There will come a time in everybody's martial arts journey where they will have to reconcile what they practice with what they actually need to survive. The difficulty for most, from the start of their journey to the end, is knowing what that is...
The difficulty for a teacher is recognizing the students who you train for what they are. There are several different types of people who start martial arts journey's. My hope is not to specifically define each but to generally define a few types that I see regularly.
The First Love
The first starts their martial arts study as though they are smitten. There is nothing that is wrong with the art they study, the teacher, or anything related to their art. A few people stay this way for the rest of their life—looking at their art as though it is perfect—they seem to have blinders on. They may stay for the rest of their life in the art but never understand it—just mimic it. They will dress the part and act the part.
The second might start their study with a little more even-ness in their approach. Never getting really excited and never really falling for the art. They do it out of convenience or indifference or as a hobby. Sometimes these students are even quite capable and demonstrate good skill immediately, but they just never quite attach to the ideas, people, or art. At some point, leveling out as a martial artist, doomed by a lack of interest, discipline, and personal committment to practice and growth. They eventually leave.
The third might be the person who seems to question everything. Some of these students may come out of a previous system that they were smitten with (See the first student). However, because of circumstance beyond their control, they have been forced to choose something or someone else. They do so with a degree of noticeable passion for their previous art or teacher, constantly sharing what they did or how they did it. They eventually leave.
The fourth might be the person who is disdainfully challenging about your art. Every question is one of efficacy, efficiency, or practicality. They question the purpose of doing anything that they don't understand, cannot practice comfortably, or cannot defend themselves with immediately. Especially if they've spent five minutes working on something. They will typically modify everything that you've taught them within minutes of trying it for the first time. They will steal some gems from you and do their own thing.
The fifth person might be someone who looks like they care, looks like they understand, looks like they want to grow, looks like they are committed - but internally, they either don't trust the art or trust you. They have not taken the time to ask the necessary questions, they have not been smitten with it but have held the art at arms reach looking for flaws and when perceived flaws are found, putting it in a "cons" column. Finally, when the "cons" column gets big enough, they leave.
The sixth person might be the person who looks like they care, looks like they understand, looks like they want to grow, looks like they are committed—and perhaps, at one time they actually were but because of perceived irreconcilable differences or a lack of honor they leave. Usually with a lot of drama. Often taking a group of your students with them, the ones they have been secretly talking with behind your back, while you've trusted them. Often repackaging what you've taught them as something new.
This is the seventh type. This student wants to discuss everything. They rarely want to work hard. They'd rather discuss efficacy and combativeness as opposed to actually doing it. For them the martial arts are best kept at a mental, philosophical or spiritual level. Hard work is not for them. If it's hard, it's probably not going to be combatively effective or valuable for them. In the end, it's best to drive these students off IMO. They are a drain and a burden to the group and when push comes to shove, they will leave anyway.
In my experience, the eighth type of student is the most rare... it's the student who attends class regularly, is not gifted per se but works hard consistently, asks questions when confused, and cares about the art, it's efficacy, and understanding it for what it is. They do not try to change what they don't understand. They will make the art theirs when the time is right but they aren't in a rush. They study it physically, mentally, and spiritually. They work hard to push themselves and their training. They are disciplined. They are balanced in approach.
Ask yourself honestly, what person are you? Are you the eighth type of student or one of the others? Do you lean one way more than another? If you are balanced consider how rare you are. At any given time less than 3% of the population studies martial arts. If you then consider who you may be amongst the students around you, you are quite rare. Move it forward. (BTW, Call me if you are the eighth... :)
PS had to cut this one a little short so if it seems abruptly ended, it's because it needed to be...