#112 How to Choose a Teacher

This topic comes from an essay that Bruce Lee wrote about how to choose a martial arts instructor, but the advice can be applied in general to mentors, teachers, or guides.

“I sincerely give this advice to all who are about to take up martial arts. Believe only half of what you see and definitely nothing that you hear. Before you take any lessons from any instructor, find out clearly from him what his method is and politely request that he demonstrate to you how some techniques operate. Use your common sense and if he convinces you, then, by all means go ahead.”

Even if a friend recommends a teacher, you should find out for yourself whether that teacher is the right fit for you.

Sometimes we come to teachers who have written books or have received accolades for their teachings and believe that due to this outside validation they have credibility as teachers. It is important to have a vetting process. The teacher needs to be able to answer the questions:

• What is your teaching?
• How do you do it?
• Can you show me? (Depends on the type of teacher)
• How will I benefit from this teaching?

Then let the answers sink in and ask yourself: does this make sense to me?

Just because the teacher is not the teacher for you does not mean that they are a bad teacher, just that the fit was not right.

These points are good for both teachers and people in your life:

Is it clear? Is it direct and simple? How does it make you feel? Do the actions match the words?

When I’m spending time with this person is the energetic exchange equal and generous? Sometimes we have teachers where all the energy is being sucked towards them. With a good teacher you should be able to go to them and they will share with you and want you to understand what you want to understand.

“How does one judge if an instructor is good? Rather this question should be rephrased to read: How can one judge if a method or system is good? The soundness of the system and not the instructor is to be considered. The instructor is merely there to point the way and lead his disciples to an awareness of the true feeling and expression of the system.”

You want the teacher to be a good guide, but what is also important is that the material is resonating with you.

Sometimes we get caught up in the cult of personality and not in the substance of the teaching.

The best teachers are engaged with their subjects and in turn through their passion on the subject help their students become engaged and interested in the subject.

“Do not, however, be impressed by instructors who have brick breaking hands, invincible stomachs, iron forearms, or even speed for that matter. Remember, you cannot learn his ability, but you can learn his skill. At any rate these things are just stunts in the Chinese art of Gung Fu.”

Do not be dazzled by the performance of a teacher. The underlying teaching is what is important, not the trick itself.

“What if the master does not wish to show you his style? What if he is too humble and firmly regards his deadly secret? One thing I hope you should realize regarding Oriental humility and secrecy is that although it is true that highly qualified teachers do not boast, and sometimes do not teach Gung Fu to just anybody, the fact remains that they are only human beings and certainly they have not spent 10, 20, 30 years on an art in order to say nothing about it. Even Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching, and the man who wrote “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know,” wrote 5,000 words to explain his doctrine.”

A generous teacher will not use tricks, such as withholding information, just to get you in their class. A generous teacher is excited, enthusiastic, and supportive of you.

“In order to be able to pass for being more than their ability the honorable masters, professors, and experts may say little. It is definitely easier to look wise than to talk wisely and to act wisely is of course even more difficult. The more one wants to pass at a value above his worth, the more he will keep his mouth shut. For once he talks or moves people can certainly classify him accordingly. There is a Chinese saying that applies to these people, “Silence is the ornament and safeguard of the ignorant.””

You do not want a teacher who does not live the philosophy that they teach.

Bruce Lee lived what he taught and he valued being real, which is why his philosophy and methods continue to resonate with people today.

“Somehow, one day, you will hear, “Hey, now that is quality. That is someone REAL.” I would like that.”

We’d love to hear about teacher's you've had or your current teacher. Write to us at hello@brucelee.com or tag us @brucelee on social media with #bruceleepodcast.

We get many emails requesting advice with “What would Bruce Lee do?” and would like to start a “What would Bruce Lee do?” section of the podcast where Shannon and Sharon respond to your emails for advice. If you need advice and are wondering, “What would Bruce Lee do?” write to us at hello@brucelee.com

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