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The following statement was mailed to a friend of mine and turned out to be the lead in for an advertisement, selling the virtues of a particular system and lead instructor. We both enjoyed the clever way the ad was put together but as I thought about it, the original writer was really on to something with his lead question which he broke into 2 parts, in spite of the poor grammar.

"Want to see a Martial Artist get scared? ...and start backpedaling as fast as they can? Go find a 15 - 30 year practitioner. Some who’s been there and done that.  Trained with the right kinds of teachers.  Run schools.  Taught workshops.  Go up to them and just start throwing around the word “master.”

More and more I see people start backpedaling as soon as that word pops up.  First they start distancing themselves from the word: “oh I’m no master.   Just a humble student.”  Then they start attacking the word itself.  You’d think master was only spelled with four letters by the way they behave. What did that poor word ever do to them?  Did they accidentally let it slip on youtube and get a bunch of mean comments that hurt their feelings?

A master is simply an expert at something.   A person with extensive knowledge or ability in a given subject.   A worker or artisan qualified to teach apprentices.  Is that so bad?  Isn’t that what we look for in a teacher?  Isn’t the goal of training to master a set of skills?  If they're just trying to be humble why do they call themselves a Martial Artist?  Is there martial skill so great we should call it art?  I’d settle for a simple expert.

Whether you prefer the term Master or Artist the first step is to start working hard and building a foundation.  Not a foundation of forms & choreography but a solid one based on skill you can use. Students who complete the Internal Combat Arts Course have that foundation.  ...and they’ve built it on a solid understand of how to fight with the internal arts.   You can become one of them if you’re willing to do the work:

I have removed the actual ad because it is not relevant to my post and it was easy to do without taking anything out of context since the actual person and style followed the colon and I could leave the above text alone, with everything in the order it was written.

My question is why would anyone deliberately avoid being recognized for something that he or she actually achieved through honest and sustained effort?  Simply because someone has earned master or grandmaster status that does not mean that they are the pinnacle of knowledge and skill with nothing more to learn or experience.  I can understand not wanting people to refer to you as master or grandmaster in every circumstance and situation, but there are certainly times when the reference is appropriate and reasonable. 

If someone were to tell me or try to sell me that “oh I’m no master.”, just a humble student.” kind of statement, I would be very cautious and suspicious of them, because I have had people come to my school claiming to be newbies in the arts and wanting to learn my style.  Within their very first few movements on the training floor it becomes obvious that they are now new students to the arts and by the end of an hour they have demonstrated beyond any doubt that they know something.

Now the question is who is this person and what do they really want from me that they were not willing to ask for in a straight-forward and honest manner?

It is far more likely however, that we all have come across people who are not legitimate masters and grandmaster who earned the titles that they are claiming via the old fashioned method – working and building up some serious sweating equity before their seniors gave them their well-deserved titles.  I am aware of several people who have promoted themselves to very high ranks and exalted titles so that they could sell their martial arts products, good or bad, to an under-informed and gullible public.  At least a couple of these folks have been “promoted” by their own students – the very people who they teach.  What a crock of bus that is, but it has happened in the past and I’m quite sure that it will happen again in the future.  But the real shame of all of that messy behavior is that most other martial arts instructors, masters and grandmaster, legitimate or not, very seldom call the charlatans out.  Admittedly it was harder in the good old days before the world-wide-web, but those days are long since gone.

The author of the statement that I’ve quoted above is correct about a couple of things:

1. A master is simply an expert at something.   A person with extensive knowledge or ability in a given subject.

2. A worker or artisan qualified to teach apprentices.  Is that so bad?  Isn’t that what we look for in a teacher?  Isn’t the goal of training to master a set of skills?

3. Whether you prefer the term Master or Artist the first step is to start working hard and building a foundation.  Not a foundation of forms & choreography but a solid one based on skill you can use.

I’m interested in hearing what others on this blog think of the comments that I quoted above.

Sincerely,

Jerome Barber, Ed. D.

Views: 106

Comment by Black Swan Tactical on December 27, 2012 at 6:25pm

A student we may all be, and an early adopter is surely a student to a teacher who has learned certain moves and can distribute that information to lesser students of the same art.

A teacher can teach even though he remains a student to a master or grand master.  A teacher certainly need not be a master.  A teacher may not know any more than he can disseminate.  A teacher can have a limited capacity to perform certain moves but can teach others those moves because he has seen the moves, and been instructed in what the moves are to entail.

A master has mastered the mechanics of his art, encompassing possibly hundreds of moves, and knows why something works because he has perfected the movement of it himself.  A master has to be a teacher because if he cannot teach it, he has not mastered it.  A master is someone who can walk the walk, and talk the talk.  They take the art that they learned and make it fit to themselves, and know how to teach it to others based on their ability to perform the mechanics...and, he can create other masters such is his depth.

A grand master is the founder of an art that is unique in and of itself.  The reasons for creating the art are known to the master and can be disseminated to lesser students.

I've seen many teachers that could not yet teach that well, as I am sure that you have as well, and I've seen masters who looked like they had not mastered anything other than teaching a few moves, and there are many masters who cannot perform the movements that they desire to teach...so I am not sure what they are grandmasters of.

Titles get thrown around a lot.

Comment by Guro Lawrence Motta on December 28, 2012 at 11:23am
Thanks for posting this Dr. Barber. I don't think the problem lies with the person who won't accept the title of Master but rater with the projected expectation that title carries from the public and the industry. I agree that Mastery of an art or a trade means that you are qualified to instruct apprentices but the term has lost it's humbler connotations and it's link to guild trades such as masonry or carpentry. The public continues to project unrealistic expectations on "Masters" so, of course anyone who has been given this title might be a little intimidated by what may be expected of them. Thanks to the media - the reflection of our cultural perception - people have unbelievable ideas of what a "Master" can do. So, it is not surprising some choose to eschew the title. I agree with Thomas that a Grand Master can invent their own system. And, by the way, those first "Grand Masters" in our art, the Manongs and uncles who decided to teach their secret family arts to the public? They were likely not given their Grand Master titles by their uncles, but rather by their own students and the industry we call Martial Arts. So, does that mean they weren't really Grand Masters? Thanks again for the post.
Comment by terry joven on December 28, 2012 at 12:01pm

And, by the way, those first "Grand Masters" in our art, the Manongs and uncles who decided to teach their secret family arts to the public? They were likely not given their Grand Master titles by their uncles, but rather by their own students and the industry we call Martial Arts. So, does that mean they weren't really Grand Masters?

great comment Guru Lawrence!!!

Comment by Jerome Barber, Ed.D. on December 28, 2012 at 12:31pm

Hello All,

I love the comments by Black Swan Tactical:

"A teacher can teach even though he remains a student to a master or grand master.  A teacher certainly need not be a master.  A teacher may not know any more than he can disseminate.  A teacher can have a limited capacity to perform certain moves but can teach others those moves because he has seen the moves, and been instructed in what the moves are to entail."

I believe that we all should remain students, open to new and refined ideas that we come across as we continue to study and practice within the arts, systems and/or styles that we are participating in over time.  BST has stated the obvious in a very plain and straight forward way.

In my own approach to curriculum development I keep five levels in mind:

1. foundational skills, 2. mechanical skills, 3. technical skills, 4. conceptual understandings and   5. innovative abilities and awareness.  BST has touched on those ideas but in his own words and I have no problem with that because how we approach the FMA is in part based on what we have previously been exposed to and what works best for each of us as individuals.

Guro Motta is also correct in that the problem does not arise from the terms themselves, but indeed from the expectations held by many in the martial arts as well as the general public, that are attached to the words "master', "grand master" and "expert".  I am a "master" and an "expert", but I am NOT infallible or beyond the need to practice, study and learn more as I get back to the gym to practice, practice, practice!  And while I do not shy away from those titles, I do prefer to use the designation "Dr." for professional and personal/family reasons.

Sincerely,

Jerome Barber, Ed. D.

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