Friday, November 6, 2009

Master of the Martial Arts

"Choosing not to follow in the footsteps of the masters, but rather seeking what they sought." - Matsu Basho

This is one of the most profound quotes I have ever read.  In the martial arts it is the nature of the study to be very comparative.  When we learn we generally watch the instructor and maybe listen to a short lecture but then we get to work and try to compare what we do to those with more experience.  Not the most efficient of teaching styles but a very traditional approach for Karate over the last fifty years or so.  To emphasis this point, almost everyone and especially martial artists know of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, perhaps even Jackie Chan and Jet Li.  Each great martial artists in their own right.  (Perhaps masters and perhaps not but that is irrelevant for now.)  Many times I have heard of martial artists comparing themselves to these people or acknowledging to others that they have studied this style or that.  We idolize some person of renown and in doing so we work against the things they represent.

Masters are not the people who have become the pinnacle of average.  We do not measure their accomplishments by saying they are exactly like all these other people.  Bruce Lee was a great martial artist and it would be great for someone to claim to be as good as he was in his prime.  However, even that sentiment would have made Mr. Lee frown I think.  Shouldn't it be our goal to seek perfection.

Their is nothing wrong in learning from the masters but we also need to blaze our own trail.  Each of us is a unique person and therefore capable of different things then the masters we might idolize.  Our abilities, accomplishments, even our failures shape who we are and how we are going to move into the future.

Several years ago I had a discussion with one of my instructors.  He was a great martial artist and a really good fighter.  Overall he was an average teacher but had tons of information to share.  It was very interesting.  However, during the course of our discussion I decided that he was wrong about some particular point.  I respectfully removed myself from the conversation and went on about my business.  I studied with him for a while longer.  Probably about another six months or so and then I had a falling out with the schools office manager.  I still have the utmost respect for this instructor as a fighter.  The interesting this was that when I realized he was wrong it was very liberating.  I began to inspect the other areas of my life where I had taken what others have said at face value and realized that some of these assumptions were wrong too.

I was then reminded that people are human.  As such they are all fallible and could very well be wrong.  That is not an excuse not to stop listening to people but it is a very good reason to investigate what they say.  Or at least run it through the ol' BS filter to see if it holds water.  I have sense caught many things as false that I would have simply believed and every once in a while I still miss the occasional issue.

I love how Mr. Rory Miller put it.  Paraphrased from the book "Meditations on Violence" (you should read this book).  You have permission to succeed, to survive, to fight back."  And from me, you have permission to not believe until you find a way to prove any claims truth.

Give all this, it is our job in the martial arts to seek what the masters sought.  To test, inspect, and consider everything we are taught.  To make sure that every path we choose is one that will help us progress to the best, most perfect self that we can attain.  It should be our goal to one day have people say I want to be like him.  We will then turn to them and in a firm but caring way say, "No! Seek your best self, the martial arts only have need of one of me."