– by Ian Sinclair
The greatest challenge when teaching a profound art is getting students who want to learn the art, who also want to learn it from you, and who are suitable students for you.
Not every teacher is right for every student, and not every student is right for every school.
As teachers gain experience and insight, they learn to discern more quickly the appropriateness of aspiring students for a particular class. This is not always about the talent or intelligence of the student. Sometimes it is about the capacity of the teacher to deal with the particular qualities that the students brings with them. But sometimes there is something more subtle and mysterious at work.
Martial arts are deep and vast. But most students are shallow and narrow minded. This is not their fault. It is their stage of development. With proper training and coaching, most students can come to understand the profound nature of the art, and can also come to appreciate the previously unseen depths of their own character and potential.
So, on one side we have students who have a very shallow and narrow view of the art.
On the other side, we have teachers who understand and appreciate the true potential of the art, and who want to have students who can do what is appropriate to achieve greatness. But these teachers often fail to remember what it is like to have the narrow perception and shallow motivation of a beginner.
As teachers, we can choose to ignore the students who are not ready to learn the real art. Or we can take, as part of our responsibility, the chore of cultivating the character of the student so as to make them ready for the real art.
There are risks in both approaches. If we ignore the students who are not ready, then we risk being as shallow and narrow as they are. We also risk losing out on the opportunity to develop great talent. If a teacher chooses to cultivate the character of the student, and the student accepts the challenge of cultivating profound skill and wisdom, both will be accepting considerable risks. The road to wisdom is fraught with peril. Both will encounter challenges to sanity, livelihoods, and personal relationships.
What is it worth to the teacher? What is is worth to the student? What is it worth to society? How does the teacher make the choice?
One way that the teacher makes the choice is by learning to recognize 緣 (Yuan). Yuan 緣 is a buddhist expression that applies to various types of relationships. While Karma or coincidence might bring to people together, yuan describes a synchronistic affinity, or destiny.
I have been fortunate to have a couple of teachers who identified me has having 緣 Yuan with them. Whatever they thought of me as a person, and whatever they thought of my potential as a student, they felt an obligation to teach me. I have no doubt that this devotion to me has cost them, and continues to cost them, in more ways than one. I can only reassure them that I have encountered the same problems in my career as a teacher.
I have students who are deeply frustrating to work with. But within 5 minutes of their first class, I recognized that I would have to teach them. By the same token, I have had students who, while showing great talent, character, and potential, clearly did not have Yuan 緣 with me. And while I would have like to have taken their money, I felt obliged to send them elsewhere.
One of my teachers explained how frustrating it can be for him, as a teacher, to be petitioned by wealthy students offering him large amounts of money for private instruction, only to determine that they don’t have yuan. He was only slightly frustrated by the need to turn down the money. The frustrating thing was recognizing that the student might be a very good student for someone else, but not for him. He would refer them to other teachers, including some of his own students. Unfortunately, the wealthy applicant would sometimes feel insulted, and would not seek out the other teachers.
“It is too bad,” he said, “that some people have lots of money and talent, but because we don’t have yuan, I can’t teach them. They might be a good student for someone else. But they are not my student. But other people have no money, and very little talent, but we have yuan, and I have to teach them.” He looked at the ground. Then he looked at me and said, “You and I have yuan.”