The Road to Success in Martial Arts by KJN Ronald W. Stone
After 53 years in the martial arts, I believe that I might have the right to state my opinions on something that has bothered me for quite a while.
It has often been said that respect is earned not commanded, and while I feel that statement is a truism, it seems that it is often adulterated or completely ignored far too often in the arts.
One does not earn respect by merely wearing a black belt nor by having had it gifted to them. It is earned by years on the mat under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor and then by demonstrating the wisdom and proficiency suitable for that rank. Again, remember that wisdom comes with study and experience, and by direct supervision I do not mean merely taking a seminar once every couple of months, or by joining an organization known to award “rank” to those simply willing to pay whether they have any time spent in that style.
I am also a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and as a young practitioner I once commented to my mentor that I thought the surgery he had just performed was brilliant. He looked back at me and without trying to be too rude replied. “Thank you for your support, however meaningless it might be.”
I idolized the man and was truly hurt. I asked what he meant, and he explained: “How would you know whether I was brilliant or not? You have little to no experience yet and haven’t seen this surgery ever before. I ask you, aside from good intentions, what does such praise truly mean? I understand your motives and they are good, but that praise is merely a comment on something you have little knowledge about. Now, if one of my mentors, or contemporary equals gave me such praise I would feel honored, but respect isn’t important if it arises merely out of youthful exuberance and ignorance.”
I was truly taken aback at the time, but after many years I have come to understand it as a teaching moment. After all, a grandfather can astound a child by using his thumb to pretend to pull the child’s nose off. Impressive to the child, that is, it is not to other adults.
A martial artist may easily impress young colored belts but as stated, that may be an unfounded appreciation that arises out of inexperience.
Over the years I have met instructors who watch YouTube videos and then repeat the technique that night for their class. It may look cool, but
Good luck trying to remember that technique two years later under stress in a real encounter when you haven’t gone over it repeatedly with an instructor constantly supervising you.
I once saw a very cool technique demonstrated on such a video and was anxious to try it out. I forgot that in my earlier years we had been taught not to request techniques, but rather to learn what we were taught at the instructor’s discretion, which was based on our progress (In other words, walk before you run). At any rate my teacher was forgiving and patient and allowed me to apply the pressure point technique, which of course did absolutely nothing. I vainly repeated the attempt with the same pathetic negative results. When it was demonstrated on me correctly, I almost passed out.
The explanation is simple. You can watch a mechanic video that explains how one should tighten a screw, but until you have done it repeatedly you have no idea of how many turns makes it tight or how tight it can be before the screw finally breaks. (Remember most videos aren’t 3D with you in motion).
This is one reason why regular doctors can take a radiology seminar every month for life, but no matter how good the seminars were, doctors will still not be considered radiologists by the profession. To be such a specialist requires daily training in a certified school with an established and recognized curriculum.
Over the years many of us grand masters have been offered everything from Doctorates to Platinum colored belts by organizations from far off lands that nobody ever heard of. The truly ethical ones recognize these for what they are and place them in the appropriate receptacle.
(As my mentor once stated, getting a nice letter from a teacher at Harvard is not the same thing as receiving a degree from that college.)
We don’t have stolen valor laws in the Martial Arts community, but perhaps we should. I remember two cases of respect and honor that arose at a Korean Master level testing weekend I attended, the first was a man I met who was wearing a belt with six stripes on it. I asked if he was merely attending or whether he was testing for 7th dan. He surprised me when he explained that he was testing for the first dan.
Twenty years later I am still impressed with his ethical behavior. He explained to me that he had realized it was better to be a first dan in this real legitimate Korean organization than to be a 6th dan in one based on finance and patronage and not on a thorough understanding of proper technique.
Sadly, the other man I met was requesting grandmaster status but after testing was by the Korean board that told he barely had the skills and knowledge of a 2nd dan. I later found out that he left to find another organization and after paying a considerable sum to its head was made a 9th dan grandmaster. Using this high rank, he eventually established his own style and was appointed to governing boards of other groups. Research into his personal resume led to the discovery, not surprisingly, that he had falsified his military career and training. While he may walk around with his rank on his waist, he does not walk around with respect from any there that testing day who know the real story.
I am not a professional martial artist and am not well known. I don’t own a dojang or make any money from demos or from the articles I write. I don’t claim ranks that don’t exist, and don’t spend my days looking to take pictures next to famous people just to make me look important.
I am merely someone who has sweated and strained on tatami, and rubber mats for a very long time. I have rubbed noses with some of the most qualified and impressive athletes of my time. Over the years I have trained extensively with an Olympic Judo coach, a former Marine drill sergeant, a Pan American Taekwondo champion, a big city Swat team instructor, and other Korean grandmasters who I am proud to claim as mentors and friends.
One thing I have learned in all of this is that when it comes to respect and integrity what goes around comes around, and eventually if you fool around long enough you will be shown to be the fool. As the late Robert Knowles, D.V.M. Once taught me that a good reputation takes a lifetime to build, a bad one just one day.
About the author: R.W. Stone is currently a practicing veterinarian in Central Florida. He is an avid horseman, a master ranked martial artist, a best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. After joining a martial arts school in 1970 Stone started studying Yudo with a Korean grandmaster. He eventually became a member of the Judo team of the University of Illinois. It was at the University that a Korean classmate and friend introduced him to Tae Kwon do. After graduating veterinary college, he found the martial arts becoming too sports oriented and eventually after moving from Miami to Central Florida he sought out a Hapkido grandmaster. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki Taekwondo. He is the Hapkido instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies.
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