On Mastery

                I was thinking about some of the terms we use every day, or nearly every day, and how we tend to use them incorrectly. In discussing this with a friend, we noted how often people will use the word “momentarily” in a context where the proper word would be “presently”. If you say to someone, “I will be with you momentarily”, what you just told them is that you will be with them for a moment. When you wish to tell someone that you will be with them in a moment, the proper term would be “presently”.

                While this was an interesting discussion, this blog is about martial arts. I wanted to write something about the improperly used words in the martial arts, and so, here is my first entry on the list.  

Master. Right at the top of the list would have to be the word “master”. Personally, I cannot stand this word. I have met many very talented and hard working martial artists. But the term master seems out of line. Implied when one presents themselves as a master of the martial arts is the idea that they know all there is to know, there is nothing left for them to learn, and this cannot ever be the case. The martial arts encompass so broad an area as to be entirely out of reach as far as mastery is concerned. In general categories one might list self protection, sport, and health aspects of the training. Empty hands and weapons. The deeper you go into the training, the broader the number of subspecialties you find. To master them all is hardly possible. Even the mastery of one specialty is out of the question for most people. One can be truly talented, even exceptional. But to be a master is far enough out of reach as to be safely considered impossible.

     Another aspect that I hate in the use of this term is the attitude of the people who claim it for themselves. Most of the people I have met who claimed the title of “Master” were in even worse shape than me, and were lazy. True skill in the martial arts is developed through effort, and it is usually an even trade off. The more effort one puts into proper training, the more results, the less, the less. It is the same as in any other physical skill. Tennis players don’t get better by quitting their training once they make the pros, and then insist on their superior skill while never training, but spending instead, enormous amounts of time philosophizing about tennis and how things “should be done”. I was reading about an old time Judoka recently. It was said about him that when his knees gave out, he intensified his study of ground fighting. That is someone who understood the way. In our time, when something goes out (which is usually the waistline) most people will stop all training, and only talk about martial arts for the rest of their career. Yet, they wish to be referred to as “master”. It is a shame.

I am all for respecting those who dedicate their life to training. But to a one, all of the men and women I have met who come close to fitting the “mater” category were not interested in being called masters, and those who wished to be called masters were self inflated egos looking for outside validation, even if it had to be forced.

If you are secure, you can allow respect to come naturally to you, and you will never need to ask for it. In the end, martial arts are about the training itself. Some of my best memories are from the training hall. The people I met there, trained with, sweated and learned with, and sometimes even bled with made it an amazing experience. I still train, and I still learn something every day, so I cannot call myself a master. And I don’t care to have other people call me one either.

I am still a student. What about you?

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