I love practicing and teaching martial arts, and I also love martial arts films. Kung Fu Panda is one such film that I enjoy and will watch repeatedly. Besides the fun of anthropomorphized animals, the story of Kung Fu Panda is a microcosm of the martial arts experience.

Martial arts has many forms and many benefits, and each individual who practices a martial art will experience these differently. However, every student must have a teacher, just as every teacher was once a student. I find that I connect best with my students through the shared experience of martial arts training. I have been where they are, and I can use that knowledge and understanding to help them learn. It often amazes me how many martial arts instructors seem to have forgotten their time as students and that they are still students.

These same instructors are often the ones whose teaching feels dead, like it is merely textbook knowledge that is repeated from some other source. This will sometimes work, but it will most likely produce mediocre results and unmotivated students. I feel that teaching in the martial arts must be adapted for the needs of the students. In Kung Fu Panda, Shifu attempts to teach Po Kung Fu through traditional methods and fails. Many instructors would blame the student at that point, and they would be wrong. Shifu then learns that he must adapt his teaching so that Po will respond and progress is made.

Martial arts is a living discipline. It is kept alive through practice and through teaching. If we treat it as dead knowledge that can be packaged and mass produced that is what it will become. To truly keep martial arts alive, it must be more than something you do, it must become a part of who you are.