Sunday, January 15, 2012

How To Become a Martial Arts Master

A very long time ago, I heard a story about a flea.

Sitting in Wendy's, a dear friend and mentor took a glass and put a piece of paper on top of it.  "Imagine there were a flea inside of the glass" he said.  "At first, the flea would jump as high as he could, trying to escape the glass, only succeeding in hitting the ceiling.  However, after a little while, the flea would stop jumping so high so that it no longer hits the ceiling.  After a little while longer, the flea will forget that it even can jump that high.  Once enough time has passed, you can take the paper away but the flea will never jump out."

This story had a profound effect on me and I swore to never be that flea.  I grew up in a family that rarely had an excess of money.  In fact, we might have even been referred to as "poor" at times.  Additionally, while my family passed on some positive influences, particularly the hard work of my mother, there were a number of negative influences as well - smoking, alcohol and even the occasional drug use.  I decided relatively early that I wanted to follow a different path.  I didn't have to live the same life that those around me did.  That was the first time I escaped the cup.

It would be many years before I could apply the same philosophy to my martial arts, and it would first come through a different art - motorcycling.

Me attending one of the post track days
I began motorcycling about seven years ago while I was in the Marine Corps.  I went through the training required by the military and set about improving my skills little by little.  After a few years, I began attending the track days that were offered on post.  After attending a few, I was approached by the base motorcycle program manager.  After a very brief discussion, he asked me if I would be interested in becoming an instructor.  Sure!!  I was excited to be able to learn more about the activity that I had so come to enjoy.

I became an instructor and was eventually chosen to be the "motorcycle expert" for my unit.  One of the requirements was that I attend a higher level of training which was provided by Lee Parks, who was to become a good friend of mine.  The course expanded my knowledge of motorcycling to a level that I hadn't imagined and I was surprised, yet again, when I was recommended to become one of his instructors as well.

This opened my eyes to a whole new world of motorcycling.  I learned an incredible amount of information but what I learned the most was this - there was so much more out there, and more importantly, it was within my reach.

Unfortunately, despite having trained in martial arts for twice as long as I've ridden motorcycles, I only recently learned that I had been viewing and studying the art from the confines of my little cup.  As I have mentioned previously, I was discouraged by many of the studios that I attended through the years, feeling that they had little to teach me.  What I truly felt was that there was little more to learn.  Of course, there are styles with different kata, and certainly there are belts that I have yet to attain.  But a kick is a kick, a punch a punch and while there's an astounding variety of ways to throw someone through the air, they all end with them landing on the ground.

I began training at my current studio last year.  The style, Shaolin Kempo Karate, is new to me and I had been out of training for a while so I started out as a white belt.  However, after my first belt test with them (in truth, the first test I had taken in over 12 years), I was promoted to blue belt, literally skipping half of the belt ranks.  Instead of being pleased, I was again discouraged.  After all, if I make it that far after training with them for only a few months, how much longer would it take before I had learned all there was for them to teach me?

So, I quit.  I stopped going to the studio, as I had many studios before, but I couldn't give up my love for the art.  I had to be missing something, there had to be more. 

I did what any person in need of an answer does, I turned to Google.  Not surprisingly, "how to become a martial arts master" yields very few helpful results.  Watching videos of martial arts masters in action revealed that their techniques look surprisingly similar to mine.  The kata they perform, while I have not yet studied them, look like nothing spectacular or beyond my abilities.  They have trained for longer, sometimes much longer than I, but surely time isn't what makes a master.  So, what was it?  How does one become a martial arts master?

I have come to believe that the answer is simple - jump out of the glass.  Refuse to be bound by the limitations around you and in you.  Take responsibility for your own learning and absorb even the tiniest lessons from those around you.  Understand that there is so much more out there and that, yes, you can achieve it.  Sure, significant time and effort is required, but don't let that effort go to waste by living in the confines of your little glass.

1 comment:

  1. Well that opened up my eyes. I really like the story about the flea in a glass.


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