When is a Master Truly a Master? (Part II)
Part I: What is a True Master?
Part II: More than a Teacher The Path of Shao-lin
In the Shao-lin a black belt is called "laoshr," which simply means teacher.
Masters will promote their students to laoshr based on the length of time in
training and how much they have learned in Shao-lin. But it in no way
indicates that the student has reached the level of self-mastery. I have seen
students go to high levels only to fail because of character flaws.
This is not to say that master levels are saints either. I am only referring to
the wu-de (ethics ) of our art. If ethics are followed without question, then
the art is preserved, and all that it stands for is also preserved. A master is a
master when he/she not only teaches the art, but also lives it. Shao-lin has to
be the criterion.
In Chinese there is something called "lu shr di dz" which translates as the closed door student. The closed door
students are the ones the master confides in. They are the ones whom the master trusts
and counts on. They are the ones to whom the master reveals his skills. It is said:
many enter the gate of the Shao-lin Temple but few enter the door of the
master. Only when the laoshr level has proven his/her ability to teach
correctly and follow the traditions and ethics of Shao-lin, will a master
invite the student into the private chambers.
For more messages from Grandmaster, see the Archives.
My last master and father Ch'ang Tung Sheng was a staunch advocate of the
old traditions and ethics. He was not afraid to ask anything of his
followers. He simply waited to see who would follow and who would not. To
paraphrase something that Master Ch'ang said to me once, "Words come
easily, action comes hardly."
Master Ch'ang said to me once, "words come
easily, action comes hardly."
Ch'ang loved his inner door students, he
trusted them to always do the right thing. If they did not, Ch'ang would
lock the door on them. He came from the old school, where respect was the
keyword. If you did not show respect for the code of conduct you were
considered an outcast no matter how good your physical skills were.
I have seen Master Ch'ang turn down students who came to him to learn his kung fu,
only to be told to leave. I have seen people begging at his feet to be
accepted in the door, swearing their allegiance, only to be turned away. I
have asked the Master why, and he indicated that those people had poor
character and their own words meant little to them, and even much less to
him. Ch'ang did not want to waste time teaching those who had no true desire
to follow the old ways. That kind of person had little chance of fostering
the arts intact to the next generation.
Master Ch'ang Tung Sheng's Students
When I first met Master Ch'ang I was surprised at how few disciples he had. I
believe there was only five or six who came into the gate of the Master.
Only in his later years did he become more liberal in his selection. I
assume he felt it was time to spread his knowledge, so it would not become
lost over time. So the Master made more teachers in his last ten years than he
had made in his whole life.
I can speak more freely than most having lived with
the Master for a short period of time, and having seen how carefully he considered
a man's character. When I was awarded the level of 3nd Tang or 7th degree
black belt by Master Ch'ang, he asked me, "For Ren, what rank do you think
you deserve?" I said, "Pa Pa, whatever, you decide I am, then I am."
He made his decisions by knowing my character. He had already seen my fighting
skills, as he was head judge in my fights in Taiwan. He made his decision
based partly on my skills, but mostly on what he thought of me as a man of
character. Just before the Master passed away in 1986, I spoke with him by
phone. My heart was touched as he said his love for me was not wasted.
I am most proud of the fact that I have always stayed the path with each of my
teachers. I may at this point sound as if I am bragging (well I am), but from
what I see in the world today, I feel I have accomplished perpetuation of
the Shao-lin ethics. I must say it is not an easy matter to do this, for in
following the way we must all pay a price. We must be willing to give up
many things to make way for the gifts of Shao-lin. I have lost many worldly
opportunities by staying the path of Shao-lin. But in its place I
have found something the world can not give me, that is: inner contentment in
body, mind and spirit.
There is another Chinese saying that states "shing ming shuang-shiou" which
translates as "cultivating nature and life together." Nature can be defined as
the world we live in and all its forces.
Living in the world is no easy
matter, as we all know. Although life itself is very beautiful, it is how we
deal with it that causes all the problems. We must find a blend that will
make our life more harmonious with nature. This is the secret we must come
Shao-lin is a way to find the answers. As Master Ch'ang said in
his dedication to my book, Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi Ch'uan, "Constant Discipline Is
The Only Key."
This brings to mind a question which was asked of me by a
former student. He asked how he could attain this self discipline. My
answer to him came from another old saying I have heard from my teachers,
"hua xian bu yao gwo chu" which means, "you must draw a line and never cross
it." You set your priorities in life, then make no excuses to break your vows.
Ch'ang knew this, as any good teacher would. Without giving something to
your art, don't expect to get something in return.
These are the reasons why there are in fact so few
masters. There are hoards of teachers who think they are masters, but they
are like the blind leading the blind.
They are still out there, the masters. I am happy to say they are not all dead.
What makes a master a master is dedication to the arts and to all of their traditions. It is the never-ending
search for improvement. It is the love and respect shown to our
predecessors. When you see a true master you will see a man or woman who has
drawn the line, and who has never steppped over it. You will see a man/woman who has
a deep desire to spread the art as it was taught him/her.
They are still out there,
the masters. I am happy to say they are not all dead. They do exist, and you
will find them where they belong, in a Kwoon, teaching.
They remain undaunted by the worldly interference. They cling to the ethics
and traditions they claim to believe in, resolute in their approach to
This is when a Master is a Master.
Part I: What is a True Master?