Give Them Their Money’s Worth

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. This is because I find myself having to do a number of things I never thought I would need or want to do in my lifetime. These things include self- promotion and setting prices for the martial arts classes and seminars I am about to start teaching. Even though I have been giving private classes here and there for some time, as well as assisting my Sifu with his classes, I am about to step things up quite a bit by offering more classes in more areas or venues which will include churches and rec centers.

For the most part, money wasn’t a big concern in the past for me. Even though I did charge a fee most of the time, it was never very much. I loved teaching so much I would  do it for practically free. Of course, my own Sifu would have some words for me about not charging or undercharging my students. He believes that I’ve worked hard to develop my skills and understanding in Wing Chun and martial arts in general, and that I should not short- change myself. I’ve already put a lot of time and money into my training and it is time I made a little money in return.

The question I need to start asking myself now is, “How much do I charge?” I don’t ask myself this question because I want to get rich from teaching kung-fu. I ask this question because I want to give my students their money’s worth. In the past I’ve had difficulty finding the right balance to say I was giving my students what they were paying for. More often I would give too much rather than not enough.

Teaching someone too much too soon can present a number of problems. For one, when learning a martial art there is usually a natural order of progression one must follow. This is to avoid injury as well as make sure the student has a solid understanding of basic concepts before moving on to more complicated concepts and techniques. My Sifu would often use the analogy of building a house when it comes to learning the martial arts. A house needs to be built from a strong foundation. In the martial arts this means learning and becoming proficient with the basics of that particular art and advancing from there.

Another problem with teaching someone more than they are ready for is that, besides not fully understanding what is being taught, they may undervalue what is being passed on to them. Related to this issue is undercharging a person because, once again, they may not appreciate what is being taught. They think that because they are not being asked to pay a large sum of money, what they are learning is of little value to them.  I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past.

Almost a decade ago a former coworker whom I will call Tom (not his real name) came to my apartment so we could talk about martial arts and get some training in. After our first workout together he offered to teach me some of the things he learned from his Shaolin training. I was tempted and let him teach me a few things. I never followed up with Tom on his offer to train regularly with him. I figured out years later that this was probably for two reasons. One was ego. By this point I was coming along in Wing Chun and had been training in martial arts for most of my life. I didn’t think I needed to become someone’s student when I was being encouraged to teach from the instructors I was already training with. Like I said, I was letting me ego get in the way. It definitely wasn’t a money issue. Tom was offering to teach me for FREE!!!

This, believe it or not, was also part of my decision not to follow up and learn what this man had to offer. I had difficulty believing he had anything of value to offer me if he wasn’t charging me anything. I see now the fallacy of my thinking. The origins of such a thought process more than likely come from growing up in a capitalist society. Most people I know probably still follow this same line of logic. This is why I will no longer teach anyone for free (except for my children and close relatives). I’ve given free classes to people or classes at highly reduced rates and there was little or no appreciation in most cases.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people don’t appreciate anything that is simply handed to them. Often times, people are expecting a catch or fine print when a free offer is made. They find it hard to believe that anyone would want to offer a beneficial service without repayment unless it’s a scam or just crappy service.  They expect the negative because it’s happened to them already before (once bitten, twice shy) or they know someone that it’s happened to.

I believe that those who train under me should earn their ranks through hard work and not high membership fees. When I teach for free, I can usually tell right away who is serious about studying hard and who doesn’t really care. And, like me so many years ago, there are a few very serious students who work their butts off to learn and move through the ranks but are dirt poor. I don’t want to ask for payment, but if I don’t charge something they may not truly value what is being passed on to them.

On the other hand I wouldn’t want to charge such high fees that it prevents people from being able to look into what I have to offer. Many yoga or tai chi schools will allow a brand new student to take their first class for free, just to see if they like what is happening there and if they feel it’s a good fit.  For example, my wife won’t pay for a yoga class without doing some field research: go to a free class and decide if it’s the type of yoga she wants to study that won’t hurt her body, that fits into her time schedule, and is affordable for folks on a tight budget.

I suppose in the end it is a balancing act that I will continually need to adjust.

One thing I know for sure is that I will always do my best to give my students their money’s worth. I will do this by not holding back knowledge when they are ready to move on do the next level and always doing my best to answer any questions that come my way. I will not delay a students progress in order to keep getting money from them just as I will not attempt to have my student attempt any technique or exercise before they have developed the proper foundation.


The Paradox of Non-Violence in the Martial Arts

For the longest time I refused to teach children other than my own or close family friends. The reasons for this decision varied. One main reason is that, if I were to open a school, I did not want my place of business turning into a babysitting service. I was also concerned that my approach to teaching martial arts may not agree with the values of the child’s parents. Parents today seem a bit more lenient. Martial arts classes are typically a place where discipline is instilled and excuses are not accepted. Perhaps the biggest reason I’ve held back on teaching younger people is because I wasn’t sure how to teach the important concept of non-violence while also showing them the best ways to inflict pain and do damage to another human being. Point sparring and forms are good exercise and good for tournaments, but it is not what I train for or primarily teach. While forms are still a major part of training, what I teach leans more towards combat or self defense.

Recently an opportunity opened up for me to begin teaching at a local rec center. For me to only teach those over 18 would mean giving up quite a few things, the most obvious being income. However, that should almost never be a deciding factor in a decision like this. There are many ways to make money. I’d also be giving up the chance to stretch myself as a teacher and go a little beyond my comfort zone. Teaching in any field gives us a chance to deepen our knowledge of a subject. Finally, I felt like it would be selfish of me to deny young students, who were disciplined enough and eager to train, just because of their age. Some children are wiser beyond their years than others, proving that age is just a number. It would not be fair to judge a student based on their age. Just from attending tournaments and training sessions, I’ve seen that some elementary or middle school aged children are more disciplined and more proficient in their study than their adult counterparts.

When I was just out of high school I accepted any job I was offered–nothing illegal, of course. Then I came to the conclusion I only wanted jobs that made some sort of difference in the world. If I could make money while contributing to society, that seemed ideal to me. This opportunity at the rec center is a chance to make a difference, not just teach people how to fight.

I believe I will be contributing in a number of ways. These ways include the obvious benefits of martial arts training such as helping people get healthier, building their self- confidence, increasing their self -discipline and giving them the tools they need to defend themselves from violent encounters. Beyond all this is what I perceive as the paradox of non-violence in the martial arts.

While debating on whether or not to lower the age cut-off of my students, it occurred to me that teaching the martial arts is actually the perfect vehicle to teach non-violence to the younger generation. With all of the emphasis on sport or combat today I feel like much of the philosophy behind the martial arts has become lost. Thankfully, it has not all become completely forgotten.

I believe that the more a person is able to defend themselves, the less they will feel the need to fight out of ego. There was a scene in the original The Karate Kid movie where young Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are in a row boat training and talking. Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel why he wants to learn how to fight. Daniel answers with, “So I won’t have to fight.” For me, I would say that this is one of the most important scenes in the movie. It expresses one of the most honorable and ethical reasons for learning martial arts.

Like many people, I began learning martial arts because I was picked on in school. I wanted to be able to stand up for myself and defend myself. I was successful in this endeavor. As a side benefit I found I developed a higher level of confidence and was generally a happier person than I had been in a long time. My wife has told me that over the years when we would talk on the phone, she noticed that each time we spoke I had more confidence and that I wasn’t self-degrading anymore. That confidence developed from training in the martial arts. I was changing from the skinny shy kid to the healthy confident adult.

There was also another benefit I found extremely freeing. I no longer felt the need to prove myself. Once I reached a certain level of skill, I knew full well what I was capable of in most situations. Fear of looking someone in the face or looking weak in front of others didn’t concern me. I came to the realization that in the past I may have become angry and wanted fight because of a fear reaction. I was afraid I might get myself beat up or or look weak on front of others. It’s sort of ironic. The more someone threatens me now, the calmer I become.

This is why I decided that I didn’t mind dropping my age requirement. It would give me a chance to share these skills I’ve learned through martial arts training in order to contribute to creating a more peaceful world. Learning to be a more peaceful person through training in self-defense skills is what I call the paradox of non- violence in the martial arts and something I would like to pass on to the next generation.

A Few Words On Tradition

There are so many Wing Chun practitioners who discuss the difference between modified and traditional (or classical) Wing Chun. This isn’t a conversation that takes place just among practitioners of Wing Chun, it is a conversation that can take place among martial artists of almost any style. Similar conversations about tradition take place in families, and they talk about almost anything that has been passed down for generations. Some family members may want to stick with certain traditions that have been in the family for generations,  while others may want to “move with the times” and do something different. Of course, there may be some who don’t care either way (put an angel or a star on top of the tree, or skip the Christmas tree all together – it doesn’t matter to them).

Several years ago Sifu Bill, my Ba Gua and Tai Chi teacher, told me an interesting story:

A family is celebrating Thanksgiving, and the wife cuts off the head and hind end of the turkey (in most versions it is a ham, but I think I was actually told this story fairly close to Thanksgiving so this is how I remember it). The husband is confused about why his wife just wasted perfectly good meat and asks her about this. She explains that it is how her mom taught her to cook and that this is she had always prepared the meal. He decides her answer is acceptable, but still curious about how this tradition got started. He calls his mother-in-law and asks her about this tradition. She gives him the same answer– this was how her mom had taught her. The husband decides to let it go for a while. Then, at dinner with the whole family at the table, the husband comments on what an interesting tradition his wife’s family has in cutting off the ends of the turkey. The wife’s grandmother speaks up and says, “It has nothing to do with tradition. When I was young and teaching my daughter to cook we couldn’t afford a pot big enough for the whole turkey.”

The point of the story is not about whether or not tradition is good or bad. The point is that so many people follow tradition blindly without ever questioning or looking into its origins. I personally do not think looking into an art’s origins is disrespectful. I think if one truly loves their art they should have a natural curiosity about its history.

There may be a few people who disagree with me. They may view this type of questioning as being difficult. They may even see it as challenging the legitimacy or practicality of the art. They may think the person with these types of questions is trying to say that traditions are outdated and not as effective as the modified approach. One thing I’ve always wondered about was if the yi chi kim yeung ma was always exactly the way I learned it from my first class or if it got modified from some other version because of all the practitioners who traveled on the boats during a certain period in the arts history.

In truth it probably doesn’t matter much as I’m going to continue using the stance I’ve been taught either way. Personally, I use what works for me. Traditional or modified doesn’t make a difference. I do enjoy partaking in traditions (be it in martial arts or other areas of life), but I also don’t believe on following tradition blindly.



Let’s Take A Deeper Look…

Over the past several weeks, I have noticed a disturbing pattern in thinking when talking to the people around me. Most people don’t scratch far enough below the surface of a subject in order to develop a truly informed and educated opinion on a subject. While I believe that people are entitled to their opinions, I also believe that people should not jump to conclusions before looking into a subject; instead, they need to develop a true understanding of their research. Before going on, I must admit that I have been guilty of committing the same type of uninformed bias from time to time. On occasion, it may be rooted in a simple lack of interest in the subject matter. Sometimes it’s a lack of time to do any real research. When this happens, I try to develop the ability to admit where my knowledge may be lacking and reserve judgment for a later point in time.

As stated earlier, there were several conversations that I’ve had recently that caused me to make this observation about the need to look deeper into a subject before dismissing the information I was getting or forming an opinion based on partial information. In my first example I was speaking with a young lady about the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. She claimed she couldn’t get into the book because it was a bit too “New Age” for her taste. Knowing she was a devout Christian, I could understand her not being into anything resembling something that was New Age. After all, the book did appear to be talking about numerology and birthdays as an indicator of success in certain fields. However, by the end of the first chapter you realize that this talk about birthdays has more to do with logic than anything mystical. An example he uses in the book refers to sports teams and the age requirements. A person born just after the cut-off date will have to wait another year to join a particular team or league. This will give that person a whole extra year to mature and practice their sport. The same holds true when enrolling a child in public school. Nothing mystical about that, nor does this have anything to do with numerology or New Age thinking. One has to keep reading the book (which I do highly recommend) to see this.

Something else I may recommend to people is an investment app called Acorns. I like this app because you don’t need thousands of dollars to begin investing. You only need a minimum of five dollars ($5) to get started. However, you also need to have a basic understanding about how the stock market and investing actually works. My friend told me that he put five dollars into the app, but that he cancelled the app and stopped using it because when he went back there was still only five dollars in the account. Of course he still had only five dollars,  because he hadn’t put any more in! I saw something even worse than this when I read a review for Acorns in the App Store. One person complained that they put ten dollars in and only had seven dollars when they checked their account a few days later. This review didn’t influence my decision one way or another about the app because it seemed to me that the person who wrote this review didn’t do their homework and has no idea how the stock market works. You’re going to gain some money, and you’re going to lose some money.  The stock market depends heavily on what day of the year it is as well as the current state of the economy. You also need to put money into it on a regular basis, just as you would do with a savings account, to get the most benefit. Just five dollars a week would serve this purpose.

One final example comes from a letter to the editor I read many years ago. Someone wrote a letter to the editor (I believe it was in an issue of Black Belt magazine) expressing their disappointment in Rickson Gracie doing an instructional video on choking someone out after he said he would not do any instructional videos. The problem with the person writing to the magazine was that they based their opinion of the video and Mr. Gracie by the title alone. The video (which I have seen and enjoyed) is a documentary and NOT an instructional video at all.

All of the above examples are of people who form opinions without having a complete picture of what they are speaking on. In the past people have told me that I am too quiet, though my wife would scoff at the notion and heartily disagree.  Other times I’ve been told I ask a lot of questions, which she would absolutely agree with. Both of these judgments of me are true, but they don’t define me. I stay quiet when I’m listening and processing information that I’ve just received, and I ask a lot of questions to learn more. This is because I prefer to have informed opinions. Sometime this means reserving judgment until I’ve had a chance to look a little deeper.

Who Am I Writing My Next Book For?

The next book I am about to put out will be called The Wisdom of Wing Chun. If all goes according to plan it should be released sometime before the end of August. I haven’t committed to an actual date as of yet because I only have about 85% of the rough drafts finished. Also, I still have photos that need to be taken and inserted. Earlier today my wife asked me, “who am I writing this book for?” This is actually I good question, and that has taken me a little time to ponder if I am to answer it with complete honesty (both to you and to myself). At the time I was asked this question I was a bit defensive. My wife loves me more than any woman ever has and only wants the best for me. All my life I have had a tendency to take on too much. In college I worked three jobs for a while as well as being involved in student government and the newspaper, plus kung fu classes two to three times a week on top of that. Fast forward to today: I am working a security job in the evenings, writing this blog, shooting YouTube videos for 9 loyal viewers, teaching martial arts whenever the opportunity arises in addition to my own training, and finally working on completing The Wisdom of Wing Chun. I’m beginning to think my wife, Jen, has a valid point about me taking on too much, but at least it is self-imposed. There was a time when I took on everyone else’s projects and problems and neglected my own. I’ve finally learned to say “NO” to others in order to say “YES” to myself. I’m discovering that now I can’t do everything. at least not all at once, and I need to stop being everything to everyone else, especially people who never return the favor. Nor do I need to! Several days ago I told my wife I was taking a “mental vacation” for one week. This meant no reading, watching documentaries, no working on any of my projects until Monday. This included blogging. The idea was to just relax for a week. This was four days ago. The fact that you’re reading this shows I couldn’t make it an entire week. As an artist and a writer, I need to express myself through the written word. I fear at times I am better with the written word than the spoken word.Writing is my art and my passion, be it poetry, fiction or non-fiction. I’m not writing this book to make money, though it would be nice. I’m not writing this book to show off any expertise, even though I’ve heard several business moguls say that writing a book is the best way to establish yourself as a professional in your field. That isn’t my aim here. There are other ways to establish myself as a martial artist. I’m writing this book because of a need to express myself, but that only covers why I’m writing this book. The question we started with is, who am I writing this book for? Besides writing for my own artistic need for self expression, who do I want to read my book? Of course, I am hoping friends and family will support me in getting a copy. I am also hoping my own teachers and mentors will want a copy to read so that they can see what an influence they have had on me (and inform me if I’ve done them justice in my writing and in my life). When you read the contents, I am mostly writing this book for students and potential students. I want to pass on lessons that go beyond Wing Chun.A while back I started writing a book called Life Lessons Learned Through Sparring (and I will complete this book at some point). I put a hold on that one because I’ve been focused on Wing Chun lately, and this topic was calling to me more. As an artist, that is the best way I can say it. No, I may not have enough readers to get this book on The New York Times best-seller list or have it make me enough money to quit my day job and move to Rehoboth to live on the beach. That doesn’t always have to be the aim of a writer. If one person reads my book and it touches them in a way that makes a difference in their lives, then I’ve accomplished what I set out do do. I’m writing for the person I’ve never met and may never meet who simply needs to hear what I have to say.

How Can I Be of Service?

How can I be of service?

This is a question I’ve been pondering often over the past several weeks. Mostly it is a way of keeping myself in check. I want to make sure that the motivations behind my goals and ambitions are not coming from a place of pure selfishness. Like many people, I believe it would be amazing to have over a million dollars in my bank account, a house on the beach, fancy cars, and a certain amount of recognition and notoriety (or what some might call fame). Yet these things are not, nor do I believe they should be, the primary motivators in my life.

A few weeks ago I was watching a movie called The Peaceful Warrior (based in the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman). Socrates, the mentor figure played by Nick Nolte, points out to his young protege that there is no higher purpose than service to others. After some self-reflection, I came to realize that there was a lot of truth to this statement.

Ever since I was a young man, I’ve felt my best when doing things for others. It even got to the point where I was told by my friends to stop letting people take advantage of me. When I was in high school I would take everyone else’s trays back with mine when I was finished my lunch. After all, I was going in that direction anyway. Often, there would be another stack of trays waiting for me when I got back to the table. If this was happening to someone else, they would probably get enraged or at least feel indignant. I, however, was happy to help even though a number of my friends told me I needed to stand up for myself and not let others take advantage of me. The fact is, I did stand up for myself on a number of occasions throughout childhood, shocking an entire room when I would do so. I just needed to feel justified when taking that course of action.

Taking someone’s tray back for them wasn’t a big deal to me. As an adult I have encountered the same mentality from coworkers that I had from my well-meaning friends in school. I want to cringe whenever I hear someone use the phrase “not my job.” Granted, there are times when you may not be able to do something for legal or safety reasons. Barring those circumstamces, I’ve never really minded doing a little extra to help someone out. Sure, there have been times in a working situation when someone has asked me to do something that is beyond my authority. When this has happened I do my best to point them in the direction of the person or department that can meet their request.

Over the past couple of years I have been doing what I can to change the direction of my career path so I can make a decent living doing the things I love to do, such as writing and teaching martial arts. These are things I would do for free. In some circumstances, I still do. But I’m beginning to do this less often as people often don’t truly value what they don’t pay for.

Even though I haven’t yet read Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, I still find myself asking this question of myself. Why do I want to focus on writing and teaching? Do I want to show the world what a talented writer I am and what a skilled martial artist I am? Maybe, but not really. There are plenty of people in the world more talented or skilled than I am at this point in my life. Am I just feeding my ego with these blogs and my YouTube videos? After some serious soul searching, my answer is an emphatic no!

I enjoy teaching and writing, and these are just additional formats to the traditional outlets (ie: brick- and- mortar dojos or print newspaper columns) available in the past before technology became easily available.

Besides the fact that I enjoy these activities, I feel that I can (and do) provide a service. With my writing I can open someone’s mind and heart to new ideas and inspirations. I can share information that others may find valuable, just like I do with my YouTube videos.

Some may question if teaching people to fight is a valuable service. I believe it is. I believe everyone should learn to defend themselves in today’s world. I could say more about this, but I already posted a blog on this subject. If you want to know more, check out my blog titled “Who Exactly Should Learn Self Defense?”

Why I Stopped Reading About Bruce Lee

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I really got into Bruce Lee movies. Not just the movies though:  I watched every documentary I could find and read every book I could get my hands on that was either written by him or written about him. My favorites are: The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, The Art of Expressing The Human Body (as well as any other book written or edited by John Little), and Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit- A Biography by Bruce Thomas. I especially liked the last book on the list because it was raw and honest in way “official” biographies tend to shy away from.

After a while, though, I just could not read or watch any more biographies on Bruce Lee’s life. This started sometime in my mid thirties. Up until then I couldn’t get enough information, motivation or inspiration from the life of Bruce Lee. It wasn’t because I was getting bored either. The problem was that I was begining to get frustrated with my own life.

Bruce Lee died when he was 32 in 1973. I was born the following year. Sometime after my 32nd birthday I became more dejected than inspired because I hadn’t accomplished nearly as much as this icon had during his short life. This of course is a mistake that many people make, and it falls onto the category of “faulty thinking.”

While it is okay to be inspired by others, we simply cannot compare ourselves to others, especially celebrities or elite athletes. If you believe you have what it takes to achieve your dreams, by all means, go for it! However, know yourself. Take a good look at your habits, interests and skills and deep desires.

Right now I am reading Unstoppable by Maria Sharipova and gaining much inspiration from her life. In this case I am getting all of the inspiration without the frustration. This is probably because I have no interest in learning tennis, nor am I Russian or female, yet her story has been inspiring to me. I can have that degree of separation that allows me to have an outside perspective.

I didn’t have this degree of separation with Bruce Lee because I was a martial artist and wanted to be as successful (or even more famous) as he was. I’ve grown out of this desire for fame, though I do still desire a certain degree of  success, as I personally define it, and not in comparison with anyone else. This is not living your own life and it would not be a fulfilling life either.

I’m at a point in my life where I can draw inspiration from others in both direct and indirect ways. For years I drifted away from my writing desires. I didn’t have as much time as I used to because I was working full time and I had had one too many misunderstandings with someone I was suppose to be writing for, but the main reason was because I would walk into a book store and see all these books on the shelf and think to myself, “How can I compete with all these other authors”?

Once again I made a shift in my thinking that made all the difference. I simply had to reframe the situation and my thought processes. Instead of asking myself how I was going to compete or believe that my book would get lost on the shelves, I began to think, “If all of these people were able to write and publish a book, then I can too.”

It is amazing what a little shift in thinking can do for your attitude, motivation and your life.  I’ve started blogging. In addition I just published a poetry book available on Amazon called As Winter Fades: Reflections In The Pond. The poems included are and anthology of what I’ve written over the past twenty five years. I’m also working on another book right now called The Wisdom of Wing Chun that will be available this summer.

A few months ago my wife and I were at a 2nd & Charles book store when she pointed out a book she thought I might like. I decided to purchase it and I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future. The title?

…The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee by John Little.