The martial artist, if he is serious about his arts, must avoid frivolous and wasteful activities and pastimes. At the same time, he should avoid people who are infectious and stunt his growth. This does not seem to be profound advice for supposedly grown men, but you would be surprised how many of our martial arts teachers violate this common-sense rule.
I have long told my students that they should surround themselves with people who feed them, rather than people who feed off them.
One of the characteristics of a great martial artist is that he has friends who are just as skilled as he is, or better. These friends are not workout partners, as much as they are sparring partners. Ask the old Masters who they hung around as young men. Rarely will you hear of the old Manong talk of training with their friends. More often than not, his compadres are referred to as sparring partners. These men challenged them often, and the most valuable of these friendships fluctuated between rivalry and hostility, and brotherhood. The result of this type of friendship is a true Martial warrior friendship. This is not the kind of friendship we find non-warriors holding. This is the kind of friendship where true respect among the fighters is found; where there is no ego remaining, no held-back thoughts that “I think I can beat him.” It is the kind of friendship where you can truly attest to a man’s skill and really say that you would go into battle with him (something too many American martial artists like to fling around without really meaning it). With this type of friend in the arts, you have beaten him many times, and he has beaten you many times. So, perhaps one of you is the superior fighter, but one could not improve without the other, and as one improves, the other improves.
Another is that you keep those who are more knowledgeable and experienced around you. I have always gravitated towards older, wiser men. One of those men for me was Guro Billy Bryant. A great fighter and martial artist, I have learned more from him than many of you have learned from your teachers. He was also a great sparring partner; although I had some things I could hit him with, I could never beat him. But you’d better believe that without knowing him I would be inferior to who I am today. Another of these men was Marty Kakavas (could be misspelling his name), who I met in 1990, after fighting him for a Grand Championship on the East Coast. He was a self-declared Black Belt from Buffalo , New York , and could whip most fighters, including Billy. By the way, the day I met Marty, he beat the both of us at that tournament. Billy ended up disliking him; I asked for a rematch and became a friend. Marty was so open, he would show you the techniques he used to defeat you and challenge you to get past it the next time he fought you. This was unlike many fighters who reacted as if you asked them to undress, if you asked them for their techniques. Another fighter I met who was this way was Billy Blanks (yes, that Billy Blanks) who would oblige you with not just a technique and advice, but a short sparring match, if you asked.
Sometimes, martial artists like to hang around what I call “Butt-Boys”, some of you call them “yes-man”. These are hang-ons who compliment you and talk about how great you are, and serve nothing but the ego. I see plenty of them on the internet as well as in the martial arts community. You know what I mean: followers. These guys swear that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and they never question you or your art. And if anyone questions your art, they jump all over it like you just called their church pastor a child molester. These men add nothing to your martial arts knowledge, but to your martial ego. They feed off who you are, and the only things they feed you are things that the martial artist needs least: popularity, money, superficial reputation, and the lustful pull of pride. In other words, they are nothing more than martial arts groupies.
The martial artist, if he is ever to grow, doesn’t need groupies. He needs doubters and questioners. He needs people who will force him to put his theories, ideas and skills to the test. He needs people who challenge his way of thinking and give him alternative ideas. He needs people who will feed his mind and his martial education, not feed off what he possesses. Put the right people in your life and you will grow as a martial artist. Put the wrong people in your life and you will regress.
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