Classroom Kung Fu

Bruce Lee is probably the most famous name in martial arts history but most people know little about him besides what they have garnered from watching his movies or hearing about his untimely death.  He was a true visionary who transformed the martial arts landscape with his revolutionary teachings.  Sometimes we can learn about our craft by looking at remarkable teachers in other fields and Bruce Lee is no exception.

Lee was trained in the classic Wing Chun style of kung fu but in 1967 broke away from it and created his own philosophy which he called Jeet Kune Do.  He felt that martial artists were artificially restricting their options by blind adherence to a particular style and the most effective and practical plan would be to incorporate the best elements from multiple styles.  He railed against the endless repetition of beautiful and flowery forms completely outside of the context of how those moves work in the real world.  He was unconcerned with how “pretty” a move was but only if it was effective in the real world.  An actual combat situation is messy and unpredictable.  As we know, classrooms are the same way.  Great teaching gets messy sometimes and we have to constantly be aware of the changing landscape in our rooms and make “moves” based on what works…not on what is necessarily theoretically ideal or, god forbid, “scripted.”  Great teaching, like a fight, can’t be scripted.

Occasionally, I watch professional development sessions and immediately get an overwhelming sense that I am seeing someone who is great at doing the “classical forms” but would get their ass kicked in front of a real class.  Sorry to say it but you know I’m right.  (Not to say that they have nothing of value to offer…more on that in a later post)

Districts and schools always seem to be investing in the latest, greatest program to solve all of their problems.  It doesn’t work that way.  No one program contains all of the best answers just like no martial art contains all of the best moves.  The best martial artist may take a throw from judo, a kick from tae kwon do, and a strike from karate.  Likewise, teachers should not allow themselves to be pigeon-holed by some particular doctrine or program but should always be seeking to add more and more weapons to their teaching style no matter what the source.

Sometimes outside forces try to lock us into a particular style but it is even something that we do to ourselves.  Confession time!  For years I gloried in being the “non-tech guy” and quickly rejected opportunities to incorporate more technology…hey, it’s not my “style.”  That’s just like the martial artist who rejects a practical and effective move because it is not a part of “Wing Chun” or whatever style to which they “belong.”  Bruce Lee was right…sometimes labeling and declaring a style places limits on your growth.  He was fearful that his followers would do this to Jeet Kune Do and constantly admonished them to not be concerned with the name.  So have you limited yourself in any similar ways by blindly following a style or program?  Are you training students to do beautiful and perfect repetitions of “classical forms” completely removed from real world applications?  In a real fight you don’t just start doing your moves in the prescribed order you learned them.  Likewise, we don’t want students who can just spit out facts, formulas, and equations but we want students who can take what they have learned and intelligently apply it to the real world problems around them.

Stay fluid, keep learning, and keep up the relentless search for what is most effective and don’t feel reluctant to leave some of your classical training behind.  Teachers and students could both benefit from more of a Jeet Kune Do philosophy in the classroom.

Dave Burgess