Modesty, kindness, honour and diligence – all of these qualities should go with being a black belt or master of a martial art, but are these behaviours actually being reflected? The more I am exposed to martial artists, the more I doubt it.
When I started doing martial arts nearly twenty years ago I was naive in believing the myths that masters possessed perfect characters and were akin to knights from fairy tales. In my young mind a black belt (master) should be a super being that floats along the ground on a cloud of perfection, without a mark on his reputation.
Within a few years of training in martial arts my dream of the black belt super being was shattered and left in tatters. I am not talking here about the technical aspect of being a master of a martial art. This is a completely different matter that I could write a whole book on. In this article I would like to focus on a master from a moral point of view. Maybe I should start with myself. As I wear a black belt some people look up to me to be the ‘knight in shining armour’, sorry to disappoint but I am only human and I certainly have my faults! There is nothing wrong in not being perfect, but my issue is with people who pretend to be perfect and preach to others on how to behave.
I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to take part in a large number of seminars with a range of instructors from 1st Dan up to 10th Dan. I often leave these seminars with mixed feelings. Some people are genuine and modest and do not try to be someone other than who they are. Others try so hard to show themselves in the best light that it is sometimes painful to watch…
I cannot understand how some demand instant respect for being a master (yes, we should obviously respect everyone as a person) as this kind of respect is earned through actions not demands. From my observations it appears that the more insecure a person is the more respect they expect. Individuals who know their value do not need to pretend that they are perfect and are more open to criticism.
On kindness, with my curiosity in all martial arts I do tend to ask a lot of questions and I have been taught by my teachers to not hesitate in asking questions of higher grades in a direct manner. Through this approach I have had the opportunity to see how top martial artists behave and this gives me a chance to form an opinion on their kindness (their willingness to share knowledge and their tolerance of me asking questions). Based on my observations given the people that I have come across I would suggest that there are not many kind people in martial arts (I am more than happy to be proved wrong if all of the kind martial artists out there would like to make themselves known!). A lot of them seem to have the belief that “I’m better than you; I’ve got a higher grade”. Some of the reactions that I have come across when engaging with higher grades includes:
- An expression that suggests “how dare you speak to me”, as he is a master.
- An expression or verbal question that implies “who is this person and why are you asking me questions?”
- Blunt responses to my questions – presumably in the hope that it will get rid of me.
- It is a rarity to find a master who is very friendly, chatty and open (but when I have previously found such people we often become good friends).
Unfortunately it seems that the more seminars I attend the more instructors I see that demand to be praised and are less and less approachable.
With regards to honour, having been engaged within the martial arts community I have seen all kinds of fights/struggles over politics, power and money (or ‘martial arts hell’ as I call it). It seems to be getting worse and even those who I thought I knew well and respected have suddenly changed their tune – chasing the power and not taking any prisoners. Not to mention the common behaviour I see of people trying to discredit other instructors who have different opinions and ways.
As a result of my experiences I cannot help but think that we really should not use terms such as ‘honour’ and ‘kindness’ etc. in relation to black belts or masters. Whilst these qualities may have been appropriate in the past they appear to be dying out in modern society, perhaps as a consequence of being able to sail through grades at the speed of light… Those who are modest will probably agree with me that the titles and grades are not worth the hassle and that they do not need to prove their value to anyone.
I wish that you (as well as myself) have the opportunity to meet genuine teachers with open minds