Why It Seems That Some Masters “Sell Out”

When I was young, I often saw great masters with very mediocre students and thought to myself that these masters were either mediocre teachers or they had lowered their standards for the almighty, evil Dollar Bill. This belief is shared by many so-called traditional teachers (or modern/realistic, depending on how you market yourself) anytime they see either (1) a financially well-off teacher, (2) a popular, well sought-out teacher… therefore, financially well-off, (3) a teacher with a nice school–again, an indication that he is well-off, or (4) a teacher with average or below-average students. The irony of this is that most teachers have mediocre students. Rarely will you find one whose ranks are filled with natural-born killers and nothing but the absolute best he can develop. Even the late, great Remy Presas and current world authority Dan Inosanto have poor representatives as certified Instructors. Does this mean that Presas and Inosanto’s skills are somehow substandard? Or that their teaching skills lack? Or is this just the by-product of doing business?
I beg to differ. I believe that these two men used a system of teaching that naturally produces not just average martial artists, but lousy ones at that. But I do not believe that those students are indicative of the business model and that no amount of improvement would change the outcome. What I do believe is that there was a throwing-up of the hands and simply accepting mediocre students; as the numbers of students they took on made it extremely difficult–darn near impossible–to control quality. In my personal opinion, GM Presas was simply spreading the name of the art, and making a dollar. He simply didn’t care that his students weren’t the best fighters in town. GM Inosanto was on a mission to promote his teachers’ memories and their methods, and wanted to reach as many people as he could. Oh, yeah, and he was counting his ducks on the way to the next city. I do believe that both masters represent some of the best we will find, even today. And I further believe that both masters were/are capable of producing higher quality of teachers under them, as both men have well-qualified representatives among the ranks.
The reasons for these two is vastly different than some little-known master in the barrios. First, the master in the barrio who has an average “expert” under him is most likely barely scraping out a living. So when he’s got students unwilling to commit to the training the way he’d like a student to, chances are that master will still teach him and even certify him because he needs the money. Inosanto and Presas had many other options to make a living, so the money–regardless of how much or how little–I believe, had little to do with it. Their mission was to spread the art. The Master in the barrio was trying to preserve it, and at the same time put food on the table.
Secondly, the Master in the barrio is likely to have limited access to willing candidates. I am sure after knowing Inosanto’s connection to Bruce Lee (let alone simply witnessing his skill), students were beating down his door to be accepted–even connected to him.(I have an opinion about him taking the reins of the art Bruce Lee wanted passed on to only a few, select students, and then teaching it in mass, but that is another topic)  Presas billed his art as the “Ultimate Add-on Art”, but underneath the surface of that slogan lies the real draw for many of those who pursued his art:  the “Ultimate Add-on Program“. Give your Karate school an additional stream of income with this easy-to-learn-easy-to-certify program. Add to your bottom line, your impress-the-friends-with-this-demo repertoire, another notch in your belt and bullet on your resume. Yes, the guy in the barrio is nothing like these two men. Yet the man in the barrio may be just as skilled, maybe even better. But because he’d never produced a video series, wrote an article, published a book, appeared in a magazine/movie/photo op with well-known celebrities, his student base is limited to who lives in the area and is willing to undergo the training. Huge effing difference.
Finally, the master in the Barrio may be at the end of his days, and found that he has no one he was excited about to carry on the name. I have known some masters to simply pass on the art to someone just to keep the name alive. I was once taught a very valuable form from a Kung Fu master, just because he had no student to pass it to. He had one stipulation: that I did not bastardize or commercialize it, and that I should make it strong and then hand it to another student with the same conditions. For this reason, I do not advertise it. Fortunately for him, the lure of the dollar bill does not affect me, and I ain’t no punk. His art is in good hands. Likewise, I met a man who was in his 90s in the Philippines, who had learned a Kung Fu style that I won’t name either, under the same conditions I learned mine. Except this gentleman absorbed it into his style, and developed it into it’s own entity within the style, and I introduced him to two men in the US who are promoting this art now. Yes, this man’s art is in good hands. But they are very fortunate, as many teachers did not have this luxury. In his last days, a good friend of mine searched for the “best student” to pass his art to. I gave him my youngest brother to train and four of my best students, and he was still dissatisfied with the five of them. I have the utmost respect for this man, and my heart breaks that he died without having passed his art to the next generation in the way he had been planning, all his life. He did promote four successors, and they were not the best he could produce. He charged a fee for this, in order to put food on the table. And he accepted students just because he wanted his name to live on.
And if you call him a sell out, I would hurt you as if you called my own father one.
Many teachers live their entire lives around their martial arts, and sometimes they are let down by the very arts and family trees they lived for. We teachers do what we can, and we must balance our standards, our philosophy, and reality… and the result is rarely pretty. Thanks for visiting my blog.


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