Thursday, December 6, 2012

Americans are so lazy

"The reason Kung Fu isn't growing in the US anymore is because Americans are lazy".  This is the mantra of most Traditional CMA teachers whose schools aren't growing.  Its the easiest way to explain the stagnation of CMA, right?  Nope, its not.  Lets go over some facts and look at why these schools aren't growing at the rate they should be.

First (and most importantly), Americans aren't lazy at all.  In fact many studies have shown that Americans work more and take fewer holidays than most other countries in the world.  Americans are also fanatical when they find a thing they are passionate about, we tend to over do whatever our focus is.  We spend more on participating in sports and building parks and playing fields than any other country as well.   Our children start playing sports competitively at a younger age than most nations, and a big chunk of school budgets are spent on sports teams.  America has more gym's and personal trainers than most other countries as well.  If you look at the average TKD or modern martial arts school in the US, their membership numbers are very high, usually 150-200 students that come at least once a week.  When we look at all these factors, we see that Americans are very passionate about recreational activities, so that in and of itself proves that we aren't lazy as a group.  The being more overweight fact actually strengthens this fact.  If all Americans were in perfect shape, then much more money and time would be spent on recreation!

Secondly, the lazy comment is normally made by teachers with few students as their excuse for not growing. But why would anyone in their right mind want to train with an American teacher who insults other Americans??  Nobody would unless they were trying to find a group that gave them the feeling of mental superiority over others.  As in 'I'm a Kung Fu person and we work harder than anyone else'  That is actually a common thing since humans constantly try to differentiate themselves from others to prove their worth (ask a shrink if you don't believe me).  The phrase "McDonald's Mentality" is used in a derogatory way as well describing the Western desire for quick results, or because they have a specific goal for training and many aren't interested in doing only what the teacher wishes.  Again, who would pay money to be insulted?  What does it say about a teacher who insults his own culture?  This type of  teacher usually doesn't understand that small gains that come quickly are the best way to motivate students to come to class more often and to practice harder at home.  We should show new students simple exercises that are quickly beneficial to excite the student, not cut them down because they want results and aren't interested in following a plan that isn't clearly laid out for progress.

I think teachers who say this are usually the sole party responsible for their school's condition.  We should take several things into consideration when talking about this to get a better understanding of why they are having trouble.  The biggest hurdle for CMA teachers is that Chinese martial arts come from a culture steeped in Confucian ideals and Eastern philosophy and now we are trying to spread in a society that is based off of Western ideals which are the complete opposite.  Its crazy to get upset because an American doesn't come in with the understanding that is needed for success in CMA.  Many teachers think that as soon as a student walks through the door, they should just start obeying without question everything the teacher says, but that is contrary to the Western mindset.  Americans love to ask "Why", and any teacher who wants to be successful in America would be wise to understand that and be prepared.  I'm not saying that Eastern thinking is wrong by any stretch of the imagination, but I am saying that if you want to take people off the street and turn them into good students, you MUST understand how Americans think and introduce Eastern concepts slowly and in digestible amounts.  Lets think for a second.  If you were that new student and had no idea about CMA or the code of behavior required in a CMA school, you would be confused and maybe even uncomfortable if you are exposed to everything at once.  Think about the Sun Toi or school altar.  An American would have no idea why that was there, since Westerners don't have altars outside of church.  Don't you think that might be something they are uncomfortable about at first?  Or that maybe that is the reason some Americans tie religion and Kung Fu together and avoid it?  There are lots of examples, but if you really want your school to grow, you will sit down and think about what new students have to be feeling or thinking when they come through your doors.

We should also be explaining things at first in a way that Americans can understand.  A great example is "Qi".  The notion of life energy is just now starting to take hold in the Western world and many prospective students would scoff at that idea still.  But a VERY basic idea of "Qi" can be given by teaching the student that the meridians follow the same path as nerves, and that the old Chinese drawings of pressure points are in fact nerve centers.  Even the dimmest student knows that energy runs along our nerves, so the idea of "Qi" suddenly becomes more palatable and easier to accept, right?  Of course that isn't the full theory of energy work, but its an introduction that students can easily understand and the teacher can use that base to introduce more foreign terms and ideas about "Qi" without confusing the student.  See how using terms and words that are directed at the students understanding can make harder concepts easier to understand?  Stance work is another pill that is hard for Americans to swallow.  Most won't understand the point of sitting in horse stance for long periods of time, and there is nothing wrong with that initial way of thinking.  Its the teacher's job to show how stances build strength.  One way to teach it is to push the student on the first lesson, and when they complain about sore muscles at the second lesson, give them a pat on the back for working so hard and point out that their legs are already getting stronger.  Show them how great of an exercise stances are!  That is one thing Americans understand, the need for exercise.  So use that term!  Or show them a student who has been only training a few months and demonstrate how strong his legs are now.  Demonstrate how powerful it will make their kicks.  Anything along these lines is better than a teacher ordering the student to keep doing it without any explanation of why they need it.

Again  I would like to point out that I'm not challenging the old ways of doing things.  But I am saying if you want to mold a person off the street into a dedicated student, you have to make the changes gradually, not full throttle.  Introduce new ideas slowly at first and the understanding will start to snowball and become more complete very quickly.  The reason that TKD schools have so many more students?  Because they know how to teach to Americans.  The same goes for modern martial art groups like the East-West schools, they understand how Americans think and start there.  You might look down on their style (and I'm almost positive that if you think Americans are lazy that you think you are better than TKD) but their results speak for themselves and their schools are growing while yours isn't.  I also think that teachers who say that are usually the least traveled.  I have been lucky enough to travel to many different countries and what I have learned is that people are the same the world over.  They want the same things and they are willing to work hard to get it.  So stop insulting a whole culture just because you aren't happy with your school size, because after all, your school is the product of your efforts, not anyone else's.

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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.