The Need to Be a Big Fish
This article will be posted in the “Teaching Philosophy” section of the blog because it is a vital concept to the art of teaching. Many of you may disagree with me, but please hear me out. If you learn this notion, develop your own version of it, and absorb it into your own school–I guarantee that you will forever change the course of your school and your lineage of whatever art you are passing down to your next generation.
Although I will often say things like “put yourself in places where you cannot be a ‘Big Fish'”–like a tournament–it is imperative to the martial artist wanting to grow that you have the experience of being a “Big Fish”. I would even go so far as to suggest that every martial arts student must have become a “Big Fish” in his transition from student to expert.
Big Fish, according to my definition, is the state of being the dominant of your field in a circle of peers. The reason I preach against it so much is that too many martial artists, especially those who teach, avoid peers and competition so that they are always the most knowledgeable, the most skilled, and the most confident. When you are frequently the dominant one in your circle, you cannot grow. You will not be challenged on your beliefs and therefore never have the experience of having to defend or uphold them. Skill-wise, you have no one to compare yourself to and compete against, so there is no need to strive to be better, stronger and acquire more knowledge. Stone sharpens stone, and when you put a blade to a surface that rivals its hardness, it becomes sharper. But when a blade is only applied to duller, weaker surfaces, it gradually becomes dull and less useful. So before you realize it, what you have before you is something that looks like a deadly weapon–but in reality it cannot cut anything but butter. Martial arts teachers who surround themselves with friends and students are like the blade that avoids other hardened surfaces. It is rarely tested, and ultimately will lose its luster and edge. This is what happens when a fighter such as Roy Jones, Jr., regardless of skill level, will avoid the best fighters–choosing instead only to fight tomato cans–finds himself unable to beat any up-and-coming, hungry fighter because he has failed to sharpen his skills.
Many Black Belters who made it to the expert level without undergoing a competitive environment are among the least skilled one will find. Those who climb the ladder this way must latch on to non-martial things, like titles, media and alliances for their validation. While those whose peers were a fraternity of rivals and opponents will be among the small elite of fighters who can shut the mouths of the guys with the titles simply by walking the room. As a teacher, you must ensure that you put your students in many places where he assumes the risk of being put on his behind in order for him to grow and develop and develop fearlessness. If you are the type of teacher who shuns competition and gives excuses (such as “tournaments prove nothing”), you commit a disservice to your students because they have untested skill and knowledge.
And contrary to popular belief, unless you are willing to literally kick your students’ behind regularly–neither YOU nor your other students can really test him. The test, my friends, is nothing more than a show for people to see the skill of your students. If were a real test, you would have your students show up, not knowing if they will pass or not. Most teachers have a prescribed point in their training when the test will arrive–or a specific number of classes, etc. Put your guys up against those of another teacher’s, and you will truly have tested them.
If those fighters are to be really confident in the way that they should, they must have experienced the feeling of beating opponents regularly. They must have smelled the smell of a bashed in nose and kept fighting. They must have known the guilt of having hurt an opponent and to understand how damaging his skills really are. They must have been told before that they are great fighters, and felt that no one can ruin their day. Because if they lose the fear of a fit, aggressive, skilled fighter–they will have no fear of the punk on the street. Trust me, I agree with you that it isn’t about the points or the medals. But they must know what it feels like to lose to a man, and defeat many more than they have lost. My grandfather had a saying that the best fighters start out as losers, because after having been defeated, you will know the difference between defeat and victory–and know that you hate defeat. Some men have been defeated so much, they accept it and make excuses for it (like “tournaments are unrelated to real fighting”/”my art is too deadly for them”) or they will fear it (saying the same thing or avoiding them altogether).
And a teacher who has never learned to dominate other man–has never tasted the salt of blood in his mouth and rage in his heart–will be unable to teach a man, who has never done it either, how to deal with it.
Ah, a twist.
See, we need to learn how to dominate other men, how to hurt another man, so that we will be equipped to stop a man who is hell-bent on doing it to us. I believe that a man who is defending himself and his family will undoubtedly bring out the fighting spirit to do what he needs to do. But if he is not accustomed to the feeling, he may not be capable of harnessing it, and wielding it like a sword. Furthermore, if he is faced with another man who has it and wants to hurt him–he will not understand it enough to know exactly how much danger he is in. This is why some men do not fight back or initiate an attack when it is clearly inevitable that he will soon be under attack. Think about your own experiences.
Lastly, a teacher must have felt the feeling of being the best fighter in his circle (or one of the best) so that he can look his guys in the eye and say without batting an eye, “This art I’m teaching you has been tested and proven to be effective in combat,” and not have to rely on what he was told about fighting. He will then be of the few who are teaching from experience, and carry with them the main weapon of choice concealed by the real Masters of the art: Self-confidence.
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