In today’s society, the predominant way of thinking is, “I’m the customer, I’m the consumer, I paid for this service, therefor I deserve to get what I paid for.” And this is absolutely right. But, even though today’s version of martial arts can be viewed as a service business, it truly isn’t.
Originally, Kung Fu was taught one-on-one, from father to son, from teacher to student, in a very personal manner. You couldn’t pay for your training; there was no monetary value that could be placed on the knowledge that was being passed down to you. Students of not that long ago supported their teacher by working for him, either outside of the school, or inside the school by helping him teach students. The expectation of “I have to receive what I paid for,” didn’t exist. Everyone understood the meaning of Kung Fu, which is, in short, hard work.
When a student came to the master wanting to learn Kung Fu, there was no guarantee that you were going to come away with anything. There was no guarantee that the master would even teach you. No one had an expectation about what they would come away with, or if they would come away with anything at all.
Many people today think that because they’re coming to a martial art business, that they are owed something for their dollar. It’s true that you’ve paid for the instructor’s time, but this is no guarantee that you’ll come away with what you thought you would get. As long as you have a good teacher, it’s really up to you what you get out of your training. This is why satisfaction is not guaranteed; no teacher, no matter how good, can guarantee any particular outcome for the student.
Therefor, the mindset of the student has to be different. You can’t apply the western mindset of, “I bought it, it’s mine.” Kung Fu doesn’t work that way. The nature of Kung Fu cannot be quantified in a dollar amount. The knowledge that’s passed on to you by your teacher is priceless. Even if you pay X amount for a particular item, that doesn’t equate itself to the skill level you’re going to receive. That’s up to the individual student and how hard you work, how much time you put in, as well as your innate capability.
The knowledge that you receive from your instructors is not only priceless but will resonate with you for the rest of your life. If that’s the case, how do you continue paying for this? You may have paid a “one-time fee” to learn X, Y or Z, but your Sifu keeps paying into you. It’s not like buying a chocolate bar. You buy the candy and eat it; that’s the end of the transaction. Burt Kung Fu is a never-ending gift continually given to you by your teacher. How do you “pay” for this? You have to take care of your teacher.
People ask me if I still take lessons. Yes, I train with my teacher all the time. Even if I just go to visit him for a cup of coffee and a conversation, I still take him a red envelope. Why? It has nothing to do with, “I paid money, therefor I’m owed.” You do pay, but not with money. You pay for your training by honoring the knowledge that is passed down to you and working on it, then passing it on to others. The satisfaction that you will derive is the satisfaction you will get from your relationship with your teacher and from your own hard work. This satisfaction is not “guaranteed,” but requires constant “payment” of time and effort. If you consistently do this work, your training will “pay you back” for the rest of your life.