Southern China. Being a closed-door student of Ch'ang Fong-yen, young Ch'ang went in search of the bird. He found it, brought it back to Northern China and presented it to his teacher. The gift of the bird to his master was just one way Ch'ang showed his gratitude for all his master's efforts. This act brought Ch'ang not only closer to his teacher but it brought him closer to understanding true Kung Fu.

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After about seven or eight years of training, the student should be gaining more appreciation of what he is learning. He should be recognizing and practicing the more subtle aspects and ways of Wu De. Furthermore, the student should be immersed in thought and deed. He should always be trying to improve upon what he has learned and he should be ready and willing to learn and experience anything that is put before him.

If you are training properly and listening to your teacher, you will hear him say, "If you wish to succeed in your Kung Fu training, you must build your life around your Kung Fu, and not build your Kung Fu around your life." In other words, don't allow the circumstances of your life to interfere or stop you from training. You don't want to put the other things in your life before your Kung Fu. If you do, your life will be dictated to you by the whims of fate. You will not have control over it, someone or something else will. You will be running to and fro with no direction or solid foundation of your own. Remember, YOU have control over your life. YOU are the one who shapes your destiny, fixes your fate and takes responsibility for it. YOU make your own world and can hold it in the palm of your hand, if you wish. The student must put his Kung Fu in the forefront of his life, and then it will become the glue that holds his life together. This will enable him to raise himself into Heaven to soar with the dragons.

"The teacher, on the other hand, is perpetually observing the progress of his students, enabling him to notice the outcome of his teachings."

The teacher, on the other hand, is perpetually observing the progress of his students, enabling him to notice the outcome of his teachings. He will see how his students survive the rigors of their lives and their training. He will patiently wait for the student to come into his own. He will, in essence, be raising the student as he would his own child. He will give advice, bequeath knowledge and methods of training, and he will give understanding and compassion. Then he will send the student out into the world to experience the knowledge that has been given and to see what the student has gained. He will watch and see how well the student continues with training and where the priorities lie.

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After about ten or eleven years of training, the teacher should see the student truly living a martial lifestyle. Now, some students will develop at different paces and on different levels from their fellow students. For instance, one student might understand that being able to fight and to have supreme physical fitness is a more important aspect of training. Yet, another student might believe that forms, techniques and Kung Fu knowledge are the more important aspects.

Each student's beliefs will grow in proportion to his/her experience. And then, there might be a student who believes his expression of the Kung Fu is more evolved than his own teacher's. In reality, all of these beliefs and conclusions are clouded with illusion. The student's ego deludes him and prevents him from seeing the real truth, because with many years of training the student's self-confidence has gotten stronger and he has learned to use will power. These attributes can be very powerful in the wrong hands. If this type of student does not allow for growth, and is content with this amount of knowledge, the teacher will not permit this student to advance much further. However, when a teacher sees a student who has spent so much time and is developing correctly, he will be asking himself, "Is this the one who will carry on the teachings of the Martial Arts to their fullest?"

At this time, the student should be ready and eligible to become a basic level instructor. This is, indeed, a very important moment. It is usually a turning point in the life of a student, because the teacher will give him a choice. He will ask the student if he wants to become an instructor or not. The student now has to make a decision. Will he continue to learn, experience and teach the arts or will he leave his teacher to pursue other interests? More often than not, the student, if he has made it this far, will continue on with training. But he may decide to discontinue training and find something else to fill his time. This would make the teacher very distressed, because he has put a lot of time and effort into making a lost person into a good practitioner. But then again, there is always that special student, the one who stands out from all the rest. The one who follows his teacher everywhere, the one whom the teacher just can't seem to get rid of.

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Closed-door students are those who will carry on their teacher's teachings without the slightest desire for self-gain. They will continue the transmission of the Way, just as their teacher and their teacher's teacher have done in the past. This is how the lineage system survives. This why the Chinese Martial Arts have been in existence for more than six thousand years. The true meaning and purpose of the martial arts are passed on to the closed-door student because the teacher trusts his student, as the student trusts the teacher.

At this point, the teacher will consider the student very near to him, and the student will be invited to share more time with his master. The student and teacher may go to different places together such as, demonstrations, tournaments or meetings with other instructors. Or, the teacher may include his student in his plans. All the while, they will be discussing the finer points and higher aspects of Kung Fu. The teacher/student relationship is like a father/son/daughter relationship. The teacher will do anything he can to promote and sanction what his student does and says. Let's face it; they are both of the same mind and spirit.

Look at any family and you will find that there are sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents and great grandparents. There are also aunts, uncles, first and second cousins. These titles and the positions they represent will also be found in a true Kwoon. The Great Grandfather or mother is the Great Grandmaster; the Grandfather or mother is the Grandmaster; the Father or Mother is the Master; the eldest or first son/daughter is the eldest student and so on. The closed-door student is usually the eldest son or daughter of the master. They are the inheritors of the legacy that has been passed down from their predecessors.

"The closed-door student is usually the eldest son or daughter of the master. They are the inheritors of the legacy that has been passed down from their predecessors."

On the other hand, there is always the bad apple in the bunch, the black sheep of the family. Imagine the trusted closed-door student and how he practices honesty, loyalty and proper Wu De. Now, imagine a student who is his opposite: a student who is disloyal, dishonest and shows no respect for his teacher or for what his teacher represents. Usually, such a student will be thrown out of the Kwoon A.S.A.P. I have seen my teacher throw out students who have shown no respect. I personally have thrown bad students out of my own Kwoon. It is a teacher's responsibility to get rid of the bad apple before it infects the others.

Most iniquitous students will surface soon after they join a Kwoon. Sometimes they will not show their true colors for a couple of years. Then again, some others will take a while longer, maybe five or ten years. And then there is the renegade student. This is the student who has weaseled and connived his way into the closed-door student status. He does this by lying and telling half-truths to his teacher and to anyone else. In my time, I have seen students who have gone bad after twenty years. These students are very dangerous, because they are a threat to the continuation of true martial arts training.

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Since this kind of student does not know how to respect and honor his teacher, how can he expect his students to respect and honor him? Before you know it, the true meaning of the martial arts will be lost to the student. The integrity of future students will disintegrate and turn into something that is not of a noble and moral nature. When these students go out and teach they are, in essence, creating and developing more nefarious students.

Innocent people who are looking for a good teacher will be duped by this type of person. He will tell the perspective student half -truths to get him to join his school. The renegade is always a smooth talker and will do and say anything to promote himself. These people have gone in the opposite direction from the closed-door student. They will eventually be exposed for what they truly are: liars and cowards.

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Once you decide to join a Kwoon, do a little investigation and be sure that you ask the teacher in charge some questions. For example, ask who his teacher is. Ask if he is on good terms with his teacher and if he can be contacted. Ask him about his background and what his credentials are. Observe the class while it's in progress and see how the teacher treats and teaches his students. Ask how long he has been training. If he gives you roundabout answers or sidesteps your questions, he is pretending to be something he is not. This type of instructor is probably an outcast and wants only to line his pockets with your money. Do not join a school such as this.

The closed-door student has nothing to hide. He has no skeletons in his closet. He has nothing to fear, because he is under his teacher's roof. That means, he is under the auspices of his teacher. He has nothing to prove, because he has proven himself to his teacher and, more importantly, to himself. That is exactly what the teacher wants. He wants his student to evolve from the child he used to be, into the true man/woman he could be.

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The essence of why the martial arts leaders are so strict about adhering to the ways of transmission is harmony and balance. The attainment and perpetuation of harmony and balance will eventually lead the student back to his original essence. This is the primary goal of the martial artist and should be to all others. Think about it, isn't everyone trying to get peace of mind, or trying to find true everlasting love, or trying to achieve an easy way of life? These are all subjects under the heading of harmony and balance.

"Everyone wants harmony and balance whether they seek them consciously or subconsciously. It is an innate desire in the human being to be in harmony with everything."

Everyone wants harmony and balance whether they seek them consciously or subconsciously. It is an innate desire in the human being to be in harmony with everything. It is the closed-door student, who (with the help of his teacher) will realize that harmony. The student will eventually come to be in harmony with his teacher, his classmates, his relations, the environment and the universal order of Heaven and Earth. Thus will the closed-door student travel in his path. He will never deviate from following the Way of the martial arts, or of life.

The passing on of this knowledge is the teacher's duty and the student's good fortune. As any student of the martial arts knows, it is the cultivation of the Three Pillars of Kung Fu that makes a true martial artist. Training the body, mind and spirit is the only way to become a complete warrior of life. The closed-door student is dedicated to achieving a harmoniously balanced mastery of these Three Pillars of Kung Fu. Gaining mastery of all the aspects of the body, mind and spirit will set you free.

There is a great responsibility in becoming a closed-door student. One day, if the Head Master of the Kwoon were to leave for some reason, the closed-door student would be instructed to assume the leadership of the Kwoon until the master returned. That would be his duty. It would also be his responsibility to develop more closed-door students, if his level permits it. He is not afraid to commit himself, whether it's carrying on the tradition, or fighting to the death. He is ready, willing and able to uphold and carry out that responsibility, for he loves what he is doing. He becomes a channel for the Way, allowing IT to spread out through him, and to touch everyone with whom he comes into contact.

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