By Scott Shaw
I believe for any of us who have walked the path of the martial arts, in our lifetime, we realize that what we know, at least in part, was taught to us by someone else. In the world of street fighting, a person may well be their own teacher. But, in any traditional fighting art, there is training involved. As there is a formality, each of us who walks this path was lead down this corridor by someone else.
Even as is commonly the case in the modern martial arts, where styles and techniques have become mixed and combined, any one-time student, who created their own system, was taught the basics by an instructor. Thus, no martial artist is a beacon onto themselves.
But, here’s the question, when does a student become the master?
It has been proven, through time, that there are two very distinct paths that an individual walks when they are intimately involved with the martial arts. One, which is perhaps the most common, finds a student always respecting their teachers and, in fact, is so lost in the belief that they could never possess the intimate knowledge that their instructor holds that they forever place that mentor upon a pedestal. I have known many martial artists, even long-trained, advanced practitioners of the martial arts, who define themselves by whom they were taught by. “I’m a student of…” is very commonly the first statement that many martial artists make.
There is the other side of this issue. There are those students who believes that they have become better than their instructor. From this, they may go off and open their own school and even badmouth their one-time trainer. That stye of behave is not healthy or honest. Yet, it goes on all the time.
Those who practice this lifestyle embrace a misleading mindset, however. The fact is, whomever originally trained a person will forever be the individual who laid the foundations for that student’s knowledge. This is the case, no matter what new levels of expertise that one time pupil may believe they have realized.
For any of us have trained exclusively under the guidance of Asian born instructors, myself included, there is this perpetuated belief that those teachers are somehow something more, having been born into the culture where the style of the martial art we train in was instigated, and, from this, they possess some secret wisdom that we, the Westerner, may never completely understand. This being said, for those of us who have found out the underlying truth of some less than impeccable instructors, and have either been cheated by them, lied to by them, or have had other negative interactions unleashed upon us by them, myself included, we clearly know that this idealize image is a blatant falsehood. Nonetheless, they were the one who taught us what we know, at least in part. Thus, where does admiration end and the truth of reality begin?
That is a complicated question, I understand. But, it is an essential question that each advanced practitioner of the martial arts must ask themselves.
Look to any advanced martial artist, look to any instructor of the martial arts, do they clearly and honestly state who their teacher was? Here arises another curious twist to this puzzle. Is that person lying? I, myself, have encountered well-known and respected marital artists who have lied about where and by whom they were trained. They have done this due to any number of self-motivated reasons. But, what is the truth is that they did not tell the truth. Then, what? With time, especially if they claimed training from some deceased or mythical individual, what are we left with? Their lie does not become the truth, but, through time, it simply becomes a believed falsehood.
These are complicated examples? But, the question that must ultimately be pondered, by each martial artist, who spends their life devoted to these ancient systems of self-defense, are you only a reflection of your instructor or are you a man (or a woman) onto yourself? If you are only a reflection, then you are never the central figure. With this, you are never ultimately to be praised or to be blamed. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge who you were trained by, but you see yourself as a self-standing example of the art, then you are the figurehead of your own dissemination of whatever you teach. With this, lies more responsibility, but here also lies the pathway to self-realization.
Each person must come to their own conclusion about who and what they truly are. And, there is no right or wrong answer. But, if you do not ponder this question, you can never come to a self-defined and self-realized truth about what you do, why you do what you do, who you truly are, and who or what is ultimately responsible for the martial arts that you practice and you teach.
Are you forever a student? Or, are you a self-standing example of the martial art you embrace?
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Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog