Making of a Master, pt V: Choose Poverty

Teachers have asked me over the years what I had against part time martial artists.

I don’t have anything “against” part timers. But I do maintain that full-time study and practice of the martial arts is necessary in the path to mastery of the art. Part time study of the art–as well as part time practice and teaching of the art–requires that one’s attention is placed elsewhere besides martial skill and understanding. It’s common sense, that one who does this a few days a week is not going to be equal to those who do this for a living. To say that you can is a delusion of grandeur and arrogant; as well as it is dismissive of those who make this art their life.

I will say this, and then I’m going back to my point:  When a martial artist is not fully confident in his fighting skill, he will place emphasis on things in the martial arts that do not matter as much. This distracts you from the fact that, to put it bluntly–this guy can’t fight. Too many martial artists believe that desire alone and “being a great guy” qualifies one as equal to the full-time martial artist. Too many martial artists believe that hobnobbing with other martial artists, joining associations, attending seminars, being known and well-liked by many other martial artists and teachers qualifies one as equal to the full-time martial artist. Sorry, but a good fighter or a true master of the art is quite similar to being around a pitt bull:  You can act tough, but everyone knows who the big dog really is.

Being around the art–practicing, studying, teaching the art–full-time exposes you to things that people who only do it sometimes never have time to discover. These are not things that can be transferred in a book, or taught in a seminar. You may receive some of it by simply being around a master… hearing him talk, feeling his skill when you cross hands with him, sharing experiences and getting his feedback. But there is so much to be grasped by doing it yourself–and no man can teach it to you. You must feel these things in your bones and experience them yourself. A few days a week will not bring you what you will experience if you did it every day. Just by thinking of the martial arts all day alone will allow things to be revealed that few have ever thought about. There is no comparison.

So the number one thing I hear is, “well, I’ve got to make a living!” Sure, we all do. And I acknowledge that not everyone will have a successful school; it’s simply not meant for everyone. But the choice between a possible life of poverty while devoting oneself to the martial arts against a comfortable living while suppressing one’s desire for the art is purely voluntary. In saying this, I mean that we choose our paths. Some take the chance in order to find a living through the martial arts. And we know these men to be those like Billy Bryant, Bruce Lee, Mas Oyama, Gichin Funakoshi, Remy Presas, (name it) your favorite martial arts action star, and half of the most talented fighters you love and admire. The reason you remember them for their skill is that they have had all day to train and practice and experiment, while you were off studying in college or typing away at a desk job or doing something else.

And 20 years later, some of you want to strap on the title “Datu”/Master/Grandmaster/FMA expert? As if you were equal to them? I don’t think so. Don’t allow your feelings to be hurt over this. It is true–you chose the path you walked. While some chose poverty over mediocrity in the art (oh, excuse me… “always a student”), some chose to spend his life doing nothing else, even if it meant pinching pennies and hustling seminars to pay the bills.

The true Master is rarely known by his personality. He is known by his knowledge and skill. And we get what we strive for. Mastery is something that anyone who wants it and is willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it. But some would just rather skip the heartache, the struggle, the commitment, and just strap on the title when they feel old enough or popular enough.

My grandfather died a poor man. My Jow Ga teacher died a poor man. And I’m sure many of your Masters and Grandmasters did so too. This is not to say that you cannot be a wealthy Master of the art. Late GM Oyama was certainly wealthy. But that is because he learned how to market himself. If you look into his history you will see that when he was climbing the path, he did so almost penniless. And the fruit of his labor is that none of us can name 10 men whose skill equaled his, even a decade after his death. This is my definition of a martial arts Master–not some guy who has just taught a bunch of seminars, acquired thousands of students and published a ton of books and videos. He is one who has devoted his life to the practice, the propagation and the perfection of his art–regardless of the consequences, even a failed marriage or a pauper’s life of poverty.

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