Fill the Brain (Empty Cup, pt II)

The path of the martial arts master does not generally begin with a declaration that one intends to be a master. Such a path, in my opinion, is a foolish one if everything you do is to get you closer to becoming a “Master”.

I’m sure that’s confusing, because isn’t that the goal for all martial artists? To become a master?

Not at all. The goal for the martial artist should (yes, and I’m saying should) be to master the art–not to be a Master. There is a big difference. Just as the saying that the best leaders never start out looking to become leaders, they just “become” leaders–the martial artist has a hard enough time just learning the art, becoming proficient at it, and then striving to become the best at it. To add the ego-driven goal of being a master just takes away from this uphill climb. If you focus too far away from where you are, you won’t see the next step. Ultimately, you will believe that you shouldn’t take the next step because it will take far too long to get where you want to go… once you realize that the destination is some hundreds of thousands of steps away.

Do you follow me?

This is one of the big reason I am so opposed to the seminar and video industries:  They are not built upon the premise that students are coming to forge their skill and become hardened martial artists. They aren’t there for martial artists to test their knowledge. They aren’t even there to develop their knowledge. No, seminars and videos are there to ADD TO knowledge, as if their teachers are an insufficient source of knowledge. Yes, people go to seminars and videos because they either

  1. Feel their teachers don’t have enough information
  2. Feel their teachers aren’t giving this information out fast enough
  3. Feel their teachers have incomplete knowledge, or
  4. Don’t want to follow a teacher at all, and would rather follow their own whims and tastes… in other words “create your own path”.

I call bullshit. So some beginner who is still wet behind the ears (and 40/50 year old men can be “wet behind the ears” if they don’t get enough floor time with an opponent–not “partner”) thinks he is wise enough to have no mentor, no Master of his own. He will instead take a hodgepodge of stuff, purchase this video and that video, attend this and that seminar (read: “crash course”) with no pass/fail risk, avoid tournaments because he’s too busy simulating “realistic” martial arts practice–whatever that is–and then one day Mr. Pencildick will have the balls to call himself “Master”, when he lacks what it takes to earn a real 1st degree Black Belt.

My grandpa once said, fill your brain before you empty your mouth. We have men who have no fighting experience, almost no closed door training sessions with a true master, who have never slept on floors, never traveled on pilgrimages in pursuit of his art, never accepted a challenge nor has he ever issued one–and they dare call themselves an “expert”. Yet we have men who have expertise in NOTHING they know, who dare call themselves Master. Sorry, but a few gray hairs, a long resume of learning “experience”, and decades of mere involvement in the art do not qualify one as a Master. Master, my friends, is not a political term, it is not a level of promotion for curricula–Master is a level of existence in an art that you have lived more than anything else in your life. It is knowing something like the back of your hand where very few men can match you in skill and understanding. It is not a place for the mediocre; there are too many average and below-average skilled men abusing this hard-earned term. Master is a term of endearment that men call you without being introduced this way. I am called Master by fewer people who call me by my nicknames, but there are men who tell others to refer to themselves as “Master”… or worse:  “Grandmaster”. We won’t be addressing those other fluffy terms at all.

Spend half a lifetime learning. Spend the other half of your lifetime putting your knowledge on the line of passing or failing. Spend more of a percentage of your life actually teaching the art, than not teaching, and maybe you will be on your way. If your calling card for mastery is a piece of paper someone bestowed upon you, rather than what you can do, then I would like to suggest that you re-evaluate what kind of master you actually are.

My friends who call themselves “Master” know this is not a personal attack on you Masters. This is simply a philosophy that is embraced by the old Filipino Masters, none of whom, by the way, have certificates certifying them a “Master”.

Be a man who is high on skill and low on words. Be a man who can mix it up with those half your age. Be a man who can do things that other, um, Masters, can’t do. It isn’t how many styles you know or how many teachers you’ve been to. I have been teaching in my own school since 1992, I have been sparring with non-dojo mates for more than two thirds of my life, I have spent only 12 years of my life actually in a classroom–I participated in my last class in 1992. Last time I saw my teachers, I was 15 (death), 20/20 (emigration and death), and 22 (death). More years of my learning have been from opponents and sparring partners than actually from my teachers. Yeah, this blog has some 600 articles, but my training sessions in my school are low on talk high on action. Compare that to your teachers who never make you go home so sore you can barely drive, with whom you have never had to go to the emergency room, who talk casually for more of his classes than counting out reps. Don’t be the one who is so eager to empty his mouth on a dojo/seminar floor before he has filled his brain with learning sessions and memories of fights where he tried out that knowledge. Have so many fights under your belt you can’t remember how many you’ve had. Spend so much time with your Masters you can imitate them, remember their smell, quote their words and reprimands… Mastery, people is about the journey–not the destination.

There should never be a point in your martial arts path where you mark yourself as a Master. It a place you eased into over a period of years before you realized you were there. It is a place where others tell you that you had arrived, before you knew it yourself.

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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