I was just reading through some old correspondences from a few years back. They were all centered around a pivotal moment in my FMA career; a time of turbulent change. While reading the various view points and with the perspective of time, I was struck by the intensity of emotions and the ferocity of opinions as certain parties tried desperately to avoid change and were threatened by exploration.
All arts change. I think that is a fundamental truth of Martial Arts. They change because they are intensely personal experiences for each student and as the student explores the art more deeply, they begin to mold it to themselves. Personalities grow through the art. Relationships change as students become teachers and teacher’s masters. People change and art changes with them. Uncle Leo used to encourage us to “make the art your own”. But, beyond that edict, we who have continued to explore and plumb the depths of our experience have discovered aspects of the art that we could not be taught by our masters. This is our own personal journey; the door through which we may walk but to which may only be led by our Masters. The teacher’s goal is not simply to paste a series of movements onto your body, but to help the student discover the art, peel away their resistance and fully envelop the art within their soul. In doing so, each teacher must be prepared for the consequences of such a personal experience by their students. Once students have been led to the door, they may walk through and never return. Students may journey even deeper into the art than our Masters; delving deeper into the fundamental theories of our art than we ever dared; revealing truths that may make us look insufficient.
This is why being a teacher of our arts is such a difficult and risky vocation for our egos. True leadership requires humility, a quiet commitment to the truth and a relinquishing of the ego. All students need to be encouraged to explore so they may fully understand the art. That means they may stray. They may discover new and wonderful things. If you are not prepared to see this happen with your students, then you are not really teaching them, you are dictating to them. If you expect them to simply tow the party line and teach to a standard that is imposed externally without understanding internally, then you are an inflexible dictator and not a master teacher. I have had many students come and go through the years and I am immensely proud of each one, even those who have gone away. It was a great pleasure watching them grow and change through the years.
So, how do we manage the change within our art? Some Masters tackle this question head on, make no apologies and dictate that the new module they just added is now the standard. Others set very clear guidelines and do not tolerate those who will not follow an exact standard. Some Master’s never really set any standard and their art morphs along with them and their experiences without structure. Still others add to the art from outside and claim falsely that the new material is some secret module only taught to them in private and reserved for only the most advanced students. Thereby, boosting their own ego and their position rather than their art. Change only becomes a problem when there is an expectation of a fixed order to the art and deviation threatens a leader’s ego.
I believe an art is, at its core, a series of principles, not a series of movements. The footwork, blade position, striking angles, blocks, counters and evasions are all the results of principles. They are not the art. They are the booby prize. The core principle and its eloquent expression through technique is the real prize. For me, it has never been enough to simply do the move the way my master did it. I have always sought to know why because the technique was applied to a principle first and to understand the technique completely a real student must dig to the core and understand the underlying principle. If we are lucky, some students will dig deeper than we have. It’s not really change if a student’s understanding of your art exceeds your own. That’s a wonderful event to be lauded not punished.
As the Masters pass, so too does their unique understanding of the principles of their art. Students and instructors left behind have an obligation to maintain the core principles of the art but they must always be cautious of the urge to lay down edicts. And, new Masters should be careful not to add techniques that are not in alignment with the core principles of their art. But, if they do, they should acknowledge it openly showing their students that even a Master can learn.
What I enjoy most about working under my current Grand Master is that he has an innate understanding of the core principles of our art. Each class is another opportunity to explore and reinforce those core concepts and rather than straying from the root of our art, we continue to make those roots stronger; managing changes as we continue to learn together in mutual respect. If you wish to manage change within your art, manage first your own ego and look upon change as inevitable and non-threatening. If you have mastered the core principles of your art then change should be a blessed opportunity for growth not a wolf at the door.
As i observe the continued growth and different paths many of the instructors & graduates of Leo's Original club #1. I oblidged to say that the split was nesscary, there were to many escrimadors in one place with to many skill sets/memories of what they learned from Leo..... with many different ideas of what is right & what is wrong..... The way i see it..the FMA cummunity benefited overall by seeing a wide range of Leo's top student's interpitations of Giron Escrima rather than just one. I know that i have benefited tremendously from my experiences from all the clubs & instructors. I hope we all keep on keeping Leo's art alive.... and the best of luck to us all!
like i said great blog!
This is now my 30th year practicing FMA. I have seen all manner of choices made regarding the management of change; lots of positives and some negatives. This is a general essay and not specifically targeted at any one group. We were both fortunate to benefit from diversity and multiple perspectives during our time with Uncle Leo. Before, during and after that time, I have been blessed to meet a wonderful, diverse, eclectic group of professionals. Hopefully, I can continue to keep an open and inclusive heart/mind so my students and our organization can benefit. I know GM Mike feels the same way and I learn daily from him about keeping an open mind and open door while maintaining a disciplined core. Thanks for the input.
no problem i was just relating my own experience within your essay!
SO well written!!! i have taught yoga for many years and as i got older, many of my students passed me up in the postures and a few in all the other areas...everyone on their own path...no egos necessary...your essay applies to all experiences...