"A Teachable Attitude"

By Si-Fu Scott Baker, Ph.D.


Wing Chun students come in many shapes and sizes. They also come with a variety of attitudes and dispositions. The studentís attitude is the most significant aspect of their nature which contributes to either their success or failure in learning this complex system of skills. Attitude has a greater impact upon a studentís success than natural ability, and physical capacity. One can build capacity and endurance, and one can teach skills and abilities even to the untalented, but one can not teach the un-teachable!

There is an old Taoist story about a student who comes to a master and asks him to teach him. The master invites the student to sit with him and have tea. While they are sitting the master starts to converse with the eager young student. But every time the master starts to explain a point the student would interrupt him and say, "Oh I know that, I do this when that happens, or I donít have that problem becauseÖ" Soon the master stopped talking and picked up the teapot. He began pouring tea into the students cup, as the cup filled he continued pouring until the cup overflowed and spilled out. The student shouted stop! It is enough! My cup is full! With that the old master smiled and replied, yes your cup is full, therefore I can teach you nothing until you empty your cup.

The moral of the story should be clear. The student had an un-teachable attitude. Instead of listening to the master he wanted to show how much he already knew. He was not open to learning anything new that he believed he had already learned. His cup of knowledge was full. He had to empty that cup before he could learn from the new master. Emptying your cup does not mean you must give up all you have learned, forget all that you know. That would be absurd. To empty you cup simply means to adapt a teachable attitude. To put what you know about something out of your mind and listen to a new explanation, a new insight. If you are asked your experience or opinion, then by all means share it. Otherwise hold what you know in abeyance so that you can benefit from this new learning opportunity.

All your natural talent, your eagerness and hard work, your willingness to pay the price to master a skill, all of this amounts to little or nothing if you do not have an attitude that enables you to be taught. Most of the great instructors I have seen deal with the un-teachable student in much the same way. They leave them alone; let them spout off their great knowledge and often do not correct what is wrong or confirm what is right. Remember this, if you are talking then you are not learning, that is with one exception: If you are asking questions, then you are in a learning dialogue with your teacher. Most competent teachers encourage students to ask questions.

Asking questions is not the same as questioning the validity of an answer. Although most instructors have a permanent cure for that skeptical attitude, they simply do it on you! There is no substitute for experience! Once you have experienced it, you will accept the validity of your teacher's explanations. Asking questions often helps the good teacher teach. It tells him what you do not understand, it shows how you think about things, and it gives the teacher some insight into how you learn. It also evokes the answer. Many times some of the best, most enlightening discussions have come about from a question that drew out an answer that explained things in a way the teacher would never have used or thought of without the initial question. Questions usually come from those who are teachable. The un-teachable generally do not ask questions, they make statements! They declare facts, even if they are not facts! This is easily differentiated from good questions. Good questions come from the truly teachable. One needs to let go of the ego to be a good question asker. Such humility makes one a favorite student to any competent teacher. No one enjoys trying to teach the arrogant prideful jerk! Humility is always endearing. Humility shows a great strength of character, humility is not weak, pride is weak! Pride is walking around with your cup full and showing everyone that it is full! Pride is definitely the cause of the un-teachable attitude.

The best teacher will also have a humble, teachable attitude. Anyone who has taught Wing Chun for a while will have to admit that they have learned just as much teaching it as they taught. Many times students will ask a question you have never thought of, or will express an insight you had never considered. This is one of the great benefits of being a student who is learning in a class with other students. It is also one of the benefits of teaching the art. True mastery can never really be obtained until one successfully teaches their Wing Chun skills to others. The ability to be open minded to the experiences and idea of others, to what they have learned, and to how they gained their understanding and skills is a valuable attribute for any student or teacher of the way to posses. Some of your greatest insights may well come from listening to both teachers and fellow students with this open, teachable attitude.

About the Author:

Dr. Scott Baker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Brigham Young University in 1995. Born and raised in New Zealand, he began his training in Wing Chun there in 1972 under the direction of Master Tam Hung Fun. He is now a member of the Yuen Kay San line under Zopa Gyatso. Si-Fu Baker resides in New Zealand.




Questions or comments? Send them to: snaerskegg@mainewingchunkungfu.com