Perfection and Mastery in the Martial Arts

Can one ever actually master or otherwise achieve perfection in the martial arts?

Of course the so-called “experts” of the FMAs will answer emphatically, no. I expected that. Why? Because the Filipino martial artist today really has no depth to his martial arts due to the industry’s commercialism. He lacks strong understanding of fighting strategy and practical fighting skill–let alone any philosophical knowledge–so he must look to the Kung Fu movie… yes, I said it: THE KUNG FU MOVIE, to learn how to think and act, as a teacher of the martial arts. He believes that FMA teachers are supposed to be quiet, humble, neutered monks who avoid eye contact and speak in parables. As if the fighters who once challenged each other to test and prove skill and build reputations and forging new methods of fighting only existed in stories and anecdotes. Sorry, but that ain’t us, it isn’t our culture. This, my friend, is a warrior culture, not a temple!

I really hate to admit this because I love my kababayans (countrymen) so much, but even many FMA people in the Philippines do it, too. They try to be fake Filipino monks, with this air of peacefulness and non-violence they have to put on. They read American martial arts magazines to see what the trends are in the “sophisticated” side of the world, and then mock those trends back home. I mean, am I the only guy who notices Filipino pop stars wearing cold-weather gear while on stage performing Rap music in Taglish, in the Philippines? Where its HOT? What about Catholic Filipinos running around in Muslim costumes to live up to the imagery of Dan Inosanto’s Kali Warrior? Wrestling with karabaw in the mud and wearing straw hats and naming everything in this beautiful art rather than using numbers like the rest of us?

Sorry, I lost my head for a minute.

Anyway, while many Filipinos are peaceful, friendly, non-violent people, our martial artists are not. We don’t wear belts and hang up certificates because we don’t need them. We brag. We talk trash. We look at foreign arts and think, I can whip that guy. We try to make our students better than the lousy students up the road or in the next town. We still train well into our 50s and will cross sticks (and hands) with you to prove how good we are. We drag our students to matches to build our reputations, we train harder when they lose, and then we tell potential students that we have the best fighters in town because this is what we strive for.

All that to say, this fake-me-out humility in the FMA is new, it’s phony, and it sucks. It’s not a Filipino martial principle. If all you strive for is mediocrity, why are you even training? Are we not training for combat? Who are you preparing to fight? A boy scout? A 60 year old man with a walker? Are we not studying to win fights, but studying to fight only to a draw? Come on, people, we are allowing our weak counterparts to represent the art of our country of origin! And they are doing all the talking!

Perfection in the martial arts is possible. Mastery in the martial arts is the goal. If you don’t believe that it is possible or that you are capable, then I say you are unworthy of calling yourself a teacher–let alone Master–of the Philippine martial arts. The purpose of training hard is to forge the body into something that cannot be duplicated in a gym and 99% of the martial arts schools out here. We are developing our skills and our bodies so that no man on the street poses a real threat–armed or unarmed. And while it is true that this goal is not right around the corner, it is a possibility that will meet us halfway if we devote enough time and energy towards it. The martial artist must never be satisfied with his skills, because this is what keeps him in the gym and at the top of the food chain.. and out of the hospital or the morgue. He is alway striving for a better, stronger, faster punch or kick. He wants to possess an unstoppable attack, and and impenetrable defense. He wants his knife to have a light saber-like ability to penetrate anything, and for his stick to crash through any defense. He is always striving for more, better, faster, stronger. He is always demanding his body to put out more, and he gives it the attention it needs in order to make sure that he remains capable of keeping up with his desires. He has turned down other endeavors for his martial arts journey; therefore, he enjoys a level of skill and confidence most of his martial arts peers only dream about and pretend to have on the internet and around kid brothers. In the company of his inferior martial arts counterparts, this is the only time he can really be non-violent and not have to pretend to be peace-loving and humble; these people are truly no match to his ability.

When I see mediocre martial artists acting like they have no fear, and then attempting to outsmart those with more physical prowess, I laugh because I know that it isn’t arrogance. Rather, these men really are insecure, and they are hoping you are not as bright as they are so that they can feel superior about something. Now, when he says that he doesn’t believe in mastery and perfection, he’s telling the truth; he doesn’t believe in it… for himself. When he claims to have no fear in combat, he is again telling the truth! He feels no fear of fighting, because he has no intention of ever fighting and will avoid it at all costs.

Want a test? Ask a martial artist you know about fighting, sparring and competition. If he gives you the speech about how fighting has nothing to do with sparring and competitions, or how even NHB fighters are not going to be effective on the street, you are in the company of a martial arts “wuss”. lol

These guys use logic to explain away how martial arts ain’t about fighting, and how the guys who do fight “just don’t get it”, and how guys like me who talk about fighting are the real cowards… It’s all to distract you from the fact that he can’t fight, and that his martial art is weak.

The bottom line:  If a man spent his lifetime training his arts, refining, testing and training even more, he will one day master his art; it is the only outcome. If he spends enough time fine-tuning, revising, fine-tuning some more, revising, and then fine-tuning some more–looking at his skills critically and attempting to smooth out the rough edges and build up his weaknesses until they disappear–he will one day perfect his art. But only when he has spent a good portion of his life in pursuit of these goals will it happen. And finally, others must see and recognize the results before he will… Only then can one truly say that the goal has been reached. He may be confident, but never satisfied with his skills; although he may be pleased with his accomplishments, he will always believe that he is capable of achieving more.  Remember this saying:

The Master is never satisfied with himself. Perfection is always close, but never completely within one’s grasp. Only when he sees how close he is to it, will he actually achieve it. It is a level of attainment for onlookers to enjoy–it is never for the Master himself.

When you are training for combat, you are aiming for mastery and perfection so that you will arrive at the highest level of physical ability possible. There is no other method of studying and training in these arts. This is why I say that for the serious martial artist, “part time student” status does not exist. This is not an undertaking or a hobby, it is a lifestyle. It is not a career for the teacher, it is a calling. You cannot claim to be a martial artist and separate it from your identity. We do this for life because it takes a lifetime to  complete its goals. Yes, the art in its truest form is not for everyone. But it is here for everyone that wants it; you simply have to pursue it. And pursue it long enough that someone tells you that you’ve got it. It’s complicated and complex, but it’s just that simple.

Thank you for reading my blog. Hopefully most of you are not more confused than you were 15 minutes ago.

If you like what you’ve read, you’re going to love my upcoming book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months. Available December 2009, but you can order advance copies by visiting my Offerings Page!

Come visit us again soon!