There Can be Only One Martial Arts Master Founder!
When it comes to finding a Martial Arts Master, listen to this conversation between two ten years olds:
“Hey, Jimmy, let’s go down to the new Karate school!”
“You mean the one down on Main Street?”
“Yeah, I met the guy who runs it. He’s a Tenth Degree Martial Arts Master Founder!”
“Really? Wow! Let’s go!”
A Tenth Degree Martial Arts Master Founder?
Just what the heck is ‘Master Founder,’ you ask?
A matter of time, my friends. And I don’t mean time spent on the dojo mat. I mean time before some fool happens on this bizarre aberration of noun/adjective.
Now, to be honest, those of you who have been in the Martial Arts for any length of time won’t fall for such title foolery. But there are an awful lot of ten year olds who are going to be misguided, mistreated, and disillusioned concerning the Art Martial.
So what to do?
A lot of people cry ‘Organize.’ But organizations don’t make people honest. Just ask Oliver North if you doubt.
The real answer is through a good, sound martial arts education. Specifically, through education of people as to terms in the Martial Arts. As more people know what Martial Arts terms, in this case titles, mean, the less people will be fooled. In pursuit of that ideal, even though I know people have heard and argued about such things before, I humbly tender the following titles, definitions and explanations. I make this offer sans Oriental language to avoid mysticisms, and because we have to come to some agreement in the English language, and with what I hope you will recognize as logic.
BLACK BELT. An expert. An expert, according to Webster’s is ‘very skillful; having much training and knowledge in some special field.’
MASTER. A Master, according to Webster’s, is ‘A man who rules over others or has control, authority, or powers over something.’
GRANDMASTER. Again, Webster’s; A winner of an international chess tournament.
INSTRUCTOR. Webster’s; ‘A person who instructs; a teacher.’
MASTER INSTRUCTOR. Webster’s, no definition. However, putting the definitions of Master and Instructor together we have a person who has control over other Instructors. Hmmm.
FOUNDER. Websters; ‘One who or that which founds; a builder; an establisher; an originator.’
MASTER FOUNDER. Made you look.
Some of the terms are understandable, agreeable and correct. A Black Belt is an expert. A Martial Art Master has authority, rules, etc. An Instructor teaches. A Founder founds.
And a Martial Arts Grandmaster, while not in the dictionary, can be agreed to be the Master of a system. After all, the Founder founds an organization, and after he dies (retires?) the fellow takes over for him cannot be a founder, but he deserves some sort of title considering the office he is undertaking.
But a Master Instructor is a made up beast.
And a Master Founder (let’s not even talk about Grand Master Founders) is something that just waits under a rock.
So there are the definitions, but even if we all agree to abide by them, that still leaves a grand problem. While we can agree to written definitions, can we define some common agreement of ability, MEASURABLE ABILITY, that will dove-tail with the definitions? Bearing this in mind, consider the following additives to these definitions.
Black Belt (Expert)-has learned a system and can control another person’s body through a range of specific technique.
Master-can control another person’s body with techniques of choice.
Grandmaster-takes over for the Founder.
Instructor-has and can impart data.
Master Instructor-has sufficient and systematic data to instruct Instructors (see above definition) and can impart it.
Founder-establishes own system after having been all of the above.
Master Founder-In your dreams.
So that there will be no confusion as to what these terms mean, let me explain and give a few anecdotes to illustrate.
About Black Belts: have met a few Black Belts who trained outside of a system. This means that they got tricks from friends, were clever, and whether they were legitimately promoted or not, called themselves Black Belts.
But being Expert means having knowledge, not just tricks and cleverness, and I find it difficult to believe that somebody can have knowledge if they haven’t gone through a system. They might be knowledgeable characters, but whatever knowledge they possess is not systematized, is for their own glory, and is usually not passable to others.
I have a met a couple of fellows who told me they got their Black Belts because they ‘could fight good.’ I wonder what Gichin Funakoshi would think about that? He did establish the idealistic standard for Karate, after all, and he did say something about perfection of character and that type of thing. Oh well, must not be important.
About Masters: everybody is a Master. I know because I read it on their business cards.
You want to know how to tell the difference between a Black Belt and a Martial Arts Master? It really is quite simple. The Black Belt (I’m speaking of Karate, specifically, here) can only destroy. The Master can control. And while there is an art to destruction, the True Art is in control, and this establishes the difference, in the Webster’s definitions, as to whether a person merely has knowledge, or who can ‘rule over others or has control.’
So when I meet somebody who espouses punching others multiple times about the head and shoulders I ask them if they know any Grab Arts or Joint Locks, and then I ask if they can make these locks and holds work in a fight, or (better, because it avoids fighting) against a Black Belt, and not just some White Belt or some schmuck off the street.
Before I move on to the next category of martial arts titles let me say one last thing. Whether you got promoted to Black Belt legitimately or not, a True Black Belt will usually experience, among other things which are too numerous, or would would sound too mystical, to get into at this point, deep humility, a feeling of not deserving, even an embarrassment. In the barest of glimpses he sees, among other things, how much more he has to learn before he can even pretend to know anything.
And a Martial Arts Master doesn’t tell people that he is a Master. He is secure in his abilities and direction and, interestingly enough, people will tell him what he is. People who walk in off the street, people at parties, strangers that he meets, that sort of thing, will suddenly look at him, upon learning that he practices (note: practices) the Martial Arts, and say in surprise, and even wonder (at the fact that they are saying what they are saying) ‘Oh, you are a Master.’’ And the Master, upon being surprised and sort of bemused by such a statement will say something like, ‘Oh, I’m just a student.’
I opened a school once, and a fellow came in and asked me if I needed instructors. He said that he had studied down the street for three years, but he hadn’t taken the test for Black Belt because it was to expensive (it was, but that’s beside the point) but he really was a good Black Belt and he could teach ‘real good.’
With all respect to this misguided soul, he had a system but no data. The school down the street practiced a militaristic style of martial arts with very little talking. No data was imparted concerning technique, and the sole purpose was to increase speed and effectiveness of strike.
Go find a physicist, ask him to teach you. He will start stuttering about the need for books, equipment, curriculum. He will send you to an established university where they have such things. He knows the difference between a fellow, no matter how brilliant, who does physics, and the highly specialized, HIGHLY SPECIALIZED, knowledge it takes to teach such a subject. We, in the Martial Arts, need to take the same view. To tell you the truth, there really should be an established curriculum, written down on paper, which establishes how to teach.
‘Monkey see-monkey do’ days are over! Drill instructor mentalities are on the out! what is needed is people who understand, and can get the next fellow to understand, how to make a good kick, using the physics of the Martial Arts.
Physics, according to Webster’s, deals with the properties, changes, interactions, etc., of matter and energy.
What the heck are the Martial Arts but the Physics of our bodies?
And this fellow (with all respect) who probably dropped out of high school (judging from his manner of speech) and hadn’t even had the ability to get the money to take his Black Belt test wants to teach for me?
In my school, I have complete, written manuals on specific physics of the Martial Arts. Students are required to take written tests on this material before all tests. And they must pass!
Anyway, before I get on a High Horse and fall off, let me offer you one last anecdote, let me tell you about the best instructor and martial arts master I ever met.
Data wise, this fellow had none. He taught ‘Monkey see-monkey do,’ in a semi-militaristic manner. Semi-militaristic means that we all (the class) worked in unison. In the seven years I studied with him he said maybe twelve things, and these things were such things as, ‘There are many ways to the top of a mountain.’ ‘A tight fist is a heavy fist.’ That sort of thing.
But when he walked on the mat people felt electricity run up their legs and galvanize them. No matter where on the mat you were, you suddenly felt an invisible hand grab your head and your head would pivot to where he had just stepped onto the mat. And when he counted the class through Kata you felt energy humming through your veins and found yourself doing better than you thought you could. No other Instructor I have ever met could do that, and I always think of that when I visualize myself teaching. That type of role model is what I consider an Instructor.
About Founders: this is a fellow who has sufficient data and experiences in enough Arts to actually synthesize a new Art.
Now, actually, we are all Founders. We are the Founders of our own experience. The real considerations here should be whether somebody has gone through the prior experiences of being a Black Belt, being a Master, and so on. And calling yourself a 10th degree Black Belt just because you started your own system doesn’t mean that you have gone through the necessary experiences to qualify for such a title.
Furthermore, to be honest, and with all respect, if I hear of one more fellow who has put the hand techniques of Kenpo together with the legwork of Tang Soo Do I’ll scream. Aside from the fact that the theories of the two Arts don’t mesh together well, this fellow has only studied two Arts.
But when I hear about somebody with 23 years experience, and a resume of Classical Karate, Arnis, Aikido, Wing chun, and one or two other things, I’ll be interested in seeing what he has synthesized out of all this data and experience.
So, let’s consider my revised list of definitions for Martial Arts Titles.
Black Belt-An Expert with the knowledge of how to control another person’s body through a range of specific technique.
Master-One who has authority and control, and can make a selection from various technique even in the middle of combat.
Instructor-One who has systematized data and can impart it.
Master Instructor-One who creates Instructors of the above definition.
Grandmaster-One who takes over a system for a Founder.
Founder-One who, having sufficient data and experience, and having gone through experiences inherent in the previous definitions, establishes his own system.
Master Founder-In space no one can hear you scream.
In closing let me say that I understand that some people may not agree with my conclusions, but it has been my observation that most valid arguments in the Martial Arts are usually matters of misunderstood methodologies. So write your own definitions, and establish your own standards, but try to use a little logic.
Let’s return to two ten year olds discussing the Martial Arts.
“Hey, Jimmy, want to go down to that new Karate school?”
“You read that article they got posted on the window at the other school, the one that’s been there ten years?”
“Yeah, the one about Masters and Instructors and stuff.”
“Yeah. Well, the new school says they got ‘Master Founders.’”
“Oh, doesn’t sound like martial arts masters to me, want to go fishing instead?”
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