(reproduced from http://shaolin.org/general/qualities.html)
A priceless photograph showing Sifu Lai Chin Wah demonstrating the Kwan Tou. Sifu Lai Chin Wah was Sifu Wong’s first kungfu teacher. Sifu Lai was better known in kungfu circles as Uncle Righteousness.
Having a good master is definitely a tremendous blessing in kungfu, taijiquan and chi kung training. As mediocre instructors are so common nowadays – some even start to teach after having attended only a few week-end seminars – finding a great master is like finding a gem in a hay stack. Here are some guidelines to help you find one.
A LIVING EXAMPLE
A good master must be a living example of what he teaches. A kungfu master must be able to defend himself, a taijiquan master must have some internal force, and a qigong master must exhibit radiant health, as these are the basic qualities these arts are meant to develop.
A master of kungfu, taijiquan or qigong does not enjoy the luxury of many coaches in modern sports like football and athletics who often cannot dribble a ball or run a race half as well as the students they teach. There are also some kungfu, taijiquan or qigong instructors today who cannot perform half as well as their average students, but they are certainly not masters, although as a form of courtesy they may be addressed as such by their students, or the general public.
UNDERSTANDING DIMENSION AND DEPTH
Besides being skillful, a good master should preferably be knowledgeable. He should have a sound understanding of the dimension and depth of the art he is teaching, and be able to answer basic questions his students may have concerning the what, why and how of their practice. Without this knowledge, a master will be limited in helping his students to derive the greatest potential benefits in their training.
However, especially in the East, some masters may be very skillful, but may not be knowledgeable. This is acceptable if we take the term “master” to mean someone who has attained a very high level in his art, but who may not be a teacher.
The reverse is unacceptable, i.e. someone who is very knowledgeable, but not skillful – a situation quite common in the West. A person may have read a lot about kungfu, taijiquan or qigong, and have written a few books on it, but has little kungfu, taijiquan or qigong skills. We may call him a scholar, but certainly not a master.