Disclaimer: I do not consider myself a master, and I do not accept any such recognition. I am too young, have not been doing anything long enough, have not trained hard enough, and have not experienced enough to justify any such claims. Despite not being a master myself, I can recognize and believe what true mastery should be like. All aspects of the concept of mastery also applies to things outside of martial arts.
What is mastery? A simple search will define mastery as:
Sometimes, when you read a list of definitions, you can choose at least one of them to reflect what you’re trying to mean when you say something. However, when I see this definition, I think it needs much more than the two options. Can someone be a master with simply comprehensive knowledge and skill without control? Can someone be a master with control or superiority without having comprehensive knowledge or skill?
Let’s debunk some myths about mastery.
Myth 1: A master is an old man who has spent his life training in solitude, peacefully dedicating his life to his art.
Thanks to the movie industry, we have this inaccurate and ethnocentric image of mastery. Real mastery is simply building comprehensive knowledge and skill through practice and experience, and developing it long enough to show expert control in the use of that knowledge and skill.
Oftentimes, if people who call themselves experts or masters are observed in detail, you may notice that many of them lack some important aspects. Knowledge, skill, and control are three basic characteristics of a master. Many black belts out there are made up of only one or two of these traits.
Myth 2: A master is unbeatable.
A master is not invincible. Someone who fights to win every time is not a master. A master must have the ability to use control in a fight, and not just try to obliterate their opponents. Another crucial ability all masters should have is to avoid fights. Anyone can be defeated at anytime, especially if they constantly stay at the white stage of the Awareness Colour Code.
Understanding the Awareness Colour Code is essential to mental control. Some people are great fighters, but they lose control mentally during or after the fight despite winning. If one does not know or understand how they react to certain situations, and what triggers them to reach bad conditions like a catastrophic mental shut down (code black), no longer thinking or applying strategy.
Myth 3: Masters are always calm, gentle, and peaceful.
In my experience through the military and martial arts training, it is most difficult to train people for extreme stress. People never know how they react until they are put to the test in a real situation. Even using simulations and aggression training does not fully prepare one for a real fight. Obviously, you should not go around looking for fights so that you can practice. That is dangerous and stupid. The important point is that you do not know what will happen in your body until the time comes. If your training has been effective, you will know when your body wants to explode, but you can control it to achieve your goal (which should be to safely protect yourself and your loved ones, and then get the heck out of your bad situation).
This may seem like a unrelated tangent, but it is so very important to mastery. It’s not about being calm, gentle, and peaceful all the time. It’s about being able to maintain control even when you’re not calm.
The crux of mastery
Once, I was told by a very well known Krav Maga instructor that he didn’t like a certain organization because their top fighters are not hardcore enough. One of his friends, who was a phenomenal athlete and fighter by all accounts, was working towards a high level promotion. The final test was sparring. In the test, he was performing like a champion fighter, dominating other black belts. Finally, they asked him to display control in his fights (meaning to not simply beat everyone up), and he simply could not do it. In the end, they declined his promotion.
On another note, the instructor who told me this story is also a great practitioner. Yet, after getting to know him more, it is obvious that he also has trouble grasping the importance of controlled aggression. People who have difficulty with mental control, usually have other underlying psychological/emotional issues. Often, they eventually create their own organizations, rather than recognizing their shortcomings and then working on those internal problems. The biggest challenge all practitioners face is mental control.
At the heart of Krav Maga
The goal is to “walk in peace” as stated by Imi Lichtenfeld. Yes, aggression is a central attribute of Krav Maga, but the core of Krav Maga is walking in peace, which means both outer and inner peace.
Most of the Kravists or martial artists who I have met in my life have the same difficulty controlling themselves internally. When real violence occurs, their training and strategy goes out the window. Without mental control, even the most phenomenal athletes I know can easily lose to mediocre opponents with better strategy when it comes to a real fight.
Don’t get me wrong, all of the individuals I know who are like this are still phenomenal at what they do. I would love to train with these people and learn from them. They have valuable knowledge or skills, or both.Yet, in a violent situation, they are either burning harder than they should at code red, or they have hit code black and they don’t even know it.
What does it take to be a master?
The 10,000 hour rule is a great base. 10,000 hours equates to about 5.5 years of full time training at 40 hours a week. This is why in most legitimate belt programs, it takes 10+ years to reach a black belt. And those at that level know that black belt is just the beginning of becoming a real master.
If 10,000 hours of physical practice means you have comprehensive skill, you still need to have comprehensive knowledge and control.
Knowledge comes from both training and real life experience, and then the ability to combine and connect the two. This may require a person to step outside of the cave or the dojo in order to gather the information and accumulate knowledge.
Control is twofold. Physical control could come from the hours of physical training. Mental control, on the other hand, can be difficult to develop. The right training environment and instructor is very important. Many training environments barely scratch the surface on knowledge about the art being learned outside of techniques and moves.
They say the hardest battle you ever face is yourself
I would like to add that the biggest lies we tell are to ourselves. You can tell yourself that you have no problems, but do you really? You can tell yourself that you know your problems and are working on them, but do you really? It is difficult to have the greatest insight, and it is difficult to accept what you see inside yourself. But mental control is one of the biggest parts of achieving mastery.
True mastery is when you can walk in peace knowing that you can overcome the challenges ahead
Ultimately, it is a combination of everything coming together. It is more than showing up to class and training. It is more than just teaching. It is more than believing that you are a master. It is when you reach the point in which others recognize you as a master. (Self-promotion is not mastery, by the way…)
A true master can physically defend him or herself, and others. A true master knows the mental struggles, but knows that he or she is prepared to deal with them.
Many people just go through the motions and lie to themselves, never accepting their shortcomings and learning to face them. Are you willing to do what it takes to achieve mastery?