February 16

Why I Teach by Master Steven Aldus

If you are new to martial arts in Peoria and central Illinois, you’ve probably heard of several names in the area. One of those names is probably Steve Aldus.

Having been in the martial arts for 42 years and a teacher for 37, Mr. Aldus wrote to Metamora Martial Arts that he is a multi-disciplined martial artist. He holds many dan (black belt) rankings with experience in karate and tae kwon do, among other arts.

Though, Mr. Aldus said, “I am a Chinese martial artist first and foremost.” He teaches hsing-i ch’uan (Hopei) and old Yang style tai chi ch’uan. In addition, he teaches Chinese weapons, chin na and shuai jiao (Chinese wrestling). Mr. Aldus ran his own school for eight years, but now instructs in Peoria at Cat Ching Do on Tuesdays and with Preston Jackson the Contemporary Art Center on Saturdays.

I owe Mr. Aldus more than he knows; he has inspired me more than he knows.  When I was a little boy, I lived a few houses away from him and was best friends with his son.  I have fond memories of watching Mr. Aldus train in his basement dojo.  The grace, power and mystery of his moves hypnotized me, and I knew that someday I wanted to learn martial arts.  If I had not had the opportunity to watch Mr. Aldus, befriend his son, and have my child mind intrigued and captivated by his martial arts talent, I may never have started training.

To Mr. Aldus: I thank you for being a real inspiration.  As an adult martial artist, I have frequently received your kindness, advice and further inspiration.  Thank you.

One of the features of this blog is asking other martial artists their opinions to create an open forum in order to share knowledge and ideas.

In this first guest post, we asked Mr. Aldus – among other things – why he teaches. Here, nearly unedited, is his response.

Why do I teach?  If you ask different instructors, you will get many different answers.

I teach for various reasons. Fundamentally, I teach to pass on the knowledge unselfishly imparted to me by my instructor, Sifu Li. Teaching Hsing-I Ch’uan is my way to honor my Sifu and all who have gone before him. Teacher Li presented a gift of martial arts to me and I am obliged to pass it along to others. This ensures our martial art lives on through future generations and is not lost.

I have a deep love and appreciation for martial arts and my hope is others will develop the same appreciation through my instruction.

Through teaching others, one receives satisfaction watching the students as they grow and succeed. Their success and growth as martial artists benefits them in life, not just in the kwoon, dojo, or dojang.

Teaching martial arts defines my strengths and my weaknesses. As I work hard to shore up my weaknesses and improve my strengths, I convey this to my students. To see an instructor working as hard as the students on his or her martial art training can be an inspiring lesson.

One of my favorite teaching moments came when I was asked to sit on a testing board. A friend (who I will call Sensei or Master Miller) was testing a large number of his students for black belt. I had visited Master Miller’s school many times and interacted with all of the students testing that day.

Many weeks prior to the testing, a sheet listing the names of the students testing for black belt was posted. After class, on the same day of the posting, I overheard many of the students scheduled for black belt testing complaining about one student up for black belt. They couldn’t understand why this student (who I will name Henry) was testing.

As far as they were concerned, Henry wasn’t up to black belt testing standards. Sometimes Henry forgot or had trouble with parts of his forms, wasn’t able to kick as well as the rest, his self-defense was lacking and on and on.

I approached the students and said to them that they should be concerned about their skill sets and not about what Henry does or does not know. If they thought Henry wasn’t up to testing standards, they should help him out.

“Remember, we are family,” I said.

I looked at them and asked, “Do you have faith in Master Miller’s decisions and do you respect your instructor?”

They answered, “Yes.”

“Then why are you questioning his selections for the black belt testing?” I asked.

I quickly added, “Instructors many times will make decisions based on information known only to him.”

They lowered their heads.

I said, “Let’s make a deal. You help Henry to be the best he can be for this testing and I won’t tell Sensei about this episode, okay?”

Embarrassed, they weakly said, “Yes, Master Aldus.”

The day of the testing arrived. I was asked by Master Miller to speak to his students prior to the testing. I said it would be an honor. I went into the dressing room where they were nervously waiting. I asked them if they were nervous and they all said yes.

All save one.

Henry smiled widely and said with pride, “Master Aldus, I am not very nervous.”

I said to Henry, “Wow, I thought you would be. Why aren’t you nervous, Henry?”

“Because I am testing with all of my friends and they helped me get ready for my testing. I am ready, Sir.”

I said with pride, “Great! I am proud of you, Henry.”

I looked deeply into the eyes of the rest of the students and said, “I am so proud of each and every one of you. You showed today that all of you deserve to be testing for Dan rank. Give your all and leave nothing behind. Good fortune to you all.”

The testing started and continued for the next six hours. Henry struggled, but was buoyed by his fellow students. At the end of this grueling test, the students’ uniforms were soaked, their bodies ached, their minds exhausted. Yes, they were happy it was over and proud to have finished.

The Board retired to a back room to render their decision. The students later said that waiting for final decision seemed longer than the actual testing.

After much deliberation, the Board returned to give their decision. But, before giving the results of the test, Master Miller had something he wanted to say.

Master Miller said, “Henry has given me permission to pass on some very personal information.”

Master Miller took a deep breath.

“Henry has multiple sclerosis.”

The students looked absolutely shocked, they had no idea.

“Henry informed me two years ago and asked me not to tell anyone,” Sensei continued.  “He didn’t want anyone to know because he was afraid the students would treat him differently or take it easy on him. He is not afraid anymore.”

“I would like to thank all of the students who helped Henry. I am very proud of everyone testing today. You all proved today that you are deserving of the rank of first Dan. You all have passed and are officially first-degree black belts and members of our martial arts family from this day forward.”

The students approached in single file to accept congratulations from each Board Member, with Henry leading the way.

Henry shook my hand and said thank you. I told him great job and congratulations. I was very happy for him. As each of the other students stood in front of me, I said congratulations and I was very proud of them. Each student looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you, Master Aldus.”

Every student had tears in their eyes, and so did I.