The Making of a Martial Arts Master

I am writing a book by the same name as this article, and I hope to have it completed by the end of this year.

The title “Master”, I believe, is simultaneously overused as well as undervalued. There are too many people who lack the dedication to even excel in the performance of the art (which I consider a basic requirement of mastery) calling themselves “Master”. The man who wishes to master the martial arts must truly dedicate himself to the study and practice of the art in more ways than simply saying, “I am dedicated” or by teaching the arts. In my own personal opinion, you must practice and teach the art professionally (whether full time or part time) for many years. Naturally, the more time you spend with the art, the faster you will reach this level. Some people believe that simply being involved with the art for 20 years or more makes one a master.

But, no–you will not be a master simply by association alone. There are many stages to martial arts mastery, and here are the basic stages and levels you must strive for:

  • Superior performance.  Before we can talk about one who has mastered the art as a teacher, he must have mastered the art as a student. In the seminar industry, there is a bum-rush to leap from student to teacher. Very little to no attention at all is devoted to developing the student’s skill to proficiency. Hell, the teachers don’t even hang around long enough to ensure that every member of his flock excels at the art. By the time the students start to “get it”, he’s on a plane to the next town. As a student, you must excel at everything you’ve learned. This means hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice, thousands and thousands of repetitions in training, and hours and hours of fine-tuning and more practice. I do not agree with those who contend that because of the few exceptions to the rule–mediocre fighters who became master teachers of the art–one does not need to excel as students. Sure, this lazy excuse is like telling a kid to drop out of school in order to become a millionaire–a la Bill Gates style. While it may be true for a very small minority, it’s a bad idea. Learn the art, become good at it, idiots.
  • Full understanding of the art and its intricasies. You would be surprised how many people out there do not fully understand the art they are teaching. The knowledge they possess is barely skin-deep, and what you see them do is what they know, and not much more than that. This is why so many teachers take on many other styles through seminars and make up drills and prearranged give and take/defense and counter sequences; their knowledge is just not profound so they add quantity rather than to the quality of what they know. A big part of this is due to the knowledge level of one’s own teachers. If he does not know much, he does not have much to pass on. Therefore, the student who finds that he cannot dig deeper into the art must pursue more knowledge under the tutelage of one with more knowledge. Either that, or he must reflect, meditate, and experiment on his art, as superficial knowledge is not enough.
  • Develop fighting prowess to a high level. A martial arts expert must have fought many opponents and executed his techniques in order to forge his theories into facts. The words of a novice:  I think….  The words of an expert:  I have found…  Often you will have novices who talk like an expert; they will swear that they have fought and defeated many men. They will refer to unrelated experiences as “proof” that they know what they are doing (like being a cop, military member, etc.). Regardless of what you say–as the saying goes–your behind must be able to cash the check that your mouth writes!  At a bare minimum, you must have been known to have superior fighting ability. Now, I am not interested in arguing “what type of fighting?” with anyone. If you believe that a man’s fighting experience is somehow a disqualifying factor (like me and ring fighting), you are welcome to try these skills out. But you see, most critics and naysayers are men who will never throw their hat in the ring. However, if you are out here calling yourself a Master, you’d better possess the skills to show them what you’re talking about.
  • Hermitage. Not everyone will agree with this, but I do not consider fame-seeking masters to be true MASTERS of the art. A master will treasure what he possesses and will be searching for the appropriate student to whome he will bequeath his knowledge. He will also take his practice of the art serious enough that onlookers and less-committed students alike would distract him from his focus. I have met many men who call themselves Masters, and the ones I have respected the most teach out of small holes in the wall, and are very selective about who-gets-to-study-what. Seclusion is the place where the true Master can truly focus on his art and protect its secrets. FAKE masters sell them on the internet. For more information, check out my article on martial arts hermits.
  • The reputation. Don’t confuse popularity with reputation. Many teachers spend all of their time trying to be well-liked and popular. Therefore, when people speak of these masters, they are offering respect as repayment for their aimiability–not due to to knowledge and fighting skill. Many of the best masters around were not well-liked. A good example of this is pre-stardom Bruce Lee. He was not popular because of his unorthodox views concerning the martial arts. Chinese teachers did not like him because of his focus on teaching Americans. Others were jealous of his skills. Yet, to everyone who knew him, his reputation preceded him, as his skills and physical prowess spoke for itself. Your reputation turns you into a Master, as it is your martial arts community who promotes you–or validates your self-declaration of being a Master.

This is all I will say about this subject. I hope I have given you a lot to think about.

Thank you for visiting my blog.