We had a really wonderful time during this past Saturday’s Advanced Northern Style Long Pole seminar with Sifu Gary. It was a really fun day (even if it was insanely hot) and it was great to have both our schools training together again for the first time since the pandemic began in 2019.
One of the “Eleven Elements” that Kung Fu students learn is “leave things better than you found them.” My old music teacher Mr. Metevier used to urge the class, “flush the toilet.” We were confused by this somewhat lewd statement, but his point was that WE should aspire to be the person to clean a mess and leave the bathroom better than we found it, even if we weren’t the person who made the mess. A great example of “flushing the toilet”/”leaving things better than we found them” is the park where we have been doing our rankings during the pandemic. Instead of leaving any kind of mess there, we should leave it nicer. We should bring an extra bag with us and pick up garbage that we find, even if we are not the ones who put it there. It’s not that much extra effort for us, and it makes the park a nicer place for all who use it.
This is one of many ways we can support our community – both the community we live in, and also our Kung Fu community – the group of people with whom we train. There are a lot of ways to support the Kung Fu community; following the rules, being punctual for class, making payments on time, etc. There are also other more subtle ways to help.
In Chinese culture, martial arts teachers are highly venerated, held in the same esteem as clergy, philosophers, and professors. Some of the ways that the students show appreciation to the teacher is to take responsibility for regular upkeep and repair of the school, help the teacher with errands, assist with bookkeeping, etc. Obviously, American culture, including the student/teacher dynamic, is quite different. Here in the West, the teacher takes responsibility for the classroom, the students expect straightforward explanations as opposed to watching their classmates and learning by osmosis, and the relationship has a more transactional nature.
At Metrowest Kung Fu, we try to pay respect to both cultures. We take a less formalized, more “American” approach to the student/teacher relationship, but we also try to do some things the “Chinese” way as well. While students are not expected to take total responsibility for the school, it IS expected that they “leave things better than they found them.” At the very least; students should not leave clothes, water bottles, etc. at the school. They should not make a mess by wearing street shoes on the training floor. They should clean equipment when they are done using it. They should replace toilet paper/paper towels if they use the last of them. If they find trash on the floor they should throw it away even if it is not theirs. Just the other day, a yoga student noticed the bathroom was dirty and took a few minutes to clean it up. No one asked her to, she did it on her own – that is a good student supporting her community!
We sweep the floors after each adult Kung Fu class. Each Thursday, we also dust, mop, vacuum, and empty the trash. It’s usually the same handful of students who stay to help clean. I’m very grateful to them, but if we had more people, it’d help the job get done faster! That is a great way that we can help our teacher AND maintain a clean and safe training environment for our classmates.
Another way that adult students can help is to assist in the instruction of the kids’ Kung Fu class. No teaching experience is necessary and one does not have to be a Kung Fu expert. There is a lot of energy and diversity in our kids’ classes, and it could be tough to manage BEFORE the pandemic – never mind now that we are running online classes simultaneously.
Additionally, it is expected that Kung Fu students who have reached brown sash and above begin to take a larger role in the school, helping to assist with warm-ups, running drills or other parts of class, or even subbing for me when I’m out. It is not so that I get to take a break and put my feet up – teaching is the best teacher, and you may find that having to explain a movement to a newer student or answer a question will help you to think about your own Kung Fu in a different way. It is also good for students to experience diversity in their instructors, as everyone connects on different levels.
These are just a few of the ways we can “leave things better than we found them” and support our communities. As always, I thank you all very much for your support of the school – I am so grateful to all of you for sticking with your training through such a difficult time, and I’m proud of my students and how much the school has accomplished. See you in class!