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Fame and high exposure does not necessarily equal “a master.”

“名师” “famous/master teacher,” a teacher who is well-known or renowned for their name.

“明师” “enlightened/master teacher,” indicating a teacher who possesses profound knowledge and wisdom, guiding and enlightening their students.

Having a big reputation and high visibility doesn’t mean one is a “renowned teacher.” Fame and fortune often burden one with superficial acclaim. A true “renowned teacher” is an “enlightened teacher,” not only possessing exceptional skills but also demonstrating exemplary ethics. They are adept at tailoring their teaching to suit each student, taking their responsibilities seriously and demanding discipline. Genuine renowned teachers don’t indulge in obscure and mystical martial arts theories; instead, they can elucidate martial arts theories in a clear and practical manner. They guide their students to integrate knowledge and action, truly embodying the martial arts.

While there may be many renowned teachers, finding enlightened teachers is challenging. It’s not about the size of their reputation but the balance of their ethics and skills that matters. However, in reality, there are some so-called “renowned teachers” who are fond of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. They can eloquently talk about martial arts theories, but their actual martial skills are full of flaws.

There are also some “masters” with numerous disciples, who casually accept students without upholding the seriousness and traditions of apprenticeship. Some are aware that a person has already taken another master, yet they manipulate situations, using flattery or deception, to lure them into their own school. They exaggerate their own martial prowess to intrigue and mislead the curious students, who may end up joining their school but feel uneasy about the decision.

Another issue is when people constantly boast about their “ancestors, masters, and martial lineage,” using these renowned predecessors’ names as a banner. While inheriting the legacy of esteemed martial artists is commendable, many of these individuals have limited knowledge, practice, and expertise, making their claims questionable.

This chaotic state exists within the martial arts community. Those who are less knowledgeable about martial arts must remain vigilant. Martial practitioners should have a clear sense of purpose and show profound respect for their teachers, with no regrets when seeking apprenticeship. It should be an irreversible commitment. Therefore, those interested in martial arts should not be swayed by curiosity but should observe, understand, compare, and evaluate various teachers, their teachings, and demonstrations to distinguish between genuine and fake masters. Be cautious when seeking apprenticeship, avoid hasty decisions, and never compromise your own progress for the sake of pursuing a “renowned teacher.”

Tuition and Gift Money

During the time of Confucius, the concept of “shuxiu” was already present. In the Analects, Confucius said, “I have never refused to instruct anyone who asked for knowledge from me, as long as they showed sincerity.” “Shuxiu” is an expression of the traditional Chinese culture’s emphasis on respecting teachers and valuing ethics. For Confucius, tuition fees were just a small token of appreciation, carrying greater symbolic significance.

In modern China, foreign martial arts such as Taekwondo, Judo, Muay Thai, and Yoga have spread widely and come with relatively high charges (of course, what others charge is beyond debate; it’s up to the willing individuals). Despite this, many still flock to learn them. On the other hand, traditional Chinese martial arts, an essence of Chinese culture, which holds great value in health preservation, fitness, and combat skills, have become a cheap form of exercise, with some instructors even offering free classes (in a bid to attract more students). This focus on mass popularity, rather than quality and depth, has resulted in the gradual disappearance and loss of many excellent martial arts skills. It has also fostered the belief that martial arts can be learned without spending money, leading to a regrettable situation.

Contemporary martial arts masters dedicate not only much time and effort but also financial resources to learn the essence of martial arts. Many martial artists have given up financial opportunities in pursuit of their craft, devoting themselves to rigorous training and supporting their masters. The high cost they pay to attain such skills is no small matter. Therefore, it is reasonable for enthusiasts to pay tuition fees as it helps establish a teacher-student relationship and reminds students of the hard work and sacrifices made by their instructors, motivating both parties to take their roles seriously and cherish the learning experience. The knowledge and effort imparted by the master cannot be bought with money, as much of it represents the lifetime dedication of the master. Some skills have been acquired through various trials and tribulations, with masters even spending a fortune to acquire them—something not attainable for ordinary people. Those who believe that they can learn martial arts without spending money should consider whether the hard work and dedication of their teachers hold no value. In response, our teachers should also have self-respect and value themselves, genuinely reflecting the value of their martial arts.

The tradition of offering “Yatiejin” or “gift money” when becoming an apprentice is a voluntary expression of the disciple’s sincerity and a way of reciprocating the master’s diligent efforts. The amount may vary based on one’s financial condition, but it should always represent a genuine intention. (For those with considerable wealth, a mere “gift money” should not be seen as a mere token to dismiss the master! Remember, don’t treat the master like a “street performer.”) Generally, it is not permitted for disciples to inquire about each other’s “Yatiejin” or “gift money,” to avoid causing psychological imbalances or unnecessary suspicions and conflicts among them. Those with better financial conditions may offer more as a genuine expression of appreciation, while those with limited resources should give what they can afford, without feeling the need to compare. Most masters cherish talent as their primary choice and will never haggle with disciples over money, but they will also reject those who pretend to be poor.

Therefore, martial arts enthusiasts must deeply understand that “respecting teachers and valuing ethics” is not an empty phrase. Our teachers and masters should also have self-respect, self-love, and self-respect, avoiding self-aggrandizement and mystification. They must not mislead learners! Remember, addressing someone as “master” is a profound responsibility. To be a true role model and maintain self-discipline, they must communicate with clarity and simplicity and be authentic martial artists and disseminators. This will present Chinese martial arts and its essence more genuinely to the world and carry on its legacy. There will always be successors.

Finding the right teacher is indeed extremely important, especially in the context of learning martial arts or any other complex and specialized skills. The right teacher can make a significant difference in a student’s learning journey and overall development.

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