“Lo, There Do I See My Teachers”

I remember a phrase from “The 13th Warrior” (starring Antonio Banderas) that went:

Lo, there do I see my father,
Lo, there do I see my mother and my brothers and my sisters,
Lo, there do I see the line of my people,
Back to the beginning,
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me to take my place among them
In the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live…

While our learning and training is an expression of who we uniquely are, our art is not our own. They are as much our “fathers’, mothers’, brothers’ and sisters’ in the art.

Many lives and generations have gone into our art, a legacy left by those who have gone before.

It is the art of “our people, back to the beginning”. And we are bid to take our place among them, in the halls of “Valhalla” where strength, honor, courage and valor resides, where the teachers, the bearers of the flame of knowledge and wisdom live forever – in the hearts, and minds, and souls and lives of their students.

A few years ago, I had a student turn up at my place of business and presented me with a medal which she won at an international meet — so that I can hang it around her neck for her. She had moved to another state to work and started training there. She’s 25 now and had been with me since she was 16. If I may be so presumptious to say so, I took her from a little “Octopus” (uncoordinated flailing arms and legs) and turn her into a little “swan”. She has won many national and international titles (and I don’t mean the “open” kind of tournaments where any Tom, Rick and Harry can take part. I mean the sanctioned tournaments where you have to qualify through selection and performance rankings before your country can even submit your name)

Since moving to another state, we seldom see each other anymore. But she calls at times and we talk, and I try to find out what’s going on in her life (and her fiance’s — now husband — who is also one of my students and moved to the same state).

As I said, one day she turned up at my place of business with her medal. I took the medal, looked at it appreciatively, looked at her proudly and hung it on her. She bowed and said thank you. When I turned, a couple of my staff who was watching the whole thing the whole time, were crying.

I asked them what was the matter. And they said they had never seen anything like it. It touched them deeply. And I jokingly said “You gals should get out more”. But I knew what they meant.

I think I can safely say they now have a more appreciative view of the kind of man their “boss” is.

You see, martial art is not merely about technique. In the final analysis, being a teacher is about leaving a living legacy in your students’ lives. In that sense, you never die, but you live on.

As Stephen Covey says in his books, “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy”, that’s what it’s all about. And In the martial arts, we have ample opportunities to do that and more.

At the end of my days on earth, when I look back, I shall be grateful for all the living, learning, loving and leaving a legacy I had been able to do through the martial arts. And when I breathe my last breath, it shall whisper “Leaves Fall”, and I shall smile… and if I be permited another two words, I shall say to the Great Spirit “Thank You”…and die.

Yes, leaves fall…but they nurture the next generation, as I’ve tried to do my entire martial arts life.

Teachers fade away, and teachers die…but they live on. So, be not merely an instructor. Be a teacher. Medals rust, titles fade, but memories and legacies live on.

“Lo, there do I see my teachers…”