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message from grandmaster

On the Older Side of the Looking Glass

The Traditional Gwan
The Ethics (Wu De)
The Students

My name is of no consequence; I am a student of Shao-lin Kung Fu and have studied for many years under many teachers, including Grand Master Ma Fo Ren. What I wanted to do was to have an interview and get the perspective from a teacher's point of view about how he views teaching the Chinese martial arts and dealing with the many problems a teacher faces in running a Traditional Shao-lin Guan. The following was done over a long period of time, but I think it reveals a great deal of how a teacher views his responsibility as a teacher, what a traditional guan really is, and the various types of students he encounters in training. I hope you find this as interesting to read as I have had in gathering the information. As far as I know no other interview like this has been done, and it reveals the mind of a Master and how he views his world of martial arts and the people in it.

The Traditional Guan

Student: Shrfu, did you always want to become a teacher of Chinese Shao-lin?


Ma Shrfu: Actually, no. When I started I only wanted to learn how to use Shaolin to defend myself. I had no idea I would ever reach the levels I have achieved today. That was not my purpose.

Student: What made you decide to teach then?

Ma Shrfu: I would often hear one of my teachers say his only purpose for teaching us was to find the ones who could carry the arts on to the next generation. He would elaborate how without teachers the arts would fade away into history and be lost. My teachers had a burning love for the arts and it influenced me to want to also share in the privilege of passing this art on.

For more messages from Grandmaster, see the Archives.

Student: What do you think is the big difference between a traditional school and one that you call a commercial school?

Ma Shrfu: Well, the bottom line would be the goals. Traditional schools have one thing in mind, and that is upholding the traditions of the old ways, while passing the art on to the next generation. Money is never the purpose. As I always have said to my students, if you want to make money, don't become a traditional teacher. There is no money in it. There have been times when I had to supplement the money I had made in teaching with my own savings just to pay the rent for our school.

In all the time I have been teaching, I have only raised prices three times and even then only by a few dollars to meet growing costs to maintain the Guan. I feel it would be a disgrace to take large amounts of money from anyone for passing the on arts.

The worst thing is to bind a student to the Guan with a contract. This is against all we stand for. Our concepts are easy to understand in this matter. If you want us, we want you. If you want to leave us, we want you to leave. It has to be the love that keeps a student in training, not a contract.

A contract is another way of saying, "I don't trust you, so sign here and if you go back on your word I've got you by law and still can take your money." We consider your word to be your contract, your bond, not a peace of paper. If your word is that bad we don't want you, and if our word is not kept you should not want us either.

None of my teachers, all traditionalists, ever mentioned the word contract; it has no place in a bond between teacher and student.


Student: Are there different types of traditional schools?

Ma Shrfu: No, a traditional school is one that teaches the old ways, that follows the Wu-De, the proper ethics. These ethics are imbedded into the very fabric of the arts. It's all about proper self-discipline, about respect for the arts and all they stand for. It's about following a code of conduct, developing the mind, body and spirit.

A Traditional Guan is a home away from home, a place of gathering of brothers and sisters who all share the same desire to learn and improve their lives for the better.

The Guan is a special place, which is why we all bow before stepping onto the Guan floor. It is a sign of showing the respect for all that is taught there. A traditional Guan is a home away from home, a place of gathering of brothers and sisters who all share the same desire to learn and improve their lives for the better. It is a place for self-examination and self-awareness. Any school that is not following these principles is not traditional because all traditional schools look towards these matters as essential. A Guan is an extended family where all share and learn together.

There is no substitute for a traditional school and there is no mistaking any other type of school for a traditional school. As one of my teachers once said to me, you can learn to fight almost anywhere you go, but you can not learn how not to fight just anywhere. Only in a traditional school can you learn how to win without fighting.

Student: Are there any signs that indicate a student has entered a traditional Guan? I mean do they look different then a so called commercial Guan?

Ma Shrfu: Well most Guans look the same but there are certain indicators that would signal a traditional Guan.

For one, you would see a shrine honoring the teacher's Masters. As I have said, respect is a key word in traditional schools. Remembering who the founders of the style are is extremely important in traditional schools. On the shrine you will see pictures of the former masters. If a picture is there it means that particular master has passed away. If the master is still alive, then a picture of the master would be hanging somewhere on the main wall of the Guan.

You also would see a shrine dedicated the father of all Kung Fu. This figure is the Guan Kong, the so-called Red Faced Warrior. He is honored, not worshiped, as the founder of all Kung Fu, and a traditional school would always have this shrine somewhere near the front wall of the school.

You would also notice as each student enters the Guan that they bow in to the Masters' shrine and light incense in their honor. You would also notice there would be some kind of oath that would stand on the shine that the student would recite, pledging his/her dedication to the principles of Wu-De. Finally, you would see a family tree of all the certifiable members as well as and the current master certificates hanging on the walls for all to see.

Of course these are but signs and don't necessarily mean that a school is running in the traditional way. Only by observing and listening can anyone make decisions as to the quality of the school. The reason I say this is because I have seen many schools that make the claim they are traditional, but after watching you will find they are run in a commercial way. They would have contracts with high costs and there would be little mention of loyalty, honor and the principles of Wu-De. In the course of time words are defined as true or false; there is no hiding truth.

Student: Is it hard to run a traditional school as opposed to a so-called commercial school?

Ma Shrfu: No doubt, yes. Maintaining the Wu-De ethics is a difficult task. It would far easier to have students sign contracts and commit them to long term training, and then turn over the contracts to a collection agency in the event they don't pay you for services rendered. It would much more lucrative to charge students for everything we offer, such as promotions, certificates, lectures etc. However, we don't do these things. In fact we offer free lectures, free trials classes, and the best, no contracts.

Respect is a key word in traditional schools. Remembering who the founders of the style are is extremely important in traditional schools.

Living up to Chinese standards is a difficult matter that every traditional teacher faces. In the past I have been made many offers by financial backers offering me a school with all the trimmings, providing I ran it more like a business rather then as a traditional school. My answer has always been quick to say, no thank you.

But, I am also aware it would have been so much easier knowing I would have a school that was making profits and not as much of a worry to upkeep. But a traditional teacher could not do this out of love for what he/she believes in, so I choose the traditional way, knowing in my heart I will feel good about what I do.

Student: Did any of your teachers run a traditional school? How and where did they teach you?

Ma Shrfu: No, none had a school that you could call a Guan. All either taught in parks in Taiwan, or at schools where they had a small room assigned to them, or at their place of work, setting aside a small area for the training, or at the school of another teacher, who would give them some time and space to teach.

Student: Why do you think they never opened a school as you did?

Ma Shrfu: Well, it was mainly a money or space issue. The costs are high to run a school, and most noted teachers just don't want to be tied down with Guan problems. Also, In Taiwan or Hong Kong, space is at a premium. It's not only hard to find, but also very costly. When I was in Hong Kong much of the practice and classes were held on roof tops. In general Teachers did not want to be burdened with all the problems of running schools. If they felt things were not good where they were they could simply pick up and leave.

In my early days of teaching I also did this and, to be honest with you, I enjoyed the freedom from Guan responsibilities. This is why it is so important that students help their Teachers so the Guan may be upheld. When Teachers become more burdened with Guan problems than just teaching, they tend to close the Guan. Traditional schools are always run more by the students than by a teacher. Yes, the Teacher is in charge, and the Teacher oversees things to be sure proper Wu-De is being followed, but it has always been this way in the ancient times and even now in our current times. If students don't care, then soon the Guan doors close.

Student: Did you ever consider closing your school?

Ma Shrfu: Yes, and I have done that a few times in the past, but it was dedicated students who convinced me to continue and helped me maintain the school. As I have always told my students, I would rather teach one good student in my backyard than one hundred problem students in a school. It is only these dedicated and caring students who keep our Guan alive. Without them I would be gone. In the ancient times, noted masters would simply teach in the forests and students would find them and build a school around them. This became the master's home and he would stay as long as the students maintained the school. Really nothing has changed in all these years. A traditional master still feels the same.

My advice to students who are seeking to learn under a traditional master is to help him help you. If you don't, one day he or she will just leave and close the school. This has happened more times than I can remember, both to me and many of my fellow teachers.

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The Ethics (Wu De)

Student: I know as a traditionalist you run your Guan according proper Wu-De or proper ethics. Is this a difficult thing to do and what does it mean to you?

Ma Shrfu: This is a question worth an entire article but I will keep it short and to the point here.

When In doubt, I simply sit back and ask myself, what would my teachers do in a situation like this? Immediately, an answer comes to me.

Yes, it is always difficult to stand firm by one's principles. Many times it even hurts me because of the action I must take to preserve those principles. However, it is what we stand for and there can be no deviation or the whole idea of traditional goes down the drain. Decisions are an everyday affair in running a Guan. There are always decisions that have to be made and I have to be sure it complies with proper Wu-De. Many of these decisions are not easy to make, and in many cases I wish I did not have to make a decision at all, but in the final analysis I could not sleep at night if I were to go against proper Wu-De.

When In doubt, I simply sit back and ask myself, what would my teachers do in a situation like this? Immediately, an answer comes to me. I may not like what has to be done but that has never stopped me from making that decision.

Student: What do you see as an obvious brake against Wu-De and what would be your action to rectify it?

Ma Shrfu: Well, all of the Chinese arts are based on the word 'respect.' We have to learn to respect all things in life. Without respect our Guan would fall apart. There is respect for people; there is respect for places and things as well. Without Wu- De the arts lose one of greatest values. which is to teach people how to respect everything for what it is. This respect even includes self-respect.

If a student shows a lack of respect in some manner and is not willing to rectify the mistake, the student is usually asked to leave the Guan. Of course, dismissing a student is a radical cure and one no teacher wishes to do.

Realistically speaking, there are people in the world who have a problem getting along with people well. We have all met this type of person at least once in our lives. The kind of person that just doesn't get it, or one who just can't catch a hint when you're trying to warn him or her of their poor behavior. Sadly there is no escape from running into a few like this in a teaching career, and when it happens then drastic measures must be taken to safe guide the principles we as Traditionalists hold so dear.

It is said in the ancient times, potential students who came to the Shao-lin Temple to study were carefully evaluated for their character before they would be accepted as potential students. But even with all these precautions they also had some bad apples, as martial arts history will bear out. Simply stated, people come with all kinds of personalities and some of them just don't agree with our Wu-De expectations. These are the ones that must go.


Student: You do seem strongly about this matter, but are there that many that do such things to teachers?

Ma Shrfu: Thank goodness no, but the ones that do cause teachers many problems by their presence. Now I try to weed them out before it gets out of hand.

When a student doesn't keep up with their financial responsibilities I call them into the office to find out why. This is the first mistake on their part, as a teacher should never have to call a student for this. The student should come to office the first day their payment is late. I don't know how anyone could look a teacher in the eye when their financial agreements have not been met. Would anyone not pay his rent and expect the landlord just to wait till they decided to pay? How could they look a teacher in the eye and just steal his knowledge and think nothing about it, especially when teachers are so understanding and willing to work with any student financial problems.

The Chinese think a person is only as good as his word. When you make a pledge and break it your words become meaningless.

Students should first give the teacher the courtesy of explaining to him what is going on. Something can always be worked out. Teachers are there to help. It is a reality that schools need capital to run, and this comes from students, not a teacher's pocket. I have never seen this kind of problem in any of my teacher's schools.

When you don't honor your own commitments this is called a loss of face. The Chinese think a person is only as good as his word. When you make a pledge and break it your words become meaningless. I have met many people such as this along my teaching career. I think breaking your word or saying things and never following through with your word makes people feel your words and promises are useless. Once you have such an impression of someone whatever that persons says to you is seldom regarded as useful or true. People such as this are of little value to the teacher and have little chance of becoming anything worth while in the study of the true martial arts.

In my training years my fees were always paid promptly so my teachers could maintain the Guan and continue teaching me. A teacher respects those that show respect. This kind of student is always welcomed by his teacher and a teacher will bend over backwards for honorable students.

One of my teachers, Ch'ang Tung Sheng, once talked about money as being a test of a person's real sincerity. If a person truly loves something, money is never an object. If he does not truly love his training, then money is always a problem. When I was training I had no money, I would borrow from my class mates just to get the money to pay for my classes on time. Then I would get a job and make some money and pay back my class mates, but I would never keep my teacher waiting for his fee. I would never dream of disgracing myself or dishonoring my teacher.


Student: Is it only money that causes you heartache, or is their other situations that also causes you to feel this way?

Ma Shrfu: Well, then there is the disrespect of the teacher in general. I have had many such students. Their teacher sees potential in them and gives them his all then when they achieve higher levels they turn around and follow through with nothing. They fail to workout, fail to continue proper training, fail to help the teacher teach. All they do is show up once every few months to see what's going on.

This kind of high-level student is a heartache for a teacher and quite frankly a big waste of time. They are no use to themselves or others. Usually a teacher will simply cut the rope and let the student go completely. This is very common in schools. Many students want the high-level rank, but when they achieve it, they fail to take the responsibility that goes with it. Such a student is just a waste in the teacher's eyes. So many years of teaching were given, only to find the teacher had created a worthless student. This is indeed a sad fact that many teachers have to face.

We all have our stories of the students who broke their teacher's heart. Sad but true, but again the only way to deal with it is to let them go, because keeping such a student around is of no use to anyone. I, sadly, have let many go who failed in the final analysis. This indeed is sad, and a teacher never forgets the hurt such students cause him.

Student: Do you really feel the American student can live up to the standards of Chinese traditions?

Ma Shrfu: This is an interesting question, but in general I would yes it is possible. I feel my own lifestyle has shown this. Of course it is not easy for Americans to follow Asian thinking completely. The reason for this should be obvious to all. If not, let me elaborate by saying we here in America have a culture that is far different then the Asian culture. We think differently, we act differently, and we have different goals and standards in life. This is neither good nor bad, it just is the way it is. Therefore, for Americans to adjust to the Asian culture is not the norm.

Many students want the high level ranks, but when they achieve it, they fail to take the responsibility that goes with it.

But there will always be some that do and find this philosophy easy to accept and follow. We are all creatures of our environment; we think and act according to the society we live. But just as there are Chinese who have accept the American way, of life there will be Americans who accept the Chinese way of life as well. How much they accept is all dependent on how they view the Asian principles and accept them.

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The Students

Student: When people come to you to join your Guan how do you interview them?

Shrfu: I try to find out their reasons for joining the Guan. People come for many reasons—health, conditioning, discipline, self defense to name a few. It's important to know what their reasons are so I can point to the best art for them to start with.

Student: Can you tell if they will succeed in training when you first meet them? I have heard Teachers can tell almost the moment they meet the potential student if he or she will succeed.

Shrfu: Yes, I do have a good idea then and there if they will succeed. Of course I have been wrong in the past, but more often then not, I know. But because I must give them the chance most times I will say nothing either way. In the Shao-lin Temple before a student was accepted he had to meet the head monk. There the monk would accept or deny entry to the temple based on what he sensed about the potential student. I try to be a little more tolerant, and try to explain what might be their downfalls in learning with the hope they will listen and avoid the pit falls.


Student: What do you consider to be the best qualities in a potential student?

Ma Shrfu: A good character for one, a nice personality, friendly, and willing to listen, rather then talk. Someone who is willing to apply themselves hard at what they do. You see it's not the teacher that teaches, it's the students that learns. A teacher is only worth as much as the student will try. If a student doesn't try then there is no learning. It becomes a waste of time for everyone—the teacher and the student. I don't have an eternity here on Earth so I have little time to waste. There is nothing more upsetting to a teacher then trying to talk to a student who simply does not listen.

Student: What do you do when you have a student that does not listen?

Ma Shrfu: I walk away; soon that student will leave of his or her own accord. They will not last long. It only a matter of time and they will quite training. It is easily seen by any instructor. You can only talk so much, it the student does not respond to the teacher's observations, then nothing can be achieved. A teacher is not there to force people to learn. That comes from the student, not the teacher.

No matter who the teacher is, it doesn't make any difference. It is not the teacher that counts, it is the student that counts. You could have private lessons with Bruce Lee himself and learn nothing if you don't follow the teacher's instructions. A good teacher is one who can bring out all the fine points of Shao-lin and then demonstrate it, a good student is one who can understand and copy what is seen and work for the perfections of it. This combination of sharing and learning is what makes masters.

As long as there is effort, then a teacher is satisfied. Not everyone will be great; some will and some will never be. But still there is something everyone can attain if only they will try.

Student: But what do you do when a student is trying and listening and still can't get it?

Ma Shrfu: As long as there is effort, then a teacher is satisfied. Not everyone will be great; some will and some will never be. But still there is something everyone can attain if only they will try. A teacher does not expect everyone to be the best in the world. What the teacher does expect is the effort. With this effort no matter, who it is they will achieve something from training.

Student: What are some of things you think a student must show in order for you to give them even more attention?

Ma Shrfu: I think it the hard practice. Most good Teachers can tell almost the instant the students move if they have practiced what they were shown or not. There is no hiding lack of practice as well as good practice time. Most anyone can learn Shao-lin to one degree or another if they apply themselves. But when no practice time is given to what is taught is becomes a waste of time for the Teacher to spend time with such a student.

As a teacher, I am drawn to those who have a strong desire to learn and show me this by hard practice. Those that never seem to practice are already on the way out the door—it is just a matter of time. So why waste my time there when I should be focusing in on those who are making the effort? I can't force people to practice.

Some like to think just by being a student and coming to class that is all that is needed to learn. This is a grave error in judgment; class time is reserved for corrections of learned material as well as moving forward to new materiel. So when I see the student has not practiced at home I simply tell them go off in the corner and practice.

Failure to practice only holds back a student from advancing and frustrates the teacher. A traditional master such as Ch'ang Tung Sheng would simply walk away from a lazy student or a student who always had an excuse for not practicing. This kind of training is a waste of precious time for all concerned.

Student: But, don't you feel there are things that can come up in our busy lives that could deter one from practice? Do you think it is fair to ignore a person because they may not have has the time to practice that week?

Learning a lot or little is the decision of the student, not the teacher. Come a lot, practice a lot, learn a lot.

Ma Shrfu: There is a difference there. A teacher knows the difference between a person who just ran out of time and because of extenuating circumstances did not get the time he or she needed that week and a person who is constantly failing to practice. It all shows. There is no hiding desire and lack of desire to learn. It is those that lack true desire that I am referring to.

Student: How about class attendance, what are you views there? How many classes a week should a student be making in your opinion to be successful at this art?

Ma Shrfu: This is a good question and often asked of me. To answer, let me say you get out of Shao-lin proportionally what you put into it. If a person comes to one class once a month and has practiced the one thing he was taught that month that student is doing fine. Now, they may not learn very much with this slow approach, but as I said that is the choice they have made. One inch in gives you one inch out, as they say in Shao-lin.

Not all students come to learn the full scope of Shao-lin; some just come for the exercise or learn a few movements for their personal enjoyment. That is fine and I would still help such a student when they do come to training. The problem only arises when they think that will suffice to attain high levels of Shao-lin knowledge because it will not. As long as the student is aware of this there is no problem.

Learning a lot or little is the decision of the student, not the teacher. Come a lot, practice a lot, learn a lot. That's the formula to mastery. Come a little, practice a little, learn a little. That's the formula that goes against achieving mastery. Either way, it is the choice of the student, not the teacher. No teacher expects every student who ever joins his school to make it to the top. We all get out of Shao-lin training the measure we put into it, no more no less.


Student: You have taught so many people. Some of them do not complete their training and are not on your family tree and yet go out to teach others. What do you think of this?

Ma Shrfu: This is the reason a family tree exists. It is like a teacher's last will and testament. If a student is not listed on a family tree people, should be aware of any claims they may make. I am constantly updating my family tree trying to keep it as pure as possible. In this way the public can be assured that what they are learning is pure Shao-lin, Tai Chi, Ba Gwa or Hsing-I.

In the past I was very much bothered by this fact of unqualified people teaching, but now I have come to know no one person can not fix this problem. It exists in all walks of life, from good dentist versus bad dentist, or good carpenter versus a bad one, or a good cook versus a bad cook. The lists are numerous. Teachers are no exception.

It is for the public to do some research and if they do they are fairly sure to find good teachers thus avoiding those who are not qualified. There is enough information out there now that finding good people is not the problem it was in the past. Word of mouth from people usually points to good people. The internet, magazines, even television—all are means of finding the best teacher for you.

Student: I have noticed your family tree changing, but what surprises me is that you have deleted many higher levels over the years. How could a student make such high levels and suddenly be stricken from the tree?

Ma Shrfu: I have learned it takes years to know people well. And even then you may be in for some surprises. It can take years for a person true nature to surface. We can only hope there will be no surprises, but unfortunately it does happen and you have to make another Wu-De decision to keep the family tree pure from those who might not have achieved the right understanding of our code of ethics. I have had many who made so called higher levels only to find later they are indeed poor students who lack good Wu-De. This is one of the most common reasons a high levels is stricken from our rolls.

A teacher such as this will only degrade the integrity of our arts and pass on poor quality Shao-lin to the public. They have to be stricken from our family tree to safeguard the purity of our art. It is a heartbreak for a teacher to have to do this, because teachers put so much time effort and trust in such a student only to find a hug ego that emerges later on or some other major problem that goes against the Masters ideals of Wu-De.

Some people come to a noted teacher only to take what they have and really never follow the spiritual aspects of this art. They are not there to follow the true way; they are only concerned with fame or rank. Such a teacher would only foster poor quality students that would in turn generate more poor students. In the long run the arts would degenerate and what would remain are not the traditional proven methods that transform people into wonderful people and well as quality teachers.

The most important thing a teacher looks for is a student with dedication and loyalty to the principles of Wu-De, but this kind of student is not easily found. In my whole life which is over 50 years in this art, I have only promoted four people to Master Levels. Teacher levels have been about ten or so, and of them about half are gone.

That's why it takes about 30 years to see a person true nature and love and respect for this art. By then they should be ranked as Master level. Usually Master levels remain strong in following good ethics. I think when a student reaches that level a teacher takes a deep breath of relief that maybe he picked right person to carry the arts on to future generations.


Student: How can the public be aware they are not getting such a fraud as their teacher?

Ma Shrfu: Well this is not easy for those who have no idea what the martial arts is all about. They have to simply do some serious checking into the teacher's credentials. Don't believe all they tell you as they will try to hide their past and fill in their backgrounds with lies and deceit so as to draw people to them. I have so called former students out there now doing this very thing.

Some are using my name and others are hiding the fact that I even taught them because they know I would deny their credentials if someone was to ask me about them. So they change their background information so no one can trace their past tracks. It is sad but it is also a fact of life there will always be frauds in this world, and people must be aware of this. As I said before, the public has to be aware and do some checking then they will know the truth.

Student: So what do you do when you see this happen?

Ma Shrfu: Nothing. I cannot stop this nor do I really care to try. It really in the hands of the potential student to figure out what is going on by inquiring and research into the teachers past. This was how I found my teachers, there was no doubt they who they claimed to be. I terraced their family tree and inquired with people who might tell me the truth. All the really noted teachers in this country know one another; we call this the Inner Circle of those who know.

But again this will be of no avail if a new student does not think clearly and do some checking. It is not up to me to keep everyone on the up and up. All I can do is care for my own Guan affairs and keep my tree up to date and answers any calls I might get about people inquiring who is who in this art. If a student but looks he or she will find the truth out.

A true Master is modest in his claims, and rarely if ever degrades people. The Master is too busy developing his or her Buddha nature and skills to be concerned with matters of ego and power.

But people remain in the dark about the inner circles of the Chinese arts. They are easily fooled by cunning teachers who cleverly hide years of training they don't want revealed, as they know if this is found out their former teachers would denounce them. My only advice is to watch closely. You can usually tell who they are by the outlandish boasting and how they always seem to put everyone down except themselves. A true Master is modest in his claims, and rarely if ever degrades people. The Master is too busy developing his or her Buddha nature and skills to be concerned with matters of ego and power.

Student: It seems to me teachers don't associate with their students very much, yet you mention a teacher is like a father to his students. Why don't teachers have more interaction with his students?

Ma Shrfu: They do, but only in the training situations. Most teachers normally don't have any social interaction with students. There is a teacher's world, and there is a student's world.

And if a student were to leave the Guan the connection would be cut entirely and chances are that student will never hear from the teacher again. It not personal, it is just the way it is in the martial arts. I have many students who left on good terms with me but have never seen them again, because my world centers on the active members. However, if the student has left on good Wu-De terms then he/she could call at any time and the teacher would entertain him or her in friendly manner. Only those that left on bad terms would be ignored.

A teacher's family is his students, but he only interacts when teaching is involved, just as parenting. Those with children would understand this. A parent advises his children and teaches them, but he does not go out with them.

The only other time there is an interaction is at affairs such as dinners or special occasions then the teacher would be there. Other than that, teachers just stay in the background and watch. In Wu-De principle it is good not to associate on friendly terms with students, a teacher is not your friend; he or she is your guide. Therefore if a teacher is following good Wu-De he would remain aloof.

Only the closest of students come close to the teacher, such as closed door students who have earned the deep trust and confidence of their teacher. It has always been that way in the martial arts. It has nothing to do with if the teacher likes you or not, it has to do with proper Wu-De. In this way teaching becomes the main terms of their relationship in that the way a proper relationship is maintained.

Student: As long as I have known you, I noticed you don't focus on children classes, where most school today do. I have read children's classes are about sixty percent of a schools income and that's where many school make their capital from. Can you tell me why you refrain from focusing on children?

Ma Shrfu: Well it's not that I don't like children, it's that they are indeed hard to teach to begin with. I also realize that if I did push that issue it would indeed increase our schools income, but money has never been my reason for doing things anyway. I teach because I want to find good students to pass the Arts on to. Children have less chance then an adult to learn because of obvious reasons.

Real training is no party—it is hard work, sweat, and pain. This is the reality. Some can take it and others can not.

However, if a child comes to our schools and shows interest, we would most certainly try to teach them. We do not cater to so-called children's classes. The children are treated much the same as adults. We don't have games and parties; we have hard workouts and strict discipline, which are two things most children have a repulsion for.

Real training is no party—it is hard work, sweat, and pain. This is the reality. Some can take it and others can not. Most children would rather be out with their friends and just home watching TV, and Guan would not be on their top then list of things to do, for sure.

Student: But you do have a few children. How do you deal with them?

Ma Shrfu: I try to get the parents to understand that we are not a commercial school and try to tell them our reason for teaching is not their money but rather to teach the children. We expect them to work like anyone else. We don't consider the martial arts to be just fun and games, as many schools do to attract children. In fact I try discouraging them from sending the child. Only if they insist will I accept them. I try to make sure that it is the child that wants to learn and not just the parents' wish. This would serve no purpose, because the child will be impossible to teach.

Student: But don't you agree if a person starts young in this art they can excel greatly?

Ma Shrfu: Yes, no doubt, and I have seen children that have the ability to learn well and become great martial artists. But still, children are children and the lose interest easily in most things. So, I find teaching children to be a labor of love with little results. It does help some children to become confident, and better disciplined and if this much is achieved, it is good for them. But as far as having great expectations for their future, I doubt it.

I started young but I had the desire for reasons of my own. To me, it was great because I need it for my survival in the streets of New York City. But the children I see today don't have this need as I did. Their main motivation is what they see in the movies, and as we know, the movies is not reality, and that fades quickly.

All of this is not to say I don't think children should study because I certainty think they should—but for the right reasons. We teach them much the same as we would adults. There are no gimmicks to hold them in the school. If they can't take the training, we will be the first to tell the parents the child is not working hard in class or is not practicing at home. I have often said to parents don't waste your time and money take them out they are not ready to learn.

In fact, before we accept any child we ask to have a trial class with them and see how they respond. If they show they pay little attention or can't do without their parents being around we dismiss them as not ready and tell the parent to try again in a few years. We do have children classes which we call the Little Dragons Class, and although there are not many students, the ones that stay become exceptional children.


Student: How do you compare the students if your days in training to the students today?

Ma Shrfu: Very different. It was a different time and different attitudes. It is not the same. There was a different type of person entering the Guans at that time. They were more willing to work harder, train harder, with more intent to learn. They were willing to take all the hard training the old master dished out.

If a person makes it to the level of Master it means they have mastered themselves. If one has achieved this control over the self then life is dealt with is a somewhat different manner.

Today I have changed my approaching to teaching. I don't push students they way I was pushed. If I did my school would not last long in this generation, especially if I did the same things my teachers did. If I did not change with the times not only would students quit, I most likely would find some kind of law suite filed. You just can't do the same things we did years ago. It was hard, real and tough. I either made you or it would break you, but one thing for sure, it would not pamper you. Most schools have changed with the times; we are no different.

Student: Does this mean the quality of student is not as good?

Ma Shrfu: In general, yes. However, if I see a student who has the willingness to accept the hard training I would offer more realistic training to them. I do have a few who can take it, but in general the majority can not endue the old way of training. You must never forget the real purpose of martial arts training was to survive real life or death combat situations. It was not considered a sport or game. It was meant to take a life to save your life. This means anything goes. I have always said, marital arts are the dirtiest fighting in the world—anything that works well is good, no matter what.

But today you will find people unwilling to go the extremes the arts can call for in real combat. People worry too much about getting hurt, but the reality of fighting is you must be willing to get hurt to survive. This is almost expected. The idea is take it but give it back harder, and then you have a chance to win.

Student: I always admired my teachers, and sometimes I wondered how they lived their personal life aside from the martial arts. Do you think it is somewhat different then the average person?

Ma Shrfu: Not really. Masters eat, sleep and have families and problems like anyone else. The difference lies in how they deal with it. If a person makes it to the level of Master it means they have mastered themselves. If one has achieved this control over the self then life is dealt with is a somewhat different manner. You gain the insights of seeing things in a different light and therefore react to them differently.

They seem to find a way to blend their martial into their life style with no contradictions. The are in control, when control is possible. They move through the rough times we all experience with confidence in the outcome no matter which way thing go for them. They can handle the yin/yang forces of life where the average person crumbles in its wake. I can say as a teacher, if it was not for my training and convictions my life problems could very well overcome me as well. This is part of the great gift of training, to be aware, and act upon what we know to be true in life as well as what is not true.

All the great Masters of history are like you and me with the exception of this cultivated awareness and insight. It does make life no much more pleasant, to say the least.

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