The Master Student, pt II (Definitions)

Most of the articles on this blog has been directed to fighters (which is what I refer to anyone beyond an intermediate level of training) and teachers of the Filipino arts. It’s time to switch focus toward the beginner and novices. Hopefully those of you who have put some time into the arts will find value in these and future articles written for this group.

In the pursuit of the understanding of the arts, we must know that there is a difference between learning a martial art, practicing a martial arts, training a martial art, researching a martial art, teaching a martial art, and mastering a martial art. At the risk of oversimplifying, let me give you a basic description of each before we move on:

  • learning–this is where most people enter an art and tend to get stuck. we have very little foundation in an art, so we are merely learning through rote memory:  memorizing techniques, terminology, history and anecdotes. To the novice, those who learn seem to be knowledgeable. Yet all they are doing is regurgitating what they’ve taken in. We all had this stage, where we attend a class and “learn” new things. The smart ones write it down, but with today’s technology, we get to bring home the DVD, book, and/or access to online clips to refresh our memory. “Learning”, while interesting and fun, is very superficial when compared to the potential within the martial arts. Sadly, very few practitioners go beyond this stage–which is why I am put off by the “perpetual student” mentality that supposedly humble martial artists proclaim
  • practicing–should be self-explanatory. In class, one practices the art to gain further proficiency. Practice can be casual or intense, but the reason for doing so is the same:  One is rehearsing for remembering the information taught, exercising the brain muscle. However, there are levels to “practice”. One can practice in order to demonstrate the art better (performance), one can practice to gain skill (proficiency), or one can practice to gain understanding (best reason). I have met many who study the FMAs, and fewer than half of them practice with any rigor
  • training–this is one step above practice of an art. When one trains an art, he has added stress, fatigue, and pain to his practice. It is not much different than practice; except when one trains, he/she is executing techniques in high numbers, for extended periods of time. You are pushing your body to its limits in training, not just “working up a sweat”. Those who train should know what his limits are. If you’d like to know the difference, ask yourself “How many thrusts can I throw with the stick until my body gives up?”  If you do not know your limits, if you have no idea what your maximum is–you are not training. When you train in an art, you can train for endurance, power, speed, accuracy, fatigue, fighting dominance, fight superiority. You cannot reach your potential if you do not push your body to its limit. What methods you use can vary, but without the stress, fatigue, pain and discomfort–you are not training, but merely practicing
  • researching–perhaps one of the most confused terminologies in the martial arts is “Martial Arts Research”. To some, martial arts research is taking classes and seminars with certain masters, buying DVDs, watching youtube clips, or visiting masters to interview them. This is not “research”. Martial Arts research is mostly introspective–you are looking for new ways to look at, execute, or apply your art. How does it stand up to other styles (in sparring)? What are its weaknesses and strengths? Can it be improve? What if I change my weapon, could I still use it? Researching an art is a combination of three things. First, you have your alone time where you become acquainted intimately with your art. How would you do this? By practicing in solitude, and doing so “mindlessly”. I hesitate to use the term “mindlessly”, because most martial artists consider this a bad term. But training mindlessly means you are just practicing your techniques over and over and over and over without any specific purpose or train of thought. Doing this will reveal things to you that your teacher cannot show you–they are shown to you by your own body and your own thoughts and revelations. They cannot come to you in a book or class; they must reveal themselves through experience. It is here that you come up with new ideas and possible changes. It is also here that you develop a more thorough understanding of the art, that those who merely casually practice will never reach. Those revelations are the “Aha!” moment that all masters reach in their understanding of the art. Casual practitioners never experience this, because they are still stuck at lower levels. So, while you are off discovering new directions for the art, the casual practitioner is arguing with other lower level practitioners about who’s doing it more like Grandmaster use to do it. They never evolve. The second stage of researching an art is through combat and sparring. It is here that you take those new discoveries and theories and put them to the test. Yes, perhaps you did find a new way that your grandmaster’s art can be done–but how would that work out on a live opponent? This is the part of research very, very few martial artists engage in. Every man has an opinion or new idea. Very few will allow themselves to be questioned, doubted, challenged or tested. However, it is during this stage that Masters are made. The more you allow yourself to be challenged, the more you defend your work, the more you understand HOW it works, and the better equipped you will be to prove that it works. Show me a man who will not entertain challengers, and I will show you a man who does not believe in what he is teaching. It is for this reason that I accept all challenges, and add to my articles that offer “If you are nearby and would like to see this technique up close or test it, email me.” I mean it and entertain all. I don’t put out anything that I cannot do and have never done. Testing an idea is what separates the theories from the new developments. You cannot call your untested techniques a new “art” or “technique” if you are unsure of its effectiveness. We simply cannot skip this step. Finally, the last stage of research is to adopt your findings into your arsenal. Either you will add, merge, or replace what was there before. Or you could do what many masters have done:  Keep them in a separate “Shadow curriculum”. Save this for favorite students or only students who have reached a certain point in training. Those of you who consider yourselves pragmatic have ridiculed these “secret” martial art techniques. Yes, they exist. If the teacher has a skill he does not reveal or freely teach, it is a martial arts arts secret. Whether or not those techniques are valuable is not the point. The fact is, the Master has discovered something that he holds dear, and is very careful about who he entrusts with this information
  • teaching–anyone can teach a martial art, but not all teaching and not all teachers are created equal. Some are doing little more than passing along curriculum material. Some are adding to it the results of his research. Some are striving to create the best fighters possible. Some are “testing” his new material by teaching it to students and then having the new material used against fighters of another school/system. Some teachers are getting students through a curriculum to award teaching/proficency certificates, while others are mentoring students into their own teaching careers. Some try to handle large groups of students spread out over seveal cities or countries–others keep one core group of fighters who get all their attention and searching for fighting dominance. There is a difference, and teachers and teaching styles can vary like night and day
  • mastery–I’ve always categorized martial arts masters into three groups:  Those pursuing relationships and friends, those pursuing certificates and titles, and those pursuing perfection and mastery itself. Mastery does not come with time-in-grade. I’ve said this for years. You cannot simply be involve in the art for 20 years and all of a sudden you’re a master. Many know this, so they seek comfort and approval through networking with other teachers. I call you Master, you call me Master. I sign your certificate, you sign my certificate. While others cozy up to a Grandmaster who “certifies” him as a Master. Can’t get much more valid than a piece of paper, right? Well, those in the third bunch–the ones who pursued mastery themselves–would beg to differ. I think I wear the “humble” shirt pretty well. As bad as I am on the internet with my words, or talking trash on the phone, I am a smiling, friendly, very quiet guy in person. However, on the floor, in a competition, at an event when we will be fighting, I assure you I am none of the above. Those who know me, know what I mean. I have never built my reputation off anything other than what I can do and what my students can do. So titles mean nothing. Popularity means even less than that. And some piece of paper isn’t even on my radar. My goal is to be the Tiger in the room, and at sparring events, I and my students are the Tiger in the room. I only associate with other Tigers at that point, and I hope you understand what I mean. The third group of martial arts masters is the only one I really respect, even if some of them I dislike. We rank ourselves based on our ability in combat and that alone. You can get 20 Grandmasters in a group, and if one of them has the ability to destroy any of the other 19, nothing needs to be said. Every man in the room knows his place, unless some of them simply have never been bitten and are unaware of the danger. That is the funny thing about martial artists. We spend so much time playing the game, and so little time playing the game with actual Tigers, you almost forget that there really are Tigers out there who don’t need resumes and websites, titles or certificates. While all three groups are in their own way, “Masters”, there is a hierarchy among them and even without an introduction, they usually know where they stand. When a man has pursued not titles, alliances, nor certificates or publicity–but mastery itself, he enjoys a place that no other martial artist will try to invade. It certainly isn’t the easiest path, but it is the most fulfilling one. Be satisfied with nothing less than being “that guy”, that no one wants a piece of. I have already experienced observing my own students at tournaments and gatherings–where THEY are the Tigers in the room, and on many occasions I’ve watched promoters unable to find someone willing to fight my guys, and this includes my children. This is the ultimate in the martial arts, where you win without fighting!


In part III, we will discuss what you, the beginner can do to start this journey–and how you can travel correctly.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

3 thoughts on “The Master Student, pt II (Definitions)”

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