Sunday, May 5, 2013

 An Open Letter to the Older Generation

Many people know that I am a regular contributor to several online forums and I have made it a goal of mine to reach out and make contact with as many great teachers as possible.  I have been doing this for my own personal progress as a teacher, so I can better learn how to teach and pass on the arts that I have learned.  So I spend a lot of time watching people and their words (when I'm not arguing with random people).  All this watching has started to come together lately and I have been noticing several problems, one of which I would like to explain and see if I can offer a solution.

I will be the first to point out that most of the trolls and mouth-breathers who make life hard on forums are young people, my generation.  But we are also the group that as a whole gets along the easiest despite our style or geographical differences.  I have made many good friends on those forums and I can say that it is very common to meet a young teacher who thinks his style is the best hands down, but is completely willing to accept that others feel the same about their style.  We can share points and training methods, provide honest opinions on where progress should be made in each others arts, and walk away completely happy and not the least bit insulted.  With the older generation, that would be unthinkable!  There are many great teachers and good people from the older generation that I have met, but more often than not, they are the most set in their ways and VERY quick to dismiss new ideas or thoughts that don't meet their standards.  They are also very fast to say that a younger person won't ever understand unless they obey the word of the older martial artist.  There is a mindset of  'I have been there and if you don't do what I say, regardless of your style, you are an idiot and it's not worth talking to you'.  Often times this leads to a blind refusal to acknowledge that there are MANY different ways to skin the same cat (to use an odd reference).  This mindset also very quickly leads to the older practitioner REFUSING to hear that their art isn't perfect or that something might be missing.  Now please, don't take this as me being rude to older martial artists, NOT AT ALL!  But as I will show, this is leading to a serious issue that will only end badly for all of us if we can't bridge the gap between generations.  

So yes, I made the point that old people are stubborn.  That isn't really news to anyone is it?  But the new generation of teachers seems to be working on a different wavelength and the two aren't compatible at all.  Let me explain.  I know lots of great older teachers like I mentioned.  They all have one thing in common, they were lucky enough to train under a great teacher in person, a true master of Kung Fu that could teach as well as apply their art.  The arts were passed in a very traditional method.  But that is the main problem facing my group.  There aren't as many teachers available to pass on their arts with the same quality and skill as when YOU were first learning.  We all know that the number of good teachers is dropping, so how can the younger group learn?  Most of us have families that we can't uproot and drag across the country for martial arts training on the off chance that the Master they have heard about is the real deal.  For many, it seems like a dead end as far as learning real martial arts, regardless of style.  But that is where our young, bull-headed thinking comes into play.  We aren't deterred by that.  We have gone out of our way to use new technology and social networking to find teachers across the world to try and learn from.  Many older teachers think that online training is worthless, and I will be the first to say that it is very limited.  But it is truly better than nothing.  It lets many people who have no local teachers start to explore and learn, and the greater number of people we can expose to the traditional arts, the greater chance we have of finding more people who will carry the banner in the future, right?  It also lets the current generation of masters really influence the next generation with ideas that we haven't been exposed to and most likely won't be.  Now I am not saying at all that someone can learn everything from a computer screen.  That simply can't be done.  But in the absence of a qualified teacher, what is the alternative?  My generation is also much more open to different ideas or concepts from different styles being introduced and tried as an experiment.  If many of my friends have issues in training, they are very open and honest about it and many have cleared their training hurdles with help and advice from people of the same generation, not the older one.  

So we see that there are two distinct groups operating here, the older teachers who have been training in the same art for a long time with one teacher, and the younger teachers trying to make their way without that benefit so easily accessible.  The older group CLEARLY has the knowledge and skill that the younger group desires, so why are there so few connections between them?  I think I can answer that.  Since the new group is trying to learn and share in ways that have never been done before out of necessity, they have little in common with the standard bearers for the old arts.  When a younger person shares a video of their practice or asks for help, it is rare that the older teachers jump right in and try to help.  More often they say that "You can't learn online, so stop trying".  People of the same age range are usually the ones to provide the most support and offer the most help.  This is the problem.  As the newer teachers are progressing, they are seeing and feeling little support from older players and this leads to a lack of bonding and often respect for them.  Why would I listen to a teacher who dismissed me when I was younger and needed help, but after years is more open to me and my practice?  In a way, the older group is ensuring that their knowledge won't spread like it could simply because they aren't open to new ideas on training or at least introducing the arts.  I am not saying that established teachers have to change everything for the younger group.  But we have to understand that times are changing and we don't live in the same world you grew up and practiced in.  There has to be a continuation of development.  This will require a lot of hard work from younger people and a lot of patience and flexibility from older people.  But please remember this the next time you dismiss a younger teacher who is struggling to learn...............If you don't reach out a hand and try to help him, can you honestly blame him for not knowing or developing?  The arts are firmly in YOUR hands right now.  The future of Kung Fu is yours.  But if you don't find ways to influence younger people, you will take all your knowledge with you and your arts will suffer because it wasn't passed on.  Remember that one day, the young whipper-snappers will be in your position and will hold the future in their hands.  If you don't do your best to influence and help them, it won't be their fault if the arts are lacking.  It will be yours.  

Please don't take this as a condemnation of anyone.  I only want to make a simple point about interactions between teachers of different generations and how to improve the existing situation.  I mean no disrespect to anyone.  But a strong point has to be made, so I hope I tread the line well.  I would appreciate any feedback you are willing to share.

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  1. Try and talk to someone in the United States about their art, they will simply invite you to come to their class and leave you with the feeling that they only care about making a profit.

    1. Well, I know for a fact that what you said is true for a LOT of schools here. But there are a good number of schools like mine that run extremely lost cost and free classes. On my Facebook page, I have lots of pictures from our free circle walking class that I have every weekend, and I HATE trying to sell people to join my school. My teacher is the same way, he teaches us for free as long as we train hard, doesn't accept money at all. My personal classes are SUPER cheap, just enough to cover my gas and maybe buy dinner for my wife, I have a day job and I don't ever hope to get rich teaching Kung Fu. Thank you so much for taking the time to read, its very nice to meet you!

    2. Hey Stoned Tiger I've seen you in several of the martial art groups, small world it seems. That is really interesting that you offer such low cost teaching, I didn't know you could find that kind of thing in this country. Hmm this idea of yours gets me to thinking about starting something small and helpful to others which will in turn help me with the experience. Very nice and good to know there are people out there like you.

    3. That is great, I didn't know we have met before! I offer free or lost cost classes because I really love Chinese martial arts, and it seems horrible to me to charge a lot of money for something I love. I would rather have a good group of people who are good friends and love the arts like I do, than to have some extra money in my pocket. I promise you (from personal experience) that if you give something as valuable as Chinese Kung Fu to your community without trying to get personal gain, you will learn a million things about Kung Fu you never knew before. The Chinese arts have always survived with teachers who were never rich, like Sun Lu Tang and Dong Hai Chuan, and they have changed the world as far as I am concered. :)

  2. Nice blog with some good reasonable points. My advice? Keep the discussion going and don't spend so much time apologizing from here on out. You've made plain that you're not intending to run anybody's method down. Anyone who gets offended at this point is choosing to do so.

    This conversation has been going on for many years now, and what you'll find is that, at the heart of the matter, it all depends on what the individual's primary training objectives are. Peoples' opinions on this issue vary wildly from this crucial decision point depending on what they are training for.

    Best of luck and looking forward to more.

    Chris McKinley

    1. Thank you very much! I really appreciate the feedback!



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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.