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Being Mindful of a Teacher’s Value

There is an old joke about a highly skilled engineer who was hired to solve a very challenging problem that folks had been struggling with for quite some time. As the story goes, this engineer showed up, assessed the problem in about 30 seconds, then pressed a quick series of buttons on a computer and the problem was instantly solved. He then presented his client with a bill for $1000. The client recoiled in disbelief and exclaimed, “One thousand dollars! All you did was press a few buttons.” To which the engineer replied, “Oh no, the pressing the buttons part was absolutely free. Knowing which buttons to press and when, well, that’s worth way more than I’m charging you.”

The point of the story is that an absolute master of anything can make things look so simple that it is very easy to completely lose sight of how many days, months, years, investment in education and effort it took for that individual to get to that level of skill. I know that myself, An-shu and the other master instructors, and most likely many of you, have this experience fairly regularly. Some students seem to expect us to deliver in clear, concise language and detailed demonstration secrets we have spent decades to understand. This is analogous to handing over your life’s work for lunch money, or as a dear friend says, “a cup of coffee and some pocket lint.” In most cases I honestly don’t believe they are trying to take advantage, they simply don’t consider exactly what they are asking, and, exactly what they are getting when we do deliver.

I have on a number of occasions had what appeared to be a potential student sit on the bench at my school and watch some classes. Then explain to me that they didn’t want to enroll in a program, they just wanted to learn this or that trick for handling certain attacks or problems. In one case I was teaching a seminar on attacking the base with a focus on immediate structural damage. This individual who had watched most of the seminar wanted me to teach him one or two techniques that he found particularly effective and intriguing. I hit him with my usual reply in these situations. I asked him what he did for a living. He was a bit confused but replied none-the-less, telling me that he built houses. I said, “Great. How long have you been doing that?” He said, over 15 years. I said, “So you must be pretty good at it then.” He replied, “I like to think so.” I said, “That’s fantastic. So let’s make a deal, I’ll teach you the secrets behind these techniques you’re interested in and I won’t ask for a whole house, cause that would be ridiculous, but how about you build me a nice deck for the back of my house.”

Of course a very interesting conversation followed. He was very good-natured about the point I was making (some have not been) and said he had just never thought about this from that perspective before, and that it made complete sense. In case you’re wondering, no, he did not enroll. Which brings us to the next point. Spending time with a master instructor, particularly in a private lesson, should be a decision based on your level of passion and dedication to your own training. You may not be that committed to it, and that’s certainly ok. I have often commented that I would not have time for a private lesson with Tiger Woods even if it were free. Some folks gasp when I say that. I’m just not in to golf. If I were, however, I might well understand why someone would pay the astronomical fees I have heard are charged for such a thing.

As To-Shin Do master instructors we can often answer a burning question, solve a puzzling conundrum, and literally shave years off of your skill development path in mere moments. I am happy to say that my experience has been that many serious students recognize the immense value in this fast-tracking of their own path to mastery. And now, it couldn’t be much easier. With current technology in place long distance privates and virtual feedback are a reality and available to you. You also have an ever-increasing library of course experiences available from our most knowledgeable and experienced master instructors. If I say any more I will start sounding like my beloved father – you know, the old story about walking to and from school up hill both ways, in the snow, barefoot…. You get the idea.  So take care of your teachers, whoever they are, and take a moment to consider what it took them to be in a position to pass on their skills and secrets.

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