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Having a good master is definitely a tremendous blessing in kungfu, taijiquan and qigong training. As mediocre instructors are so common nowadays -- some even start to teach after having attended only a few  week-end seminars -- finding a great master is like finding a gem in a hay stack. Here are some guidelines to help you find one.

An Example of What He Teaches

A good master must be a living example of what he teaches. A kungfu master must be able to defend himself, a taijiquan master must have some internal force, and a qigong master must exhibit radiant health, as these are the basic qualities these arts are meant to develop.

A master of kungfu, taijiquan or qigong does not enjoy the luxury of
many coaches in modern sports like football and athletics who often
cannot dribble a ball or run a race half as well as the students they
teach. They are also some kungfu, taijiquan or qigong instructors today
who cannot perform half as well as their average students, but they are
certainly not masters, although as a form of courtesy they may be
addressed as such by their students or the general public.

Understanding Dimension and Depth

Besides being skillful, a good master should preferably be knowledgeable. He should have a sound understanding of the dimension and depth of the art he is teaching, and be able to answer basic questions his students may have concerning the what, why and how of their practice. Without this knowledge, a master will be limited in helping his students to derive the greatest potential benefits in their training.

However, especially in the East, some masters may be very skillful but
may not be knowledgeable. This is acceptable if we take the term "master" to mean someone who has attained a very high level in his art,
but who may not be a teacher.

The reverse is unacceptable, example: someone who is very knowledgeable but not skillful, a situation quite common in the West. A person may
have read a lot about kungfu, taijiquan or qigong, and have written a
few books on it, but has little kungfu, taijiquan or qigong skills. We may
call him a scholar but certainly not a master.

Systematic and Generous

The third quality of a master as a good teacher is that he must be both
systematic and generous in his teaching. Someone who is very skillful
and knowledgeable, but teaches haphazardly or withholds much of his
advance art, is an expert or scholar but not a good master.

On the other hand, it is significant to note that a good master teaches
according to the needs and attainment of his students. If his students
have not attained the required standard, he would not teach them
beyond their ability (although secretly he might long to), for doing so is
usually not to the students' best interest. In such a situation he may
often be mistaken as withholding secrets.

  Radiates Inspiration

The fourth quality, a quality that transforms a good master into a great
master, is that he radiates inspiration. It is a joy to learn from a great
master even though his training is tough.

He makes complicated concepts easy to understand, implicitly provides
assurance that should anything goes wrong he is able and ready to
rectify it, and spurs his students to do their best, even beyond the level
that he himself has attained.

High Moral Values

 The most important quality of a great master is that he teaches and
 exhibits in his daily living high moral values. Hence, the best world
 fighter who brutally wounds his opponents, or the best teacher of any
 art who does not practise what he preaches, cannot qualify to be called
 a great master.

A great master is tolerant, compassionate, courageous, righteous and
shows a great love and respect for life. Great masters are understandably rare, they are more than worth their weight in gold.

Showing Respect To The Master

An art is best learnt in its culture. One remarkable difference between
culture of the east and the west is the respect shown to a master.
Many eastern masters comment on the lack of respect, sometimes utter disrespect, shown to them.

Often it is because of the western students' ignorance of eastern ways
rather than their wilful discourtesy that their eastern masters of chi
kung or kungfu (including taijiquan) regard as disrespect. The following
are some simple and helpful points both eastern and western students
may follow to show the respect deservedly due to their masters.

Addressing the Master Correctly

First of all you must know how to address your master correctly, something which many western students are ignorant of. Never, never, never call your master by his name, especially if he comes from a eastern culture. In some western societies it may be considered personal and desirable to call your senior or even your boss by his first name, but in chi kung or kungfu culture it is considered extremely rude.

It is worthwhile to remember that your master is not your peer or equal. Your master is at least one, but usually many levels above you, otherwise he cannot and should not be your master. The proper way to address your chi kung or kungfu master is "Sifu", which is the Cantonese dialect of the Chinese language for "Master". The Mandrin pronunciation is "Shifu".

Actually if a great master answers you when you call him "Sifu", you are, not he is, honoured; it shows he accepts you as a student. 

If your master's surname is Chen, you should call him "Sifu", or  "Master" if you want to sound western, but strictly speaking not "Sifu Chen" or "Master Chen" for that is the address the public, not his students, would call him. If you call him "Sifu Chen" or "Master Chen" you are distancing yourself from him.

Showing Propriety

Besides showing propriety in your address, you should also show
propriety in your behaviour. Do not, for example, put your hand around
him, pat him on his shoulder, or hug him -- leave that to his wife, which
following eastern social etiquette is also only done in private.

When you stand or sit in front of or near him, hold yourself upright.
You need not stand at attention like a private in front of his sergeant
major, but you should not stand sloppily, with arms akimbo or hands in
your pockets. When you sit do not cross your legs with a foot pointing
at him, or expose your groins to him even though they are hidden by
your pants.

It is only sensible that you should listen when your master speaks,
especially if he is explaining some points. Yet, it is not uncommon to
find some adult students (male as well as female) lying on the floor,
sometimes with their hands folded at the back of their head, their eyes
close and their legs open in an inviting position! This shows not so
much a disrespect to the master, but an utter lack of good manners on
the part of the students.

Entering and leaving a class

It is also bad manners to arrive at your class late. In the past in the east, late students would be asked to go home, or to leave permanently if they were late habitually. The logic is simple: the master has something invaluable to offer; if you come late you tacitly show that you do not value his teaching. But if there is a valid reason for your being late, you should first greet him from the door, walk quietly but briskly to him, respectfully wait if he is pre-occupied, then explain your reason and apologize.

On the other hand, you should wait patiently if the master is late --
even for hours! If you think this is unfair, you are probably not ripe
for great arts. There are stories of great masters who purposely
arrived late, not for hours but for days, and then passed on their
secrets to the few wise, patient students. Although it seldom happens
nowadays, it will reflect a splendid grasp of chi kung and kungfu
culture if you and your classmates stop whatever you are doing, stand
up respectfully, bow and greet your master as he comes in.

Do not leave your class half-way. But if you have to leave early for
some reason, explain that to your master before-hand and politely
ask his permission. At the appointed time, ask his permission again,
then bow and thank him before leaving. At the end of a class, the
students should leave after the master, not before he does. However,
if the master stays back for a considerable length of time, such as
explaining some points to some students who stay behind to ask him,
other students may leave first, after bowing to the master.

In the east, it is customary for the teacher to arrive last and leave first.
Interestingly, it is often the reverse in the west. The teacher, western
in culture if not in race, often arrives the earliest, sweeps the floor and
prepares cookies and drinks which he will serve during recess to his
students, who will joke and laugh. At the end of the class, the teacher
will stand at the door, shake the students' hands and thank them for
their attendance. He will then throw away the garbage his students
have left behind if he still has energy left, and check that everyone has
gone home before he closes the door.

Don't be Insulting

When your master is explaining or demonstrating something to you,
listen attentively and respectfully. Do not bluntly say you already
know what he is teaching, even if you really know. In chi kung and
kungfu culture, doing so is not being straight-forward, it is being
insulting -- you are implying that the master does not know what he is

I recall some occasions when my masters taught me something that I
already had learnt quite well. Thanks to my training in eastern culture,
I followed their instructions faithfully although they appeared very
simple and below my level then. Only much later did I realize that had
I not follow these apparently simple instructions I would not have
acquired the foundation necessary for advanced development.

Do not ever make the fatal mistake of telling a master what or how to
teach you. This is not only unbecoming, it is also very foolish, for you
will be denying yourself the very purpose why you need him. If he is a
master, he knows best what and how to help you attain your best results; he is able to see your needs and development in ways far beyond your limited perspective.

For the Students' Interest

Some westerners may find the above-described master-student relationship odd, just as those accustomed to eastern culture would
find the behaviour of some western students unbelievable. It may be
more surprising, especially for those who think they are doing the
master a favour by paying him a fee to learn, to know that all these
customs of respect for the master are actually for the students', not
the master's, interest.

Someone who teaches kungfu dance or gentle exercise for a living
will probably care more for your fees than your respect, but a master
whose art gives you good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy actually does not care whether you respect him more or your dog.
But those students who have experienced the wonderful benefits of genuine kungfu and chi kung will understand that the respect given to
the master is not only a sincere token of appreciation to the master for sharing his art, but also constitutes an ideal psychological state for the training to take place.

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