The martial artist, I always say, must not skip any of the stages in his development. That is, if he intends to be a career martial artist.
The following are some generic stages I believe are crucial to any serious martial artists’ “career”, if you will:
- Novice Student
- Experienced Student
- Advanced Student
- Martial Arts Competitor
- Assistant Instructor
- Freelance/Traveling Martial Artist
- Novice Teacher
- Established/Experienced Teacher
We won’t go into much detail about each level (this is actually something I am writing about for the upcoming book), but if you want to be taken seriously as a martial artist–as a long-term, career martial artist–you must have spent time in each of these roles.
Too many people don’t want to touch on each stage and want to skip. I have met FMA “teachers” who have confided in me that they have never fought anyone outside their own “circle of safety”–friends and classmates. How can a man teach an art that he has not actually done? And I have news for you–practicing drills and sinawali with people, anyone, is not “doing” FMAs.
One thing the seminar industry has taken from the martial artist is the idea that he must “pay his dues”. Attending or teaching seminars is not “paying dues”. Participating in discussions on online forums is not “paying dues”. Getting your fingers smashed, your elbows wrenched, or getting stitches after some bozo smacked you a little too hard with a stick is not “paying dues”.
The experience of being a nobody in your field and earning respect through nothing more than skill is paying your dues. Having lights cut off because you’d rather teach the purity of the art than accept 5 year old Eskrima students is paying your dues. Facing a skeptical teacher man-to-man, instead of talking behind his back or fuming at his Martialtalk posts, is paying your dues. Taking on a new local martial arts community as the new kid on the block is paying your dues. Losing fights because you are new to the game, or are out of shape, or just had a bad day–and recovering from it by becoming a more knowledgeable, humbled fighter is paying your dues. Having your heart palpitate because some other martial artist you don’t like has called you to the carpet (like a man) and you are fixing to show him what you’re made of is paying your dues.
The test of a martial artist is not what he can show you when you’re on neutral ground or a peaceful environment, but how he handles stress, anger, nervousness of being under pressure. Too many martial artists skip fighting in tournaments, or asking another teacher for a match, or teaching in his own school without the comfort of an association because it’s just safer. They don’t like stress, won’t engage in debates about his art, and certainly, won’t fight. You cannot be an effective advocate for a style if you’re not willing to defend it.
There is a saying, that martial arts effectiveness is not to be argued or discussed; it can only be proven. If you’ve never been asked to prove that your style is effective, you have no business teaching.
You must earn your stripes with an uphill climb. You must know the feeling of being the junior among masters. You must have assisted a teacher without pay, kept his secrets about his faults and shortcomings, taught for him while he was dealing with marital problems, taken on wise guys off the street on his behalf, passed out flyers for him in 10 degree snow and 110 degree heat. You must have been the senior student that junior students imitated, as well as the guy who corrects him during open practice. You should have been the guy training in the backyard when your teacher couldn’t afford to keep his school open. The new teacher in town trying to build a reputation. The guy who asks another teacher to step out on the floor and prove his point.
In other words, you have to have been the guy who has been there, done that. You need your own war stories to tell, and have enough of them that other people tell stories about your experiences.
Because martial arts mastery involves more than a title you get because your teacher liked you. Or the prefix you slap on cause you’ve got a few gray hairs. Or been in the art a long time. Or published a lot of articles. Or won a lot of trophies. You must have seen and learned and forgotten more martial arts than most people have seen. Develop your own story in the art; one so peppered with experiences and stories, that others would want to read it. Not a resume. And if your martial arts life isn’t interesting, then I would say that you have not “paid your dues”.
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