This is a reproduction of a discussion Dr. Damian Kissey had with some Shaolin Wahnam Instructors.
About Teacher and Students of Shaolin Arts
Teacher’s Role : The aim is to be a good teacher, as defined in Sifu’s website : Skillful, Exemplary-courageous, Knowledgeable, Systematic, Inspiring, Generous-compassionate and Morally upright and righteous ), aspire for the highest Shaolin ideals if he or she is not yet a Buddha , decides who, what, when and how to teach (not for the student to decide)
Student’s Role : To be clear about the aim (eg combat efficiency), search for a teacher to fulfill aim, obey instruction once accepted as student, review results after certain duration of practice .
If a student cannot find the ideal best teacher, he should choose at least a qualified sincere teacher or continue searching.
The teacher’s attainment level must be higher than the student’s but it is not morally wrong if they eventually become husband & wife, or if the teacher treats the student (not the other way round) as an equal (e.g Sigung Choe Hoong Choy treated Sifu as equal).
If the student’s aim is achieved, the teaching is considered successful, regardless of whether the teacher is a eunuch, sometimes gets angry, sometimes intoxicated or is gay .
If wearing a mask means a teacher deliberately withholding or hiding a fact, then it is a matter of strategy and severity on a moral scale.
It is not the student’s business to not follow instruction just because the qualified teacher is not perfect in some ways. A student’s business is as outlined above. But a teacher may wear a mask sometimes if doing so helps students achieve their aims.
For example if a student has a phobia for eunuchs then a castrated teacher needs not tell, as the student may run away even before practice begins (i.e. a good strategy and a small lie). However a teacher should not pretend to students that he is a famous teetotaler, vegetarian Shaolin monk when in private he eats hamburger and gets intoxicated with alcohol/opium (i.e. evil strategy and a big lie) even though he is a good fighter.
How do we reconcile the Shaolin Buddhist precepts like Not Lying and Not Being Intoxicated with the two above scenarios? To me, it is a question of choosing the lesser evil from the spectrum of moral scale (Shaolin Laws). If the aims/ends (i.e. bringing good to the student and the teacher ) justify the means (i.e. wearing a mask), then it is net good action .
Respect (from student to teacher) is very important in Internal Arts as it creates the best condition for the student to achieve his aims .There is a saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” related to the general human tendency to perceive another person negatively after gradually knowing of his human shortcomings (even if some or all of them are imagined) .
But High Level Internal Arts are not for everyone and becoming Sifus is not for average persons. Novice students may fall into the trap of the above saying, start to intellectualize/judge their Sifus as if they stand at a same level, take special things for granted, when they should focus more in experiencing the depth and breadth of the Arts. These explain why, in history, even very great internal arts masters were persecuted, tortured and even crucified by the ignorant public or deviated followers .
If a Sifu rubs shoulders with all without discrimination and does not know how to keep some distance from students who do not deserve it yet or not mature enough to handle familiarity, it may lead to loss of respect for the teacher, and students’ progress will be affected and the school as a whole suffers consequences .
Sifus do not need to tell students everything that the students are not psychologically ready to hear as it may cause negative emotions/confusion and impede the students’ progress. That is why there are ordinary students and inner chamber disciples, open and closed/top secret.
Students should respect their Sifu. Sifus should keep a healthy distance (wear a mask sometimes) from students. School hierarchy is a necessity and Sifus should aim to continuously improve and aspire to the highest Enlightenment, not because of arbitrary Shaolin fancies but because it is in line with “Avoid Evil, Do Good, Purify the Mind”, because Buddhas and Great Masters have discovered through actual experience the nature of the ignorant human mind, the nature of inter-personal human relations, the nature of human societies on earth and the potential of all sentient beings.
Shaolin Wahnam Sabah, Malaysia
3rd February 2011