Monday, December 29, 2014

Correcting a Master

To the uninitiated, this might just seem to be a non-issue. To the entrenched practitioner the stakes couldn't be higher. A Karate Master is regarded by some as more than an elevated teacher. A school's master is the final voice, after which there is no discussion. When the Master enters the training hall, all activity is supposed to stop, as everyone, including senior black belts afford proper respect by using whatever bowing, hand forms, head bobs, or vocal intonations are appropriate for their particular art.

But on occasion a noob (newbie, neophyte, novice, or guppie) will utter a phrase like, "no, I think you're wrong", or "That's not what so-and-so said", or the ever popular, "You didn't teach me that." Again, to an outsider, this is no big deal, just a casual comment between two humans in an arena that emphasizes mutual respect.

To begin with, I believe that "offense" is one of those wounds that pretty much has to be self inflicted. If I call you a name, and you get offended, it is because you accepted the insult. Some part of you worried that the offense is true, or that another party might think it to be true. In 1977, Randy Newman recorded a song called "Short People Got No Reason to Live." It sparked a firestorm of reaction from those who thought it was funny, insulting, or poignant. Make no mistake about it, a slew of short-jokes erupted, some which linger on to this day.

But here is the point - if you are 6' 5", and someone tries to lay a short joke on you, your mental state is very different than if the same person lays the same joke on a man who is 4' 5". At 6-foot plus, the joke has no internal meaning, the recipient not only feels the words carry no weight, but has no concerns that anyone else will attribute a sour implication to the tall guy in the room. Only if the recipient feels there is some truth, however ill-conceived or mean-spirited, will the words sting. So... the same words, from the same person, in the same venue can have different results. One time they cause offense, one time they don't.

I rarely let myself be offended. Still there is a matter of protocol. One is not supposed to address a man of cloth by using the same informality one would use with a locker-room cohort. Karate Masters are supposed to be treated (according to protocol) with a level of respect you would give any person who offers his time, patience, and knowledge to teach you how to survive in an increasingly dangerous world. The knowledge and skills you received via this relationship transcends mere physical prowess and extends to matters of integrity, respect, patience, and humility.

So telling him or her that you are smarter, know more, or don't need them in the context of the art one is studying would seem a bit askew.

But; sometimes the Masters, being human and all, are wrong. Sometimes two Masters in separate conversations will appear to disagree. Sometimes a student will get confused, bothered, or frustrated by an apparent incongruity of instruction, and the words beg to explode henceforth.

So, try some of these statements on for size:
  • My memory of that technique is different, can you show me again how it is done?
  • I thought Master So-and-So demonstrated that differently, are there multiple methods?
  • I don't remember having learned that, would you have time to review it?
Interestingly, if you dissect these statement carefully you'll come to realize that these are probably closer to reality than "You're wrong", "You never showed that before", or other similar comments. Secondly, the bulleted statements above remove all of the application of blame, and pretty much dissolve any possible offense. Lastly - employing this approach in life will reduce many unintended confrontations and allow a better exchange of ideas.


  1. Great points here. A lot of people confuse this kind of respect with letting a master 'get away with something', and thus become a false expert. In reality, as you explain, it is simply a matter of understanding how to ask the question, rather than not being allowed to ask at all.

  2. Well said Sabeumnim! And even moreso in the past, when a student wasn't even told what exactly they were doing, you just had to do it. Not until maybe edan where you finally told what the moves where for.


    IMO, these issues all go away with mutual respect. Mutual Respect, however, is a commodity that is not always on hand.

    You know, M. Meredith has quoted two TSD Masters that he is most impressed with, C.S. Kim & Master Bruno.

    Then there's the guy @ the TSD vs. MMA post who claims he studied under C.S. Kim and Master Bruno years ago, and apparently was not impressed. He asserts MMA schools the likes of Greg Jackson and American Top Team produce the best fighters on the planet....

    Well, I don't circulate with these renowned names. Of all my martial art instructors, I would rate three teachers over the years as the best. One was 1st degree black-belt in TSD and one was a 2nd degree black-belt in TSD. Two were women and the latter was the least knowledgeable of the three.

    So why do I say this? Because these 3 instructors all shared the same traits: Close Attention to the syllabus & buckling down to hard work, providing guidance as I progressed.

    Isn't who I've just described Master Meredith? And here's a traditional martial arts Master who openly embraces the MMA concept. Instead of pointing out what M. Meredith is doing respect calls for you to WORK WITH HIM with him to get it right.



      We live in a world where technical details are critically important. Just look @ M. Meredith's work bio.

      Some may think I sound like a commercial for C.S. Kim Karate. If so, I suspect there is some misplaced emphasis, though, on technical details. This is true of other TSD orgs., and other karate styles, in particular Shotokan karate, IMO.

      I could post a pretty long comment. Let's say that the way to approach the technical details of traditional karate is that they are serving some larger purpose. Going round & round on technical details, refinements, etc, is not necessarily germane to the broader, foundational karate skills sought after.

      If we use the MMA vs. TSD controversy, M. Meredith may be your TSD Master Instructor, a coach, a mentor, but he's not the one in the Octagon, YOU ARE. You (not the C.S. Kim org. or alternatively, American Top Team) must have Mastery over your martial skills to a certain, peak-functional level or you will risk almost certain failure. Mastery about knowledge of details alone, or mastery of mere differences in details is Mastery of Nothing.

      Don't point out that your "know the details," demonstrate you know what to do with them....


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