Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Bobbe Edmonds - Do You Teach All You Know?

I have been training Eskrima, Wing Chun, and Pencak Silat for over 25 years now. Mostly, I only trained for myself, to perfect my technique & understand this unique art to it’s fullest, particularly knife technique. I am not remotely religious, esoteric or mystical, so my focus has been purely on the physical.

I came up from the remnants of the old school system of thinking in the Martial Arts, where you waited, trained & begged for years, even decades before you were given anything beyond the basics. As the years went on & the world opened up (mostly due to the internet) I found teachers who were happy to train & share their art with me, as well as those who wrapped it in mysticism and vagueness, leaving me to guess what I was doing on my own. Foremost of the best was the late Pendekar Herman Suwanda, who for me was a shining example of a man who loved his country and its art so much, you couldn’t stop him from talking/teaching/demonstrating at the drop of a hint that you were interested.

When I decided to teach, I saw no other way than to simply give all I have, and develop students to the best of my abilities. Pa Herman once said that your students are a direct reflection on YOU. If they fail to move properly, it is not their fault, it is YOURS, as is the shame of allowing them to carry on in ignorance. Taking this to heart, I teach each student with their best interest in mind. I have had examples of both good and bad teachers, and I don’t want my students thinking of me they way I thought of some of the bad ones. I would like to be known for giving good training & quality information, not “Well, we know he knows *something*, but he doesn’t really teach it”.

A teacher once said to me "If you know ten arts (skills), only teach seven…Hold back three for yourself."


Lets suppose for a moment that I actually follow that logic. I know ten skills, and I pass seven on to my students. They in turn pass along only 4 to theirs.

In three generations…where's the ART? What's left?

I have spoken to dozens of instructors in the past several years who believe in teaching by withholding. Not all teach in America, but most do.

Here are a few reasons I have heard:

“You shouldn’t teach everything because…”

1: “They may someday challenge you & use what they know against you.”

            I put this one first because it’s the one most commonly used. It also comes directly out of every Kung Fu movie I have ever seen. If I have even the SLIGHTEST notion that somebody I teach will try to attack me someday, I’ll simply ask him to leave my school. Go train with master Yang & kick his ass in 20 years. I understand that this happens from time to time in Asia, though. However, my thought process still leads me here: Why teach him at all if you suspect? And 15-20 years is a LONG time to hold a grudge!

2: “I put in decades of training, sweat & blood to get this information, I should just give it out in a few years to you?”

            This one also has little reality to it, in my opinion. Yeah, I put in LOTS of time and effort to get this. I have been teaching for over a decade now, but guess what? My most advanced students are nowhere NEAR even a quarter of my knowledge. They can barely retain me teaching a little of what I know over long periods of time…And I teach it by the gallon! They, like myself, must put in the HOURS and the EFFORT to reap the benefits. It will not come in just a few months, or even years. If you attract advanced martial artists to your school, they will naturally have a distinct advantage over your other students, especially if they come from the same style, i.e. Silat. But they would have to be with me for quite a long period of time before they could get everything I have to give.

3: “If they get all they can from you, they’ll leave your school to train somewhere else and you won’t get their money anymore”

            I understand this one better, because there are many who do teach for money. I myself don’t, so it doesn’t matter to me. Also, I encourage my students to seek out other instructors so they will have varied points of view, not just my own. As I said, I want what’s best for THEM, not ME. But for people who rely on student income for their livelihood, I can see some truth to this. But I do have a question: Do you worry about your reputation when a student realizes he isn’t getting the real thing? If word gets around that you won’t show it, where will your finances be then? There is a famous Pencak Silat Guru who was recently brought down because of this. He underestimated the power of the internet. It was what made him famous & popular. It was what ruined him when the word got out about his teaching method.

4: “They have to prove they are worthy of it/loyalty”

            I think after the first few months, that has been proved. My students shouldn’t have to pull me out of a burning building in order to learn all the forms from me. To me, loyalty means that they attend class regularly, pay their tuition on time, and WORK HARD. When I see them sweating & bleeding, trying to work out Kembangan on the double beat, I am reminded that I am as lucky to be their teacher as they are to be my students. I owe them my loyalty as well as vice-versa.

I feel that, although the teacher is the source of knowledge, it is the student who sweats and bleeds for it. After class, the teacher will go home & relax, or focus his attention on other things. The earnest martial arts student will dedicate entire years of his life mastering the art taught to him in school. For this reason, the student deserves honesty in payment for his efforts, and it is a poor teacher who would withhold information in the face of such dedication. For a student who has demonstrated willingness, loyalty, and dedication to his instructor, such martial knowledge as the teacher can bestow should be freely given. It does no credit to the teacher to withhold knowledge for years on end while trying to decide if a student is worthy or not.

If you have accepted a student, then TEACH HIM. If you are unsure, cease all instruction after a few months and ask the student to seek training elsewhere. At my school, there is a one month evaluation period. This month is entirely free to the prospective student, and I encourage them to attend as many classes as possible. If at the end of the first month I don’t think they will work out with the school or myself, they can go elsewhere and no financial loss to them. During that month, I teach a normal curriculum as would any regular paying student that I had already accepted.

This is not to say that a student should be given every single detail in a few days, or even years. Just as food in a full stomach needs time to digest & be converted to fuel for the body, martial knowledge must be dispersed in moderate doses such as the student can take. Too much food on your plate will only cause indigestion, not nourish you. Some knowledge and concepts can only be grasped SLOWLY, through constant repetition and effort.

The thing to understand is that an open training environment encourages growth & trust between teacher and student. By passing on the knowledge, the teacher gets a deeper understanding of it himself (I find this to be true more and more as the years go by). By training hard & trusting his teacher, the student can advance in skill at a steady rate, and experience personal growth augmented by confidence in his abilities. Cultivating an atmosphere of narcissism and teacher-worship only produces sheep, not wolves.

So my question to Martial Art teachers out there; Do you teach all you know?

If not, why?


My deepest gratitude to Bobbe Edmonds for his kind permission in allowing me to repost his article.

Photo Credit:  Bobbe Edmonds

You can contact Bobbe Edmonds via Facebook or his blog Thick as Thieves and last but not least, please check out his YouTube Channel.

 In case you missed other articles by Bobbe Edmonds, please check out:



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