I have noticed that many martial artists are content with being mediocre, and they will mock those of us who strive to outdo the next guy.
My grandfather had always told me that mediocrity has no place in the warrior’s vocabulary, that a fighter who does not strive to improve is a dead fighter. We strive for it, but we should never arrive. For perfection in the martial arts is like the path to piety: The day you believe you have achieved it, this is an indication that you will never achieve it. This is not an occupation where you can say, “been there, done that”. When a teacher has become too old to fight, he continues his path with his students. But my question is, do we ever become “too old”?
As a martial artist, you must always push to get stronger, faster, and smarter. What is the age cut-off when we decide we will no longer cross sticks with another man (for sparring) or go into the gym to train to get stronger? This is what they call the “Black Belt Syndrome”–as one’s Black Belt degree gets higher and higher, his belt gets smaller and smaller and his belly starts to cover it to where you can no longer see it until the master decides he’s just not going to wear a uniform anymore. On one hand you have masters who decide “teaching is now more important than training”, and then on the other you have the masters who keep themselves on the path by maintaining their skills well into old age. You will have to decide which master you will be.
I have met masters in their 60s and 70s that they teach a different art at 60 than they did at 30. I am only 42, and my art has changed in the last 5 years. I would think that if I no longer worked out, compared myself to others that I probably would not have evolved my art at all. Some masters add on more techniques and arts to their teaching repertoire as time progresses, while others makes their specialty more effective and efficient by altering the way the art is applied and trained. This is not to say that one is superior than the other, but that there are many paths.
A few days ago I stayed up with some students showing them tapes of Jow Ga practitioners at tournaments in Singapore, Indonesia, China and Malaysia. Some of the competitors came from Jow Ga masters who combined with Wing Chun, some added Ying Jow (Eagle Claw), some did nothing at all. On one of the clips, we watched students of our Grandmaster do some amazing things that are not even seen here in America (Chan Man Cheung is in his 90s, and still teaches, and has never studied any other arts). One student commented that none of the students he saw were better than those of my Si Hing Rahim Muhammad, who is in Washington, DC. He posed the question, if I thought the DC Jow Ga fighters were better because my teacher added Ying Jow and Bak Mei. I answered, that it was because Sifu Chin, my teacher, was a perfectionist who did not accept mediocrity. As a result, Master Muhammad was the same way, and his students were the same way. There have been many who accused my Sifu of being egotistic or arrogant.
Not at all, it’s just that my Sifu never decided to “grow up” and accept defeat.
And this is what separates good masters from great, memorable ones. Some decide they have arrived at their peak and simply want to teach, and maybe investigate other arts. Others are always comparing and tweaking, and trying to make what they have unbeatable. They are never satisfied with their skill and ability, and therefore never stop training and improving.
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