Monday, June 29, 2009

I pledge Allegiance

A good friend of mine called in a state of consternation as a 'situation' had unfolded in his martial arts training hall. He studies a different art than me, but much of the philosophical underpinnings and social constructs of our two disciplines are similar. Maybe his circumstance would apply to you.

My buddy had been studying his art in the same school for about six years under the same instructor. The school is one of a chain, with a Grand Master who oversees the entire operation albeit from a headquarters location. Suddenly the local school was notified that the Master under whom they had been training was "no longer with the organization." If we were talking about a McDonald's franchise we'd shrug as sometimes the manager moves on - sometimes it is their choice, sometimes it’s a franchise decision.

But because this is a martial arts school, my friend was perplexed as to the correct way to respond to the apparent ouster of his Master. Should he continue attending as if nothing happened, should he resign in protest, should he find some way of honoring his former master without being disrespectful to the replacement or the Grand Master? What's an artist to do?

One of the givens in a situation like this is that we seldom know the details, or enough of them. We may have an inkling of an issue, we may even have heard of a story or two that would support a conclusion that someone had to go - and we all know that in a martial arts venue seniority is everything. Bottom line, you just never have enough data.

My advice was to remember a message, a common theme that we hear as students all the time. We are reminded to not judge our fellow classmates or our instructors by comparing them to each other or to ourselves. Each of us is on our own personal journey, and our progress, successes and failures should be mapped, not against each other, but against ourselves.

Does student 'A' deserve to become a Black Belt when they cannot kick so high and cannot remember all of the moves of the lower hyung (patterns / kata/ forms)? Well, maybe. Maybe they've had hip replacement surgery and are on medication that affects memory (I've seen this). Maybe this student is coming to class four times a week, working very hard, and has a great attitude in spite of their physical handicap and mental challenges. I will promote them over a high kicking, Yale grad that has an Olympic-sized ego every time.

So... if we are to be focused on our own personal journey, then the answer to my friend's problem is simple. Was his personal journey connected to the recently-terminated Master, or was it to goals he could attain with another Master? It's a personal journey, and so each student in the training hall needs to make a personal decision. In the end, my friend transferred to a school of the same chain which was closer to his new home. He felt better about being the one who decided it was time for a new instructor rather than having that decision made for him. Perfect - a personal decision in line with other personal journeys (i.e. moving to a new home).

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