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The Chains Of A Master

By Christopher Caile

Being a “Master” has its price. In fact I often feel sorry for those who have adopted that title.

There certainly are masters of their art. And I deeply respect those whom I have known and studied with. These impressive individuals have committed a lifetime to perfecting their art, which they often keep refining and developing. But unfortunately, the term “Master” has lost much of its significance, now that many individuals with dubious experience or too few years of study have adopted “Master” as a marketing tool, or worse, as a crutch to ego (but this must be a subject of another article).

I can understand the motive to “Master” yourself, especially if you are unaffiliated with a major martial arts organization (which controls rank) and are fighting for students in a crowded market. Certainly a high rank and the term “Master” buys credibility among the uninformed. It can translate into new students and money.

The problem is that “Master” implies that you have perfected your art (something that usually takes 30-50 years of dedicated practice). It is not a world for 20 or 30 year old self-inflicted 9th and 10th Dans (degree of black belt) who have adopted this title.

By adopting the title too soon, teachers in effect self-impose chains on themselves, something that, once attached, usually brings further learning to a screeching halt – too often long before skill and potential have been fully developed. Growth is stunted.

It’s rare even to see anyone fourth dan or above studying any other art, attending seminars or workshops. You never see Masters – especially those who run their own schools or organizations. What Master would be seen studying anything from anyone else? It would imply their mastery was not quite complete -- after all, they are the chief honcho and are supposed to know it all. They are supposed be masster teachers, not students.

This problem even extends to studying unrelated arts. A good friend who is a well known martial arts master (a legitimate one) and head of his own martial arts association once told me this story. Back in Japan while visiting he decided to take a few classes in a healing energy art in which he was interested. In his first class, however, this teacher announced to those attending that he was pleased that one of his new students was “Master XXXX” and went on to recount details to them of his background and fame. My friend felt acutely embarrassed, and never returned to class.

Another problem for those adopting “Master” too early is the negative reputation created. You may fool new students (at least some of them), but not legitimate teachers who may know you. In short, you sabotage your reputation and lose respect in the martial arts community.

How different it was in Okinawa in the early 19th Century before karate became commercial. At that time many now famous karate teachers sought out each other to learn. This was before ranks, adopted titles or even names of karate styles had been defined. It was also before karate became big business. For example such notables as Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, Kentsu Yabu, Chotoku Kyan, Chojo Oshiro and Chokki Motobu trained and taught together in the Okinawan Tode (karate) Research Club. For them the goal was to learn more about their art, not to make a business of it.

If you are truly a Master of your art, great. But if you aren’t try, not to get trapped in the titles and hoopla. Be humble, study continuously, study what can benefit you in terms of understanding the depth of technique and application of your art. Study too the history of your art too. Take time to perfect the art you practice. Perhaps then you will understand that Masters are made, not just proclaimed.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 47 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes aikido, diato-ryu aikijujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

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teaching in the martial arts, martial arts master, martial arts titles

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