There is a shadow side to the previous discussion about metaphorically passing through difficult gates or crossing over bridges of unnecessary practice.Â That shadow is the sometimes desperate pathos of the student-teacher relationship.
Perhaps if you are a teacher you've thought to yourself, "Why are so many of my students lesbian vegetarians? Is it something about me?" Perhaps if you are a student you've wondered, "Why do I keep accidentally calling my gongfu teacher MOM instead of shirfu? He doesn't look or act anything like my mom!"
When I think about it, I doubt that the younger me would have studied martial arts at all if my teachers had been the sort of people that expect me to call them "Master."
There are many teachers out there that make good second mommies or daddies. In the South Asian traditions they just go right ahead and call the teacher some version of Ma, or Dada.
I find it hard to resist having a little laugh at this phenomenon, but in all honesty I have great respect for people who provide this kind of support to the emotionally needy. I have known a great many people who have attached themselves to a teacher who really cared about them, and through that particular type of intimacy made disciplined and rewarding changes in their lives.
Some people need a fierce father figure in order to thrive. Others need a nurturing mother figure to give them the confidence to face decisions the rest of us see as routine. I'm rarely fierce or nurturing, so students that come to me looking for those qualities tend not to hang around.
But we digress. I have this friend of a friend I mentioned at the begining. The teacher he studies with has been very exacting and demanding and has truly nurtured him in a way that brings out his better qualities. As far as martial arts goes, he gets posture corrections and that is it! He has gotten one Taijiquan instruction in 20 years, the same one over and over, "Keep your fingers straight." He keeps expecting that some day he is going to get to learn push-hands, and many other secrets too.
It would all be sad and pathetic if not for two factors. The posture corrections are good, so his Shaolin and Taijiquan forms, which he practices without fail everyday, are pristine. The second factor is almost funny. The instruction, "Keep your fingers straight," is wrong by most accounts. But because he believes in it and practices it so diligently--because he uses it as a measure of everything he does-- he has actually made it mean something true. Every millimeter of his body movement is calibrated to "keep the fingers straight," what ever that even means.
He has no knowledge of functionality or applications, no subtle power or push-hands experience. But I have to admit, his form looks good!
And on that note, here is a quote from Henry David Thoreau, (from memory of course)
Why are we in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?Â If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps if is because he hears the beat of a different drummer, let each step to the beat which he hears, however measured, or far away...