Exceed the Master, pt IV (The Door)

Door at Franklin

Two things:

  1. I’ve relocated this part of the series to “Philosophy”, and
  2. I am about to ask you to commit martial “blasphemy”

Steven Dowd is dedicating an issue to this blog (thanks Steven!) in his FMA newspaper, FMA Informative. If you are unfamiliar with it, I recommend you go over to the site and subscribe. He’s a major player in the FMA community, and although he does not toot his own horn–Steven is the kind of guy who promotes other martial artists–he has been involved in the Filipino arts longer than most people reading this blog has been alive. Matter of fact (and not calling him old), he has been practicing the arts longer than many “grandmasters” have known how to walk. Even if only by association, he has known and learned and exchanged from many martial artists and his exposure and experiences have left behind a very knowledgeable and wise master.

So when on the subject of choosing a cover photo, I couldn’t settle on what I wanted to submit. Many FMA guys are big on self-promotion, as am I, but I only believe in promoting myself to people who might study with me. If you live in another state and have no chance of joining my school, I don’t care if you think my arts stink and I’m a 12 year old behind the keyboard. Oh yeah, there were many who questioned if thekuntawman even existed. After all, no one had ever heard of my teachers, and if I’m so great, how come I don’t have any videos on the market? Or magazine articles? Anyway, I decided to send him the front of my school. Many have told me that the door to my school tells the story of what goes on behind those walls, and what kind of teacher leads the classes, and what kind of students walk out after class.

We have sponsored a Fight Night for the last two decades that only local martial artists know about–even those who consider themselves “streetfighters”–where anyone can walk through my door and fight my guys or even go a round with me. No Black Belt has ever attended a Fight Night and not gone at least one round with me. It’s a rule. Most of you studied from Guros who don’t work that way, and that’s okay. Each of us have our own way.

I happen to have improved my teachers’ way.


Did that bother you?

Many would think that a man who says he improved his Masters’ arts is a self-centered, arrogant bastard. I disagree.

In the Filipino tradition of the arts, we all strive to exceed the ability and the technical side of our Masters’ arts. It isn’t disrespect to try and improve their art, find a more efficient, effective way. In fact, for us FMA guys–we’re expected to. You cannot allow yourself to worship your teachers and their methods to the point that you believe that those techniques cannot be tweaked into a better art. I would think that if you found a way to do so, your teacher would be proud.

Occasionally, some of us may end up learning from a talented or talentless teacher who is good with a typewriter, good with creative, fancy names, and coordinated enough to put on dazzling displays of “skill”–just to have our growth stunted by a self-promoting, narcissistic teacher. Perhaps your Master was an egomaniac–but he also had a good system to learn. Either way, you must know when it is time to branch off and start experimenting with your skills. There will be a time in every fighter’s life when he must break away from under his teacher’s wing to start a fight career of his own. It doesn’t need to be a sporting fight career; simply training among a new group of kumpadres and opponents in a new atmosphere is good enough. You need the change in scenery, where you are no longer someone’s student–but a martial artist/fighter-at-large, who does not have the protection or security of a teacher and classmates. You must leave the nest and go on your own to sink or swim. This is a stage I believe many students skip. Too many students graduate to the instructorship or black belt level and then immediately begin teaching.

My school is a secluded place where students can begin their warrior journey. We are not for the dabblers or the hobbyists. We are not for those with little courage, or those with a weak stomach for pain. This place is where we take men who would otherwise become victims of a crime, and we turn them into the quiet storms in the back of cubicles and crowded buses… the wrong guys for a thug to pick on. In order for me to create that in my guys, we can’t have spectators and voyeurs getting their rocks off while they try to pick up new techniques without paying with money or sweat. This is also the place, where I confide in my students that I found a potential improvement in my teacher’s style–and I give them the original way along with my method. This is a private matter, and therefore I will not share it for free on youtube just to have some asshole who hates Muslims, hates my martial arts philosophy, or too uncommitted to visit me in person to learn what my guys arrive three times a week to get abused, hoping to learn it. It is why I don’t sell videos of my teacher’s art or my version of their art… I spent decades learning, practicing and developing this stuff. I’ll be damned if someone walks through the door and learns it.

Yes, it seems like martial arts blasphemy to make such a statement:  I’ve improved my teachers’ art.  But I want you to know that there are three types of teachers out there:

  1. Those who improve the art and they aren’t afraid to say it,
  2. Those who are not knowledgeable enough to improve their teacher’s art, or
  3. Those who find it more lucrative to keep the teacher’s art intact so they could “Puff Daddy-Biggie” their way to martial arts notoriety by pimping the dead teacher’s memory

You will not find a knowledgeable teacher who has not at least personalized their teacher’s art. And there is no shame in saying that you’ve done so. Most likely, your teacher improved his teacher’s art when he taught you. Now, it’s your turn. You’ve put in many years and gained a lot of wisdom. You deserve to be able to slap your own personal stamp on your teacher’s teachings. If he wanted the art preserved with absolutely no changes at all, he would have done a better job videotaping it himself.

I would like to suggest this:  When you get the best of your master’s knowledge, the least you can do is pass this information on to the next generation in private. So that only the most deserving students receive the instruction, and will treat that art with respect… Not to put it out like Beyonce’s half-naked ass for everyone to enjoy and indulge–whether it’s for free on Youtube or on some DVD for a fee. This is how you improve the art. You find a better way, you find the best candidates to receive and carry on the system, and then you make sure they don’t exploit you or your teacher’s memory for dollar bills or likes and comments on Youtube. Give that learning the utmost respect.

Thanks for visiting my blog.