The Problems of Teaching

I’ve never had an emotional problem with teaching. I’ve always loved teaching. Yet it isn’t quite as easy as most people might assume. Complications can arise for any number of reasons,such as politics or personality (or cultural) differences, that can make communication difficult.  However, I’ve found that there may be one key to teaching effectively that I myself had overlooked for some time. In order to teach and reach your students effectively you must apply the same rule that a good writer must keep in mind when writing:

“Know your audience!”

When I was in the third grade my teacher gave the class an assignment to draw what a pilot would see when he is flying. I filled a third of the paper with clouds and a couple birds. That rest of the paper I filled with what I thought the knobs and controls would look like. My teacher didn’t like my picture, telling me that she wanted to see more of what the sky would look like because that was more interesting. “The technical stuff the pilot sees is boring and no one cares,” was the implication. I thought at the time maybe I didn’t understand the assignment. However, as far as I was concerned, I did exactly as I was instructed.

Today I realize that my problem wasn’t that I did the assignment wrong. It was that I didn’t know my audience. I drew the picture for me and not for her. She could care less about all the knobs and gauges on a plane’s control panel, even though I was intrigued by the idea. She wanted to see a beautiful sky or maybe what the earth looked like from high above. I didn’t think that was particularly interesting; I can look at the sky any time.

Now, as I begin to teach more in the martial arts, I must remember to keep this lesson in mind. It doesn’t matter if you are giving a speech, writing a book or teaching: one needs to remember that they are addressing a specific audience. Sure there may be things that I understand perfectly and find fascinating with any subject, but I have to remember that my audience (or students, in this case) comes from different backgrounds and experiences than what I’ve had in my life. It’s important for me to respect that and take these differences into consideration when creating and presenting my lesson plan.

Probably the most important factor for me right now would be age. While I can relate to people who are around my own age, it can sometimes be difficult to teach those who are older or much younger than me. This is one of the reasons I avoided teaching children (other than relatives or family friends) for such a long time. I would often forget that a child still in school does not have the same educational background as an adult would have. When I teach the martial arts I have a tendency to use examples or illustrations from such various subjects as geometry, history, anatomy, science, and even English. Someone who hasn’t completed a certain grade or taken a certain subject yet could be left more confused or perplexed by my analogy or explanation of certain techniques and concepts. In addition to the differences in what is being taught in school today compared to when I attended, there are also dramatic differences in culture and the way children treat each other. Sure, there were fights when I went to school, but that was the extent of it. At the end of the day everyone came home alive and safe. When I teach a teenager attending school now, I keep a couple things in mind:  practical ability and underlying morality. While I want to feel confident in my students’ abilities to survive a physical altercation, , I also want to make sure I am not training bullies and thugs.

Teaching adults isn’t always quite as challenging, though it can be at times. I was raised to respect my elders. Sometime adults can be as temperamental and stubborn as children. It can feel a little strange when an adult reacts to discipline in the same way an adolescent would react.

There are any number of ways to handle this situation. Once again it comes back to knowing your audience (or who you are teaching). For example, when I was a training facilitator for a security company, the threat of someone losing their job was usually enough to get someone to fall on line. If it’s a situation where I am with someone for private lessons they have to option of going somewhere else. What it really comes down to respect.

Respect is not just from my students, but also respect from me to them. I believe I owe them the respect of getting to know them as human beings and understanding their motives for coming to me to learn in the first place. I believe this alone would go a long way towards making me a better teacher to my students.

If you’ve read to this point in my post, please feel free to comment. Even though I’ve written quite a bit, I’m positive I didn’t cover everything thing there is to cover on this subject. Ask me any questions you may have and express your opinion. Let me know what you agree with or what you disagree with. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Making Comebacks

It’s been months since I’ve found myself on this forum writing about my observations on life, work and the deeper meaning of martial arts training. Sometimes life distracts us from our goals or some goals begin to outweigh other goals for a certain amount of time. A short break can turn into a long break. The important thing in these situations is to take a moment to evaluate your priorities and then get going in the direction you’ve determined you should be moving toward. That’s what I’m doing right now.

Back in January I began writing a blog on New Year’s resolutions. Then I started three more without completely finishing any of them. I also took a break (and am still on this particular break) from making new YouTube videos. I’ve switched jobs and moved into a bigger home which has taken a lot of my attention since everything was happening around the same time. But things are settling down now and I can begin once again to focus more clearly regarding my priorities with regard to career and family.

As L L Cool J said, “Don’t call it a comeback.” I don’t feel as if I’m really making a comeback;  I’m just getting myself back on track. I’ve always had a habit of putting so much on my plate, so to speak, that I end up biting off more than I can chew. (How was that for appropriately combining metaphors?)

Writing is one of my first loves so I am going to get back to putting out these blogs on a more regular basis, probably once a week as I originally intended. I will also write about martial arts and training, but I also wish to expand my topics so even non-martial artists may be interested in reading what I have to say.

If you are reading this, I’m also interested in what you have to say. What subjects would you like me to cover? What can I do here that would bring value to your life? Seriously, I’d like to have an open dialogue with my readers. No one stops learning and while I am a teacher I am also an eternal student. This means I’m very much interested in what my readers have to say.

One last thing. I’ve finally finished my book called The Wisdom of Wing Chun and it is now available to the public on Amazon. Please check it out when you get a chance. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I pray everyone is doing well.

Time For The Hol…. CHRISTMAS!!!

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things like, “The holidays are coming,” or “Happy Holidays!” I just want to take the  time to say, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Christmas is the holiday that I and many other people celebrate on December 25th. Why should anyone be afraid to wish another person a Merry Christmas? When I was younger Christmas was a beautiful time if the year. Not because of presents or Santa Claus or even the television specials like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown! Sure, those things got me in the Christmas spirit as a kid, but even back then I could see (or at least feel) the “true” meaning of Christmas.

Christmas was a time where family and friends got together in harmony (at least for the most part). It was a time of miracles and forgiveness. People who may not have gotten along all year (or perhaps for many years) could be inspired to find peace with each other. Isn’t this why Jesus Christ was born (and later died)…so that we ALL could be forgiven of our sins? If you ask me, that is a beautiful thing that should bring hope and joy to the world.

Yet in many companies and organization we are told we can’t say “Merry Christmas” because it is politically incorrect and we might offend someone. This intolerance makes no sense to me because we are supposed to be a nation of becoming more tolerant and accepting of each other. It would seem as if this new age of political correctness is actually opening the doors for more religious persecution.

Yes, I was raised Christian (Lutheran, if you want to get specific). Yet I do not condemn anyone for their beliefs and I am not at all intolerant. I accept others for who they are and what they believe. As long as they are good people who are kind, not abusive, or out to kill or steal from anyone, we will get along just fine. So then why does it seem as if Christianity is being attacked in subtle ways in the name of tolerance?

I don’t have any good answer to this question. Perhaps someone who is reading this may have an answer. Keep in mind, I didn’t say I didn’t have any ideas. I actually have several theories. What I’m looking for is a good answer that makes sense.





A Letter to the Readers

Hello, readers of Jewell’s Gems.

My name is Jennifer Jewell, and I’m honored to be Sifu Jewell’s wife.

I am taking over this post so that I can tell all of you just how important Sifu Jewell is to me and what he’s done for my life. You may learn a thing or two about him that you didn’t know, but, first and foremost:

He deserves all the love and support you, his readers, can give him.

Here’s why.

Sifu Jewell came from humble beginnings. He fought hard against the discouragement his family bestowed upon him.  He was constantly being told that if he tries anything new,  he might become disappointed if he’s not successful.  It was this nonsense that made him decide to try anyway and work extra hard to be successful.  It instilled in him a work ethic like I’ve never seen before. He became focused and determined to prove the naysayers wrong.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.  But he always tried.

He took writing classes all four years of high school and into college.  A few of his pieces were published in his high school literary magazine and in our college newspaper.  When I met him in 1993, he would let me read what he was writing. It was good, even back then. And it was diverse.  He could write about anything.

Sifu Jewell paid his way through college.  He worked long hours at a few places just to pay tuition. He took the public transit bus to class. Unfortunately, it took him a little longer than his peers because he ended up getting married (sorry, not to me, I’m wife #2) and raising children. His dreams suffered due to lack of time.  He had a family to take care of now. But he never forgot his goal.

The writing took a back seat, but he trained in the martial arts whenever he could.  He met his sifu in 2001 and trained with him at 2:00am, after his overnight security shift, several times a week.  The voices of his discouraging family kept repeating in his head, “it’s better not to try at all than to try and become disappointed.”  That was his fuel.  He made it his mission to prove them wrong. He pushed himself to learn quickly and steadily moved up the ranks of Wing Chun. After 17 years, he has earned the rank of 3rd Degree Black Sash.

All of this without the support of his family or friends.

It’s funny; I have always felt that it was my job to take care of him, no matter how far away I was. Boy, did I fall short.

He would make time for me whenever he had an hour or two to spare, which was not often.  Sometimes we’d go a few years without hanging out. Being in another state made it hard to see each other, but we still kept in touch.

23 years after we first met and we finally figured out that we should be a couple, he was working two jobs and putting himself through school trying to finish college.  He was divorced by this time and his children had grown, so he was pouring his heart into writing papers and doing research.  I was proud of him for not forgetting his goals.  I felt like I was interfering with his studies, and I promised him that I wouldn’t take up his time.  His education was just as important to me as it was to him, and I swore I would do anything I could to help him achieve his degree.  He finished his Bachelor’s Degree in 2015 and went straightaway to his Master’s Degree. He graduated with a Master of Arts in Exercise and Sports Psychology in 2017.  And he was working full time at the hospital.

Again, all this without the support of his family or friends.

He’s only ever wanted to do two things in his life:

  1.  To teach Wing Chun
  2.  To be a famous writer

Fast-forward to now:  he is a published writer, but he’s not in the ranks of J.K. Rowling or Mark Twain.  He’s getting there, but he needs your help. Take a chance and read his poetry anthology, As Winter Fades: Reflections In The Pond.  Those poems are the last 25 years of love, loss, heartache, whimsy, rage, despair, happiness, and childlike innocence that he’s gone through.  Those poems are from his life, not just some junk he made up to sell books. And the photos were chosen based on the mood of the poem they are with.  Soon, he will have published his second book, The Wisdom of Wing Chun.  He explains how studying this internal martial art has played a key role in his life. It’s very informative and well-written, and it’s not a common topic. He’s also working on a few horror stories that are really disturbing, but in a good way, especially if you like the horror genre.

Come take a Wing Chun class with him if you’re in Baltimore.  He’s a really good teacher.  He’s patient and encouraging and easy to understand.

Check out his YouTube tutorials.  We’ve been shooting these for almost a year and they are good demonstrations of what the art of Wing Chun looks like in theory and application.

Finally, if you don’t feel like close combat is your thing, take a private Tai Chi lesson.  Yes, boys and girls, HE TEACHES THAT ALSO!!!  And he’s really good.  He was tapped to lead a class of mixed ages at a church function last year, and they all loved him.  He kept getting complements about how well he taught and how informative the demonstration was.

So what has he done for me and my life?  He’s shown me what it’s like to be truly in love with someone. He’s taught me that it’s okay to cry. He’s taught me that it’s normal for someone who loves you to do something nice for you (whether it’s taking your dish to the sink without asking or cheering you up with a box of Western fries) just because they want to, without expecting something in return. He’s taught me to laugh at myself. He’s taught me to love my body. He’s taught me that a good partnership isn’t about winning battles in a war. He’s taught me how to let things go, especially toxic people who remind me that I’m not good enough for them and that I’ll never meet their expectations no matter what I do. He’s taught me how to be curious about things and to never stop learning. He’s taught me to not blame myself for things that really aren’t my fault or out of my control.  He’s taught me that what I went through with my first marriage was not normal. He’s made me incredibly happy, even though I struggle with my adjustments. It can’t be easy for him, but he’s never given up on me. That, my friends, is true love.

Dear readers, this is my testimony to why Sifu Jewell deserves your attention and support.  He has a lot to offer the world.  He’s kind and smart and funny (most of the time, or at least he thinks he is), and he is dedicated to his craft.  He will share his ideas and knowledge about topics that will provoke the best conversations.  He’s open-minded and honest, and will always look at both sides of a debate. But best of all, he’s the most considerate, loving and caring husband and father anyone could ever want. The children and I are blessed to share his life, and we love him more and more every day.

Spread the word to everyone you know. Sifu Jewell really is a priceless gem to be treasured and admired. IMG_0375




What if… What if….What if…?

“What if…?”

Anyone who has attended or given any type of martial arts demonstration or class has probably heard someone in the class ask the teacher after demonstrating a technique, “Okay, but what if the guy attacking me does this (…or that)?”  Sometimes this question comes from a student’s genuine desire to learn as much as they possibly can.

More often than not, however, it seems like this question comes from a desire to challenge the person who is teaching. They are trying to discredit the teacher or the type of martial art they are teaching. It’s as if what they are really saying with their what if question is, “Alright, sure that technique will work when you tell the guy what to throw at you and he cooperates. But what about when a real attacker comes at you? You’re not going to know what to do and won’t be able defend yourself when all the moves aren’t choreographed because this whole martial arts thing isn’t realistic….”

No, you can’t predict everything. Truthfully, you can’t predict anything. Not in martial arts, and certainly not in life. We train for possibilities. We do our best to be prepared for whatever comes our way, but ultimately we are never completely prepared because we can’t see into the future.  We can take what we’ve learned and hope that it will serve us well if we find ourselves in the very situation we prepared for

One way we do this is by learning and following certain principles. Most of my martial arts teachers (or at last the ones I learned the most from) taught me the principles behind why and how a technique works. When I know the principle and application I can take one technique and make it become ten or more. I don’t get lost in contemplating, “what if the guy in front of me throws a jab instead of a hook or a kick instead of a punch?” I am prepared to respond to the incoming force because I have practiced both specific techniques and being on a state of relaxed awareness. Although, “relaxed” could be a debatable choice of words if you are “relaxed” at the same time your adrenaline is pumping.

My point is this:  I am prepared for whatever “what if ” comes my way without running down every possibly in my head during a confrontation. I’m simply ready. Maybe there is something I haven’t thought of and didn’t prepare for. At this point I can’t worry about that. If someone tries to attack me, I’m going to know what to do because I’ve trained my body and my brain to react involuntarily to whatever is thrown at me.  Another term for this might be, “knee-jerk reaction.”

It is the same with life. We do our best to be prepared by purchasing health insurance, car insurance, life insurance, renter’s insurance and all other types of insurance just in case something happens. We do this even though we drive as carefully as we can to avoid accidents, eat right and exercise to avoid illness, and save money in case we become suddenly unemployed. Of course, not everyone does the things I’ve just mentioned. but you get the idea.  Most of us do our best to be prepared for the unexpected or unfortunate events that pop up in our lives from time to time. Try as we might, though, we can’t be prepared for everything.

And to some extent I say, why bother? While we should be as ready as we can for the unexpected we can’t lose ourselves in all of the what if possibilities. At this point we are obsessing about the future and not being present in the moment. The ability to live in the moment not only makes one a better martial artist and athlete, but also serves as a way to lead a better and more balanced life.

My wife struggles with the “what if” every day: “What if you get injured at work or someone pulls a knife on you?” “What if they don’t hire me full time?” “What if someone else makes a better offer and we lose the house we wanted?”  She’s a planner, and usually has a backup plan, but not always.  I tell her to just enjoy the moments and stop worrying so much about something that may or may not happen.

Some what if scenarios should really be ignored. When I was a young man and expressed an interest in doing anything worthwhile that may take a little more effort than most people or seemed beyond what others assumed I was capable of accomplishing, my  family members would say things to me such as, “What if it doesn’t work out?” or “I don’t want you to be disappointed of you fail.”

These well- meaning family members were really sending the message, “I don’t want you to be disappointed WHEN you fail.” Sometimes they would have long talks with me trying to talk me out of whatever goal I may have set for myself. In my youth these speeches had their desired effect. I got it. They didn’t want me to get hurt, even though they probably hurt me more by discouraging my ambition. It has taken me a very long time to overcome this mindset.

Today people may still ask me things like, ” What if you fail or you can’t do it?” Another question I could ask in return is, “What if I succeed?” The only way to find out the answer to either question is to  follow through on my plan of action. I refuse to get caught up in the “what if” while I’m actually doing.


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.