August 30, 2014

Common Misconceptions

"A Black belt who has studied martial arts for six to ten years is by far a better martial artist than a person who has studied only half that time."

Anyone who understands the essence of the martial arts must disagree with this statement. Many factors need to be considered. For example, how much practical hands-on experience does the Black belt have compared to the other person? We often find someone who, when starting to learn the martial arts, exhibits a naturalness that automatically gives him an advantage. Sometimes the discipline is like a garment that must be altered to fit the man. Sometimes the man's ego and ambition are too big for the garment. No matter how hard he practices the garment cannot be made big enough to encompass his personal presence.

Sometimes the man is smaller in his self-conceits and expectations, and the garment is trimmed down to size. A natural martial artist finds the garment just big enough for him to grow into. He needs only to put on the weight of practice, to fill-out his skills and give more definition to his insights.

In general most martial arts' Black belts have mastered a series of technical forms or sets of movements. As they ascend through the levels of discipline, they are rewarded the appropriate belts. This procedure indicates that they have acquired skill, the knowledge of form; but it does not and cannot reveal whether or not they have mastered the spiritual essence, the insight into human nature and devotion to principle that is the critical factor in determining the quality of the martial artist. Too often the martial arts are taught strictly as a commercial enterprise. The discipline is seen as a sporting competition or as a way to keep in good physical condition. Character building isn't a sport and few people care to work hard to keep their character in good condition. Yet every time we enter the dojo we are given the opportunity to acquire the grace of the artist. The man who comes equipped with humility and respect and a desire for the self-improvement of his psyche and not just his body is the man who advances quickly.

"For a person to be great martial artist a black belt is in no way a requirement."

Sometimes we see someone who looks so graceful on the mat that he seems to be unstoppable. He has flare - he blocks and parries and counters movements with great ease. But the person has not submitted to the discipline of the arts, to the rigor of steadily acquired knowledge and skill. He can look marvelous in what he does, but he has not played "by the rules." He is like a talented piano player.. one who plays instinctively but cannot read musical notes because he has not submitted to the teacher/student discipline. There is a regimen that needs to be followed. Merely following the regimen is not, of course, enough to make a good martial artist. Form and character need to go together; and while we cannot see character, at least we can respect the man who has adhered to the formality of his practice.

We have basically two types of martial artist. The most common one is the person who has to work extremely hard to become successful; Chan literature would call this type the inferior. And the other is the person who is blessed. The martial arts come to him so naturally it's like drinking water or digesting food. Their teacher does not have to explain every little thing to him. He augments the knowledge that is given him. Chan would call this type the superior, obviously.

But inferior and superior are merely designations that have to do with acquiring skill in form. Ultimately the man who succeeds best is the one who does combat with himself and wins. The Buddha said, "One man may conquer ten thousand men in battle, and another man may conquer only himself - but this man is the greater victor."

Just as studying under a great teacher does not automatically make a student a great artist, so, too, does the mere appearance of skill does not necessarily demonstrate the true virtue of the art.