The Hierarchy of FMA’s Teaching Class

Some of you may dismiss this discussion as a matter of semantics, but this really is serious business.

All who teach the arts are not created equal, and what separates us is so much more than which styles we offer or who taught us. Today, I would like to introduce a few of these things and then come back to the subject later when I have more time.

  1. There is a difference between a “Black Belter” or “expert”, and a teacher.  Some of the debate we see in the martial arts, especially the Filipino arts, is the claim that being an expert fighter does not guarantee that the expert fighter would be an expert teacher. While this may be true, the debate has been used by many who are not even good fighters to justify themselves as teachers. If one does not know the art of fighting (1), one cannot fight (2), and fighting is more than simply a physical act (3)–then there is no excuse for a so-called teacher to claim he can teach the art of fighting without himself being a good fighter. Let’s recap this. If fighting is more than physical and anyone can learn it, how can you expect to be truthful in your claim to teach fighting to anyone when you yourself never developed the skill from knowledge YOU possess? How can you teach the art of fighting if you claim to have knowledge but not be able to actually do  it? And finally, I’m going to need a little help with this last question. How can you claim expertise in something you cannot actually do yourself? Yet on martial arts message boards everywhere, you will find FMA Guro who have never fought and even claim that the act of fighting is unnecessary–but at the same time claim to have enough expertise to be qualified to teach it! Here is my point. Yes, you must have teaching skill to teach to be an effective teacher. But you must also have fighting skill to teach fighting. Furthermore, you can have fighting expertise and not teaching skill, but you cannot have teaching skill and not fighting skill. Therefore, there is a hierarchy. One must first be an expert fighter, then become a teacher. A Black belt or Expert certification is not a teaching credential.
  2. There are Instructors of the art, and then there are Teachers. Within the ranks of those who teach the martial arts, we have a further hierarchy. There are those who know the art well enough to pass on the basics and technical art we call “Fighting Arts” to novices. We must, however, not confuse these people with those who know the art well enough to teach students all the way to expertise. The difference is similiar to grade school teachers who can teach a child how to read and count and perform arithmetic versus professors who can teach college students the sciences and the higher arts. I learn to read, and I can teach someone else to read–but simply knowing how to read does not qualify me to teach others how to write poetry or present research reports on the sciences. This is my problem with the distance learning and seminar industry in the Filipino art. We have men and women teaching and certifying 20-30 or more students in two hour sessions. At the same time, I could bring four guys from my gym and they will destroy anyone in the room, including the guy awarding certificates. This should never happen, yet I have never met a man taught by seminar who can beat a fighter trained in a full-time school, ever. Don’t let this love of money fool you into thinking your four or five seminars per year makes you equal with those who do this four or five times a week. Seminars are fine to teach basics and drills, but for serious learning–for those wanting to become expert fighters, or to become teachers themselves, they will need more attention than what some well-known celebrity teacher can offer in 2 hours while running around trying to give 20 other students their money’s worth. Some of those who can teach can guide you through the higher levels of the arts, while others don’t know much more than what they are putting out on Youtube and DVD. The higher levels of the art cannot be passed on through anything other than up close and personal, I don’t care who teaches the seminar or produces the video–even Bruce Lee’s ghost, himself. Within your school’s walls, you must identify those who can pass on the basics of your art versus those who are knowledgeable and experienced enough to guide students through their entire education, including a fighting as well as teaching career.
  3. Being an old Martial Artist or old Teacher does not make one a Master. Mastery is based on the highest levels of skill, knowledge and experience. It is not age or time in the arts. If I learned in a commercial dojo in the 1980s, never fought anywhere, never taught anywhere but in commercial dojos, never coached pro fighters, never worked with bouncers/security/LEO on how to apply the arts to their jobs–you don’t get to just strap on the title “Master” once you discover some grey hair or scalp showing through your mane. It doesn’t come with time, it comes with knowledge and ability. If my career was spent taking students to 1st or 2nd degree Black belts before they quit and start playing high school soccer instead, we need you to come over to the rough side of the mountain. It isn’t a numbers game. It’s not a waiting game. The designation of Master comes when you are among the best of the best, the most knowledgeable of the knowledgeable, you’ve cracked open the traditional and the obvious and forced your way into its secrets. You don’t get that through 20 years of throwing Ninja Turtle Birthday parties. There is a difference between older Martial Arts Teachers and actual Martial Arts Masters. They both deserve respect, but one is much more respectable than the other. I’ve seen blog posts where older Martial Arts Teachers ridicule Masters who never discovered financial success in the industry, and it’s shameful. The Master puts in all the research and pain and suffering for the greater good of the art, while the McDojo Master gains financial reward because he pretends to be his peer. Please don’t misconstrue my statements; there is no crime in finding commercial success. Just don’t equate commercial success and age with the actual path to Mastery. As my grandfather once said, the real Lion in the room is he who is feared and respected when the wallets, belts and organizations are left out the room. Get together a group of so called experts for a private contest of skill and nothing less–you’ll find out who the real master is. Let that guide your quest for growth, not your resume.
  4. Masters can be Master Fighters or Master Teachers, or both. In the art, we have those who know the arts extremely well, we have those who can DO the arts extremely well, and those who can teach the arts extremely well. You may become one of these, two of these or a combination of these or none of these. The common denominator? “Extremely Well”… If you are none of these, meaning you are not known to necessarily know the arts better than most, fight better than most, or have students who are better than most–you may be one who is KNOWN through the arts extremely well. There are many who are called “Master” just because they are popular and people like them–not because of anything they’ve done or can do. If that is the case, then perhaps you are a “Master” in a way. But as the title of this article states, there is a hierarchy.

These can be broken down in better detail when there is time, and each may need its own article. Please subscribe if you’d like to keep up with this discussion! And if you like the blog, you may also like my books–and please share the page! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday! Thank you for visiting my blog.