The Master Student (Skipping Grades pt II)

Much has been written on the subject of teaching the martial arts, and even more has been written about the technical and historical sides of the Martial Arts (even the Filipino Martial Arts)–but very little has been written on teaching the Filipino martial arts, and even less has been written about learning the Filipino martial arts. Not one to follow the masses, I am more inclined to eliminate competition for students by creating my own niche. In other words, I prefer to offer what most people don’t.

I have addressed many times on this blog how the trend in the FMAs is to skip to instructor status too quickly. Not only students are guilty of it; in fact, I believe that it is normal for students to want to move too fast. Just as a fighter will push for a championship fight much too soon because of bravado and youth–the martial arts student is over eager to move through the ranks. The role of teachers, then, is to guide the student on a calculated, patient, goal-oriented path to proficiency. Because of the nature of the martial arts business, the biggest violators of patient progress are the teachers themselves.

Therefore, I decided to give advice for the martial arts student, including those of you who consider yourselves and “expert” in the field.

If you go back and reread my last article, entitled “Skipping Grades”–I stated:

You cannot become a Master teacher, until you were first a Master student.

Over the years, I have seen the curricula and ranking structures for many FMA styles and systems. One of the things I have noticed is that they are teacher-oriented. What I mean by “teacher-oriented” is that most FMA masters look at every martial arts student as a potential teacher. So (I’m guessing, in his mind) he is teaching you for the purpose of preparing you to start your own club, rather than teaching you for the purpose of developing the best fighter he possibly can. If you ask me to be fully honest with you of my opinion–he sees you as a source of income, and that’s why there is the rush to help you start clubs. But anyway…

Those curricula are top-heavy with advance/instructor ranks, and very light on beginner ranks. This does not give students ample time to fully master their basics, and does not teach them to thirst for knowledge. “Thirst for knowledge”, by the way, does not mean “I want to learn more”. There is a difference. Curiosity is “I want to learn more”. Thirsting for knowledge means that your life’s essence depends on quenching that desire to learn more. You will travel hundreds of miles, sleep on floors, humble yourself, take a quest to find a teacher, practice for hours on a single technique, and sip and savor the tiny droplets of information your teacher gives you. You are grateful for whatever he has shared, and you are not forcing him to teach and promote before he is ready to do so by holding his livelihood hostage at wallet-point. (Yes, too many martial arts students force a teacher to avert his teaching plan to avoid losing students because of poverty) When you are thirsty–dying of thirst–you are satisfied with whatever information you can get, and you will do whatever it takes to get it. That’s what a man without water in the desert does–he treasures the little bit of water he is given, he is fully grateful for it, and he will literally cross burning sands to get it.

Those of you “drinking from hoses” know nothing of this kind of learning.

Some people skim the surface of many arts from many masters, and their quest to find that information is no harder than the effort it takes to write out a check. But if you want to know what’s in the water, you have to go deep. Everyone who skims the top of a lake only gets what falls in or rises to the top. He only sees what everyone sees. He gets all the dust, the bugs, the dead organisms, the leaves. He can only tell you what a man on the shore can tell you about that art. But the man who dives deep to the bottom of that lake and studies it from the inside–that man knows all the secrets and treasures the lake holds, and only those who venture with him can understand it. But it is a dangerous path. It is not easy. For a while, people on the shore won’t even know you’re down there, and you must be satisfied with that. You can’t worry that no one knows who you are, or that the water you experienced is alien to those at the top with their cups and water hoses. You know things about that lake that most men won’t even believe exists. When you hear a man say canned -isms, like “there are no secrets in the martial arts” or “the only secret in the martial arts is practice”–trust me, he has never been to the bottom of the ocean.

As a martial arts student, you must be patient and trust that your master can take you there. You cannot look at other gyms and youtube clips and wonder “why we don’t have that either”. You mustn’t challenge your teacher’s philosophy towards the art, or lust for famed teachers and lofty titles and ranks. Just study the art, practice and train, and perfect the art. Even if your teacher is not the Master-teacher that you were hoping he’d be, you will discover things about the art that most men are unaware of, and you will have skill that most men will never possess. Chase paper, and you will have it. Chase skill, and you will have that as well.

The martial arts student learns the art. The martial arts master-student will master the art. Mastery, my friends is not supposed to be a rank you are awarded by friends in a ceremony; Mastery is a plateau that eludes most men, including you. Stay in constant pursuit of it, and you will find yourself there. Except, you won’t realize it because only a man who is in a constant struggle for it will achieve it. Men will swear you have arrived, and if you agree with them you prove them wrong. The Master student does not aspire for rank or titles, he aspires for knowledge and skill. He will spend twice as long in his lifetime as a student and practitioner than he will as a Master.

And if he is claiming a level higher than Mastery, I would say that either he is doing so for business purposes or he is wrong.

One final piece of advice for becoming the Master student:

Understand that the role of Martial Arts Student is a serious role, and treat it as such.

Each time you undertake a new art, you should jump in headfirst and become obsessive about it. Those of us who have pursued multiple arts tend to expect our prior experience should “count” in the learning of the newer art. I disagree. If you believe it “counted”, then I would say that you will never truly understand the new art. You must know the true meaning of “empty your cup”, not “pour that tea in with this coffee”. A man who cannot crawl in his new dojo is not humble enough to learn the new art. It cannot be rushed. You must spend as much time practicing the new art as you did when you trained in your original art. You must put in the same amount of attention and dedication as any other student of that teacher. You must be capable of isolating the skills the new teacher gave you and use them without tapping into your other style’s techniques. This is how you learn a new style. That master did not learn in one day, and neither should you. But if he did, if that master learned through seminars before attempting to teach you, understand that he skimmed the surface of what he sees as a pond (which may in fact be an ocean-deep sea) and now you are skimming his cup. Watered down like you would never believe.

There are stages in learning the art, and you must go through and spend ample time in each stage, mastering each stage before progressing to the next. You must experience those stages in the correct order, and you must not think about what stage is next. One day soon, we will visit those stages.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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