The title of "Master" is used so frequently in the martial arts community that it has lost a lot of its true meaning. In the past, the term "Master" was a title of respect bestowed on someone whom the community recognized as eminently skilled in the practice of a particular style of martial art. Most "Masters" were older, as they had practiced martial arts most of their lives and had developed a very high level of skill. Some had created new systems of combat or had improved on an existing one over the course of their years of study One thing was certain: anyone who was considered a "Master" could expect challenges to combat from other practitioners and even prospective students. The title was something of a liability as well as an honor. This stands in stark contrast to the use of the term today by self-appointed "Masters" and even "Grand Masters." So how do we recognize a "Master" if we should encounter one? Fortunately, there are some readily identifiable traits and character that a true "Master" possesses.
Skill is one such characteristic. As mentioned previously, a true Master should exhibit a high level of skill that comes from years of practice and attempts toward perfection. Movement should be not only fast, but more importantly, fluid and smooth. Observe a first year student's movements and then compare them to those of a more advanced practitioner. The difference between the two should be obvious. Similarly, there should be a significant difference between the advanced practitioner and a Master. While the differences may seem less obvious to the unskilled eye, the advance practitioner marvels at the difference between himself and the Master. This type of skill is obtained only after years of dedicated practice and sacrifice.
Open mindedness is another attribute of a true Master. It is absolutely essential in order to achieve a high level of ability in the martial arts. Without it, it is impossible to learn an art properly. The "I'll do it my way attitude" can be self-defeating. While learning a martial art, it is necessary to look at all it has to offer before making any judgments about it. Often, it is hard to conceptualize an art unless time is spent learning it as it is taught. Only after you have spent a number of years learning and practicing your art should you make any judgments about its merit. Without "emptying your cup" it is difficult to learn.
Coachability is the ability to listen and learn. When learning a new skill, don't dismiss it by saying that it is the same as technique number 59 from the "Know It All Do" style. Most likely, it is not technique number 59. Look at the setup, positioning and timing in which it is used. Many times these areas are what separate technique number 59 from the technique in the art being learned.
Willingness to put on a white belt year after year, decade after decade is an important trait. There is no "best" martial art. It there were, why would there be so many different styles? Some are "best" for kicking. Some are "best" for punching or trapping or grappling and some are "best" suited for weaponry. While contradictory to most traditional martial arts, cross training in the martial arts can help fill in the gaps.
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