It’s that time again. The time where I sit down and write the sort of philosophical diatribe that makes people go, “Seriously, wtf?!” In the past few months, I’ve put a lot of thought into the term “Master.” What does it really mean and who is worthy of the title?
Maybe, though, it’s not necessary to get caught up in the word itself, so much as the concept. Words are merely vehicles on which human beings transport thought. In Japanese, words like “tatsujin” or “shishou” might be applied to a person to denote Mastery.
But, what does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines “Mastery” as:
a: possession or display of great skill or technique
b: skill or knowledge that makes one master of a subject
And, it defines “Master” as a lot of things, but here are a few of the interesting ones:
a: an artist, performer, or player of consummate skill
b: one having control
c: one that conquers or masters
Apparently, “Mastery” is not something easily pinned down. It doesn’t necessarily mean being the best at something, but it does mean that you possess a great deal of skill. I am convinced that Mastery (notice I dropped the quotes) is not a destination or a final acquisition, but a journey; not necessarily a status, but an attitude or way of life.
At some point, when there is sufficient experience in something, the subject (whether a language, a physical skill or mental skill, or understanding) becomes less and less “outside” ourselves. It becomes a second nature. Specifically in the martial arts, it is difficult (read “impossible”) to say that someone has master of a style or skill if it is not immediately available to them without the poison of having to think about it. If a man throws a punch and a boxer (assuming he is aware of the incoming attack) does not slip it and/or counter, but instead is hit because he was not “ready” for the punch– Mastery does not yet exist for this man. Or, if a jujitsu practitioner is grabbed forcefully and he does not break the hold, move to a better position, or submit his attacker, how can he be said to have Mastery? I will not bore you with countless permutations of the same scenario, because the concept is relatively easy to understand.
Mastery is about becoming. It is that transformative path to the superhuman that tests the boundaries of our limits as people. It is not all-inclusive, but can be limited to a single pursuit or ability. You can possess Mastery on levels– Mastery of a concept, technique, or style. I would say the more specific the endeavor, the higher the degree of skill necessary to attain Mastery. One can be the Master of a martial art and one can possess Mastery of a certain skill within that art. To be certain, to be called the Master of a style, one must have a very high degree of knowledge and skill concerning the fighting method. However, I believe if one were to be called the Master of a particular skill (say armbars, for instance) it might be necessary for him to possess a level of skill in that technique greater than the man who is called the Master of a style. Certainly, this must be the case if the two men were to try to meet on equal terms in battle.
This is fun to think about, but I bring it up not to be purposefully confusing or philosophical, but because at some point, everyone who practices a particular style of martial arts or who fights, must make a decision like this. Do I attempt to become what is called a “complete” fighter or do I dredge on through the fires of hellish training to find the uttermost of a specific kind of fighting or specific technique? Surely, most fall somewhere in between.
I’ve said this before, but if you are the latter of the two types that I mentioned above, it is your duty to discover things about and do things with your skill that have never been done before. If you say, “I will defeat all opponents with only jujitsu/judo/boxing/muay thai/hung gar/karate/my left hand,” then you will need to train to defeat those other style with your own instead of making excuses about rules or the shortcomings of your own style. Mastery is about finding The Way–
So, find it.
Stephen Ross is a Certified Personal Trainer with a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of South Carolina and author of Real Anime Training since 2007. He has been studying various modalities of fitness for 20 years and is greatly interested in helping people improve their lives, both in the gym and out.
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