Some people have a lot to say, others talk a lot, but say little, a few say a lot while barely speaking.
My first three teachers were all quite different.
At the first school I attended, West Wind Bok Fu, I learned American Kenpo Karate, a modern hybrid style. My teachers there were incredibly supportive and encouraging with lots of energy and enthusiasm. But they were as equally lacking in technique and skills as they were motivating, and perfect for a teenage beginner.
My second teacher, 1978 World Kuoshu Full Contact
Fighting Champion, Peter Ralston, had tremendous physical skills and knowledge.Ralston had a lot to say, full of great technical details and theoretical knowledge. But sometimes he talked so much it was difficult to get a good workout. His western method of analysis and investigation aided my understanding and gave me a different type of motivation.
My main teacher, Grandmaster Wong Jackman, Peter Ralston’s teacher, taught differently. Wong Jackman was a traditional Hong Kong Kung Fu master who embodied the ancient wisdom of the East.
Wong Jackman did not talk much, but he did say a lot.
Most of my instruction from Wong Jackman was completely silent. He demonstrated my lessons with incredible precision and a superb, refined body method without saying a word. I learned by observation, inspired by raw skill and his powerful presence, and became motivated to further develop my concentration and visual memory.
After three years he began to answer my questions and chat more. However, most of his answers were exceedingly brief.
In western books the beginning is a question or a problem, the entire book examines and answers the question, and in the final chapter the solution is summarized. In Asia, books begin with the conclusion, the final answer, and then spend the entire book explaining it, only to recap at the end how the beneficial solution presented actually solves problems. This was how Wong taught. He gave you the solution he knew you needed in a sentence or two and left you to figure out the rest of the book on your own.
Wong also answered exactly the question you asked, not what you might have intended to ask, but what you actually said in the question. Often, it was difficult to get the answer one might desire because you did have to ask exactly the right question to get the answer you actually wanted. This wasn’t a game Grandmaster was playing, it has simply him being precise, direct, and accurate.
Asking Peter Ralston, a question could easily result in a lengthy western style intellectual or analytical answer that taught all sorts of things at once. I loved those answers and learned a great deal from them. If I asked Peter Ralston, how to improve the power of punches, or how to do a technique better, he had a lot to say that was helpful. Often so much that I forgot half.
In Wong Jackman’s class, Wong taught each student individually and everyone practiced as they saw fit. Class lasted two or three hours but many students only came for part. Everyone worked at their own pace, in their own way, and sometimes practiced together in small groups. However, Wong Jackman made no attempt to organize group activities of any type. He also did not address the class as a whole or do any type of bow in / bow out ceremonies. Each student received a short personal lesson with Wong demonstrating new movements and techniques for that student to practice. He gave hands on instructions in pushing hands and partner forms but left actual practice with other partners to you to organize. This worked well and many students excelled.
In some ways, Wong Jackman was exceedingly generous because he did give you all the forms in each art with accuracy and precision rapidly so you could practice and master them. Some of my other early teachers taught at a much slower pace in comparison. If people have fewer things to teach, sometimes they closely guard them and teach slower. Wong Jackman had a vast curriculum, a curated best of the best of the classical Northern Chinese Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Few people exhausted his curriculum. However, his traditional style of teaching was a different experience from going to Western style organized group classes.
After studying with Wong Jackman for a few years I thought I might ask him for personal guidance about my training. Much in the style of the lessons I had from Ralston or my Kenpo teachers I was hoping for personal coaching details. So, I asked my Sifu, Grandmaster Wong Jackman, “How can I improve my Kung Fu?”
His answer, “Practice More”.
Not practice this or that, or work on this in your kicks, or that in your weapons. Not a single tip or pointer. Nothing to hang my mind on. That was my answer and the end of the conversation.
As I walked away a bit disappointed, thinking “Well what did I expect?”, I realized this wasn’t a trivial or inconsequential answer.
In fact, Sifu had pointed at the heart of martial arts. Nakedly I was seeing the truth that practice was what mattered, and that skill and transformation only come from practice. Understanding and knowledge are essential but without practice they provide small benefit. Practice is hard work and often hurts. Practice takes commitment and effort. Practice is the price of skill.
Want more skill? Pay with more practice.
The result was I did practice more. My teacher, Grandmaster Wong, had already given me an abundance of knowledge, I needed to master the skills.
I reorganized my training schedule and my motivation and practiced much more every week.