Recently I have had some conversation with a young teacher who is hoping to open his own school and teach a fusion of the various systems he has studied over the years. I certainly have some reservations about his age and level of experience before striking out on his own. Yet those of you who have children older than 15 know that attempting to sway a determined young dreamer’s mind (even trying to talk “sense” into them) is a futile endeavor. Hell, we were all 25 once, and I’m sure you as well I am one track minded once we have a desire to do something.
Opening a school is one thing. But starting your own system?
Why not? Take any system of combat–they all started as a young man’s idea at some point. Sometimes, the young man isn’t as young. Perhaps that teacher had a strong master who kept him long enough to fully develop, but perhaps not. If you look back into most systems’ history, you will find that your founder was young enough to be your son and may have even spent less time learning than you would recommend. There is no sense in arguing with a young man, and the best we can do–if you are respected enough to have his ear–is to guide him toward success.
Any system can be made to work. I strongly believe in this. Show me a guy who swears that some system is garbage, and I will show you a man who never fought someone from that style. What is important is how that system is treated–how the students are trained, how the teachers have tested the system’s principles and techniques, how the teacher has learned to guide the students. Many a young, inexperienced teacher has blossomed into a seasoned expert with the right philosophy and right attitude. It takes years and patience, but every teacher who sticks with it eventually has his coming of age in the art.
Of course, it does come at a price.
The idea that a man can pull himself up by his bootstraps is a valid one. But if he has some help, and at least the right plan, things are much easier. There are several steps to follow:
- You need a mentor. Yes, you can find your way through the dark without one. But many of the mistakes you will make and lessons you will learn the hard way can be avoided and made easier by having a confidant. One who has your best interest at heart and wants to see you succeed. A martial arts mentor will be the one who gives you good advice without discrediting you. He will hide your flaws, prop you up when you are weak. At the same time, he is not a teacher; your martial arts mentor is simply the other voice of reason who questions your thinking and gives you an alternate view that you may not have forseen. You want to cozy next to either a well-established teacher, or one who has seen more than you can imagine. And notice I did not say well-connected. This has nothing to do with politics, but knowledge.
- You need training and sparring partner. Someone who is your equal, and definitely not your student. As the saying goes, stone sharpens stone, and if you have a counterpart who is equally strong and skilled as you (or better)–the quality of your martial arts can only improve. Too many martial artists will go through life without one, especially when they are teaching. Imagine a scholar who only associates with students. How can he maintain his skills conversing with people who is not intellectually his equal? I would like to come back to this subtopic at a later time and devote an entire article to this idea. It’s that necessary.
- You need a rival. All great masters and fighters have a rival. The same way that stone sharpens stone, a blade needs things to cut. How can you tell if your sword is sharp if you never test it against other objects? In the world of martial arts, there exists many so-called fighters and masters who have avoided an enemy their entire career… until they find themselves as old men who are revered for dull lives and experiences and embellished adventures. Even if your rival was superior to you, some of their light reflects off you simply because you were in their presence–whether you beat them or not. Want proof? Real quick, tell me who else Marvin Fraizer fought besides Ali. Who else did George Foreman fight before Ali? It’s not that easy, huh? And let me tell you, Fraizer and Foreman were excellent fighters. But their claim to fame is that they fought–lost, but nearly beat–the great Muhammad Ali. Not everyone will be an Ali. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be a damned good fighter. Avoid guys like Ali, and you never will.
- You need students and your own reputation. Many martial artists are satisfied with remaining in the shadows of their masters or the popularity of their systems, and fear stepping out into the light on their own. Sometimes, there are very good martial artists who have their own ideas within their systems–some even have ideas that are contradictory to what their teachers taught–but either out of respect or lack of self-respect, they never present their knowledge to the community. You can learn from your teachers, but until you move out from under his wing, there is a level of understanding and development that will never be realized. And let me tell you this: You honestly don’t need any man’s permission to do so. You don’t. I would like to return to this subject at another time as well.
The word count is coming up on a thousand, so I will close here. But please understand this very important lesson: When you feel you have matured in the art and would like to experiment with your own ideas, you own technique, and your own students, don’t let anyone steal your thunder. If they do not support you, the journey may be difficult, but it is very far from impossible. Credibility in the martial arts is a self-determined thing.
Thank you for visiting my blog.