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Who’s the Master?

posted Sep 3, 2011, 5:04 PM by Eric Banks   [ updated Sep 3, 2011, 5:06 PM ]

"Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person."

-Albert Einstein





Yes, yes, I know…it’s been a while, a long while…  I know, and I thank you for hangin’ around so long, so without further ado, let’s get on with it…



A friend in Zambia has been asking me some rather enlightening questions about the art.  She doesn’t train, but has a way of inquiring about martial things that really makes me think.  Answers to two questions that she asked back in May, when I mentioned that I was going to be training with Sensei Avi Rokah, “How is it possible to still be learning after 20 years of training,” and “When will you become a master,” seem simple at first, like I could easily respond to them with half a thought, but upon a third look, required more thought and contemplation than even she probably meant to induce. 


Let’s look at her first question: “How is it possible to still be learning after 20 years of training?”   Is it possible?  Oh heck yeah!  Let's see how to explain this....  Okay, first, there is much to learn, and part of what we learn is pure head knowledge before we assimilate it and are able to effectively make it mind/body knowledge.  Simply obtaining head knowledge is usually easier than being able to apply that knowledge all the times, every time, at will.  For instance, you probably have seen Einstein's equation that says E=MC2.  Basically, it says that matter contains a LOT of energy, crazy, unbelievable amounts of energy.  That's pretty easy to understand (head knowledge), but actually using this equation and putting it into action in real everyday life is very difficult, and impossible for the average, ordinary human, thankfully. 


Also, since part of the art involves the ever-changing individual, and as we each are different, our experiences of the basic principles will be different.  Each person is dynamic, so what we learn and what we do and who we are, really, on many levels, differs from day to day.  And since each master or instructor is different, their ability to understand, apply and convey basic and advanced principles will be different; what one master says about topic A may not resonate with me as much as how another master demonstrates or teaches or explains it. 


Finally since true karate is an art and a science, the basic principles don't change (science) but our understanding of these principles can change, does change as we morph and grow, and therefore, our application of the basic principles, how we apply them given our own mind, body, character and unique personality morphs as well—that’s the art of the art.


When she asked, “So, when will you become a master,” I froze.  Hmmm…that’s a great question…  Do I want to become a master, a true master?  Wait, what, in my mind, in my opinion, in my understanding and estimation, is a “master”?  I figured I needed to answer that for myself before I could answer her question, and it didn’t take me log to generate an answer:


To me, a “master” is a person who, through years of training, has gained a high level of skill, of control of both mind and body, and yet they are continually seeking to further improve themselves and their art.  They are adaptable in their movement, and able to “turn it on” in the blink of an eye.  They can and do teach and convey basic and advanced principles through various means and to students of varying ability.  They are genuinely humble and easy to approach, willing to teach, and still, as I just mentioned, willing to learn.   Notice, I said nothing of rank or certifications or notoriety; skill and character is all that truly matters.


Do I want this, or more appropriately, to become this?  Well, heck yeah, but in every area of my life!  And shouldn’t you, whether you train or not, want to master your own life, be great at, you know, just bein’ you and doin’ the things you do?  I hope so.


So how do I get there, how do I become a karate master and how long will it take?  I get there first and foremost, by setting the goal.  No matter what you want to achieve or become, you will not reach that objective if you never actually set the goal, paint the target.  That’s the easy part; the rest involves challenging myself, stretching and breaking my self-determined limits through hard and smart training, on my own and with top master-instructors, and other advanced practitioners and, believe it or not, lower level students as well.  It involves believing that I can, and never giving up, even when it feels like “one step forward, three steps back…” instead of “one giant leap”.  It means steady work toward the goal, steady, constant climbing, and, enjoying the journey and the view during the ascent.


Well then, how long will this take, this quest to acquire “The Glow”**? I could make estimates and educated guesses, create training charts, maps and calendars, but the real, most accurate answer is: As long as it takes.  What, you think I’m copping out, being cryptic by giving a non-answer answer?  Well, yeah, I am, ‘cause really, that’s how it is.  I don’t think one can actually say one day, even after achieving a high rank and acquiring great skill, “Now, I’m a master!” because to say this really negates the essence of being a true master.


So, how long until I become a master?  As long as it takes…but it is certainly achievable.


I hope that my friend reads this and understands it…I tend to get carried away and a little pedantic, as you can see.  I guess I could have given much simpler answers, but then, neither of us would have been satisfied. 


As always, keep learning, and keep training; train hard and train smart.





**If you get that reference, and how it relates to the title, you get extra points!