It is a lot easier to become a student in the martial arts these days. Let's look back in time on how it used to be done…
A prospective student, after selecting which style of the art he wished to learn, visits a master in that school in the hope of being accepted. He is instructed to wait outside the master's quarters shortly before sunrise. Once there, the prospect frequently discovers a number of other men also wishing instruction. All are kept waiting a long time, during which their patience and temper undergo the first of many tests. Water or dirt may be “accidentally” thrown on them. Regular students ignore them or treat them rudely. Then, after many hours they are told that there will be a delay because of an important ceremony the master must perform. Finally, they are told to go home because the master will not be able to see them that day. Those who display any kind of anger or petulance are immediately dismissed and told never to return.
The next day, for the benefit of those who still seek instruction, the entire process is repeated. In addition to the usual humiliations, they are under secret surveillance to determine whether they are nervous, talkative, or argumentative among themselves. After many hours they are asked to kneel as the master appears briefly. He doesn't say a word, but merely looks them over. If any of the prospective students rush toward him, or try to talk, they are asked to leave, as they have not shown respect for their elders.
As the day drags by, those who remain are insulted, continually asked what they are doing there and finally told to go home. If they are still not discouraged, they are assigned menial tasks like scrubbing the floor. Then on cue, just prior to the completion of their work, some students walk across the floor with muddy shoes; another ploy to chastise the prospect for not cleaning up areas he was assigned. After these and other chores are done, the prospects are once again told to go home because the master will not be able to see them that day.
When the prospects return the next day they are given even more dirty work. This serves to further test their devotion and temperament. Eventually, they are asked to eat breakfast with the members of the school. Each prospective student is given a cracker and told not to eat it. Some do, but the wiser ones do not. Next, they are given a small bottomless bowl, and only the foolish ones question the strange choice of eating implement. Finally, they are given rice soup. Those who ask how they are to eat the soup are immediately dismissed. All prospects who question are considered un-intelligent and un-resourceful, thus not to be trusted with the secrets of the school. The wise ones who are patient and do not eat their cracker know to place it at the bottom of the bowl.
Those who pass the breakfast test are assigned to work in the kitchen. Next, the prospects are tested on honesty. Those who remain are then given the endurance test. Finally, the survivors are asked to a final audience with the master.
Here they are requested to drink a cup of tea with the master. They are to become full-fledged students of the master. The master himself pours the tea, but if any of them drink it they are immediately told to leave. The rationale for this abrupt dismissal is that by permitting the master to serve them, they have reduced his role to one of a servant, thus implying that they know more than the master. The correct etiquette is to approach the altar of the ancestors and pour the tea out in three smooth strokes saying, “I honor the ancestors and the master before me and the masters whom I do not know, but who have contributed to the knowledge of all mankind.” Next, the student should refill his cup and say, “Having honored the masters before my time, I now honor the present master whom I hope I am worthy to serve.” If the master is satisfied, he then drinks his tea and the survivors become full-fledged pupils.
As generations passed, the etiquettes changed, and the master would not accept new pupils unless an experienced student at the school first recommended them. Even though these new students were put to a lot of similar tests, the master was further ensured that the student would be worthy, knowing that an experienced student would not be likely to choose an unworthy candidate to bring before his master. For, if the would-be student proved himself unworthy, then disgrace would be brought upon the experienced student that recommended him.
Today, it is not as difficult to become a student in the martial arts. However, there are still embedded in the Chinese martial arts systems guarantees that certain information will not be imparted unto undedicated and less than loyal and/or less than worthy students. The responsibility of holding this information is great for those who keep it. It would be unfortunate if someone were to use that information in order to harm and take from others that which is not theirs, or to use it just for their own amusement at having the ability to do so. To do so would be to create havoc and chaos, which is not the goal of a sincere martial artist.
Although the checks and balances are well in place here at our school, it is still desirable for us to thrive and flourish in order to share this knowledge with others in our community. To do so makes our community stronger. Through the study of martial arts, stronger families, stronger communities, and stronger cities are developed. The more people who have the ability to defend themselves, the safer our communities eventually become. The more people who have the confidence to share their views and ideas, the better our community flourishes due to minds working together. This does not even take into account the camaraderie developed by working together. These are just some of the effects that happen when we share our knowledge; not even delving into the self-growth that the martial arts is known to develop.