Avoid the arrogance of mastery!


When we think of mastery over an art/skill/technique/knowledge/etc, we tend to think of it as reaching some sort of “end goal”. There also tends to be some sort of “recognition” that you expect from society. This “recognition”, I feel, comes from various aspects of society itself. For instance, you need to spend four years in college to get a degree in (insert degree) to be a recognized (insert profession).

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this mentality. After all, you worked hard to attain the skill/knowledge you were after. Shouldn’t you be recognized by those who placed these barriers if you jumped through the imposed hoops?

Regardless of how you feel about the philosophical dilemmas I mentioned above, one thing is certain, along the way you’ve gained knowledge you didn’t previously have. In the martial arts world, once you’ve gotten to this level of “mastery” (I mean that loosely because most martial artists don’t feel they ever master their art) you are faced with a few options. You can either train more, become an instructor, or train AND instruct. Personally, I decided that I would teach taekwondo but train in things that I personally wanted to learn (which is why I stepped into nunchucks and judo). I’m no stranger when it comes to walking into a martial art I have absolutely no previous experience in and starting fresh. For me, it’s honestly a great feeling not being the black belt with all the answers! I get to learn new things and interact with people as a regular student. Many of my black belt peers, however, hate when martial artists do this. They label you as a belt hog, say that you’re disloyal to your martial art, etc. Those are usually the type of martial artists who, should they be exposed to another art at a seminar/etc, will spend more time bashing it than actually listening to what the guest instructor has to say. In my conversations with black belts of this nature, I find that ultimately they don’t want to learn something new where they would shrink back to “white belt” status. They assume that learning another art is admitting that their art, which they spent years mastering, is not enough.

Now, it’s not to say that these instructors haven’t learned some sort of skill. A black belt in Brazilian jujitsu is certainly a force to be reckoned with. But you need to keep an open mind that even a white belt/novice in a foreign art can show you something you’ve never seen before.

My personal martial arts philosophy is train on, learn from masters and novices (as long as the novice mastered that particular technique), try new techniques or techniques you’ve mastered with a new flair. And, ultimately, do not let your mastery make you arrogant. It’s ok to recognize your authority in your discipline, but don’t write off someone with a certain skill because you think they’re “lower” than you.

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Charles Awwad

White Belt

One Comment

  1. This is really well thought-out man! And I agree, I feel that the idea of a master it’s created just so students can recognize the amount of commitment someone has made. But in actuality, I think that we are always students.

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