The martial arts student who makes you proud

Kris’s latest blog post got me thinking about the many students I’ve had over the years.You get all kinds of people coming to class and it’s your job as a teacher to give it your all so they learn as much as possible. Which isn’t always easy. Top of my head, this is what I remember of 20 years of teaching martial arts:

  • Some were good athletes, others were not physically gifted at all. Most people seem to fall in between. I’ve also been fortunate to have had natural athletes join my class. Those are always a lot of fun to work with because they have energy to spare.
  • Most students picked things up OK though a couple had absolutely no co-ordination to speak off. They literally weren’t at home in their body, moving as if it was alien to them or belonged to somebody else. Very few of those lasted long because no matter what I tried, they always struggled to learn movements everybody else seemed to pick up easily.
  • I had one, just one, super-gifted student. She was a young woman who studied classical piano and was interested in tai chi chuan. When I showed her the first movement of the form, she repeated it perfectly. Then I showed the second and the same thing happened. And so on. It was impressive to see a student just flat out carbon-copy my movements. Unfortunately, she didn’t continue because she was afraid of injuring her hands with the self defense techniques and sink her musical career. She could have been amazing though.
  • Most students were good people but every now and then there was an asshole who wanted to hurt the others. He’d use the sparring sessions to beat up his classmates. When this happened I  put a stop to it but every now and then I had to “teach a lesson”.  Never enjoyed that but sometimes it was necessary.
  • The funniest student was a guy who called me up to ask about my classes. During that conversation, he told me three times that he was the European MMA cage fighting champ. I congratulated him every time. He also explained his TKD (?) teacher was afraid to spar him now… Oh-kaaaaaay… Anyway, he showed up for my Sanshou class: early thirties, skinny but with a potbelly, balding but with the remaining hair in plucks and a look in his eyes that says he’s not all there. We start the warm-up and he’s huffing and puffing after 5 min. As soon as we start practicing techniques, it shows he can’t lift his leg above waist level and has terrible technique. Maybe he won the EU video game cage fighting competition or something? Sure wasn’t a fighter. He (barely) makes it until the end and then pays for ten classes. That was the last time I ever saw him. Weird as he was, it sure was nice of him to sponsor the school like that… :-)

Video game champion?

  • The student I’m most proud of wasn’t a particularly gifted one. Not good or bad, just average. He did well enough in class, except when we sparred. Then he’d get an insane adrenal dump and go nuts:
    • He’d tense up and cross his forearms instead of staying in the on guard position. (Never understood why he did that.)
    • He’d start to breathe hard through his nose, at the edge of hyper-ventilating.
    • His eyes went wide and he lost almost all his technical skills and flailed all over the place.
  • It didn’t matter how low or high the intensity of the sparring was, he just defaulted to that setting every single time. I tried dozens of things to help him but nothing ever got rid of this problem completely. It ever so slowly got better and in the end, he only lost it when he got tagged hard.
  • He stayed with me for six or seven years and that’s what made me most proud to have him as a student. Because in all those years, he came to class twice a week, knowing full well he was going to be freaked out and scared out of his mind when we sparred. And he showed up anyway. It takes a special kind of courage and determination to do that.

There are other examples of students like him but I never had anyone who had to conquer his own fears as much. The fact that he did so for all that time is impressive and it saddened me when he eventually quit.

Just reminiscing a bit after Kris’s post triggered some memories. Speaking of him, he has a wicked cool new video coming out. Here’s a preview:

I’ll review it when my copy arrives. Stay tuned.

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Comments

  1. Awesome post, Wim.

  2. Awesome post, Wim.

  3. Good post! I think the guy you mentioned last who kept turning up is a definate winner. It seems he faces his adversaries, no matter how scary they are. Its this type of person that will be able to take his martial arts training out into the world.

    • Thanks Mark. Yes, he has a lot more mental toughness than many people who don’t have to overcome their fears constantly.

  4. Good post! I think the guy you mentioned last who kept turning up is a definate winner. It seems he faces his adversaries, no matter how scary they are. Its this type of person that will be able to take his martial arts training out into the world.

    • Thanks Mark. Yes, he has a lot more mental toughness than many people who don’t have to overcome their fears constantly.

  5. http://Shane%20MacLaughlin says

    Great post, Wim. I like the proud prize being awarded to the untalented student that put the time in, but then as an untalented student who put the hours in myself, I’m very biased. Mind you, thinking about it, many more of the decent martial artists I know are workers rather than naturally gifted types, which pretty much goes with the definition of gongfu. Thinking of friends that sweat blood in training to beat those with more aptitude but less passion always brings a smile to my face, no idea why.

    • I understand Shane. I was very much the untalented student when I started out: stiff, slow and uncoordinated. But I was very enthusiastic and put in more hours than most at home, in between classes. If I have any skill today, it’s because I was too stubborn to quit. :-)

  6. http://Shane%20MacLaughlin says

    Great post, Wim. I like the proud prize being awarded to the untalented student that put the time in, but then as an untalented student who put the hours in myself, I’m very biased. Mind you, thinking about it, many more of the decent martial artists I know are workers rather than naturally gifted types, which pretty much goes with the definition of gongfu. Thinking of friends that sweat blood in training to beat those with more aptitude but less passion always brings a smile to my face, no idea why.

    • I understand Shane. I was very much the untalented student when I started out: stiff, slow and uncoordinated. But I was very enthusiastic and put in more hours than most at home, in between classes. If I have any skill today, it’s because I was too stubborn to quit. :-)

  7. Consistency in training builds the better and friendlier communities. And the good memories.

    It’s quite a kind and honorable article; nicely done.

    • Thanks Sabin. My first teacher wasn’t very forthcoming with compliments. He rarely said you did something good. I try to be more positive than that and tell students when they’re progressing.

  8. Consistency in training builds the better and friendlier communities. And the good memories.

    It’s quite a kind and honorable article; nicely done.

    • Thanks Sabin. My first teacher wasn’t very forthcoming with compliments. He rarely said you did something good. I try to be more positive than that and tell students when they’re progressing.

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.
    The different types of personalities that
    you encounter as an instructor make for
    a big part of the teaching experience.
    Thanks for sharing yours, Wim.

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.
    The different types of personalities that
    you encounter as an instructor make for
    a big part of the teaching experience.
    Thanks for sharing yours, Wim.

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