Years ago, I am told, black belts were rare, and second degrees were unheard of. It would appear that those days are firmly behind us, we live at a time of black belt children and arts with up to 15th degree black belts!
This idea of pushing out ranks and titles has extended to the point that every school owner is a master. So much so that even the word ‘master’ has lost all meaning and the abundance of titles has diluted the status of what real masters there are.
For my own journey I accepted a long time ago that would not reach the level of master. While studying the martial arts I have travelled too much and had too many breaks in my training. If it ever was a possibility, that ship has most definitely sailed. However, realizing I would never be a master did not make me quit. The strip of cloth around my waist is only one indication of my years of training. There are of course many others.
Largely today, the rank of master is given to someone who can display the external attributes of an art. High technical precision and knowledge along with years of dedicated training and sacrifice for the art, are quite righty rewarded with rank. However, the internal aspects are rarely considered of even focused in in training these days. Whereas mastery of an art is a tangible and clear goal, self-mastery is something that is much more difficult.
To look at this we need to first look at what self-mastery is. What does it mean to have mastery over oneself? Put basically it would be to control yourself, control your urges and your addictions. This is of course a rare thing and something that few people even understand let alone achieve.
There may have been a time time that self-mastery and martial arts went hand in hand. Alas those days have gone now, I once had a student complain to me after e had attended a long training camp. He felt that all the instructors seem to have huge egos and were wanting to make a name for themselves rather than just train, he thought that martial arts were meant cure you of that. While he maybe was correct it is a hard truth that just turning up and training each night will not lead you down that particular path unless you want it to.
We all know people who turn up to training but never seem to get any better physically. Generally, this is because they are not focused and not putting in the effort. Self-mastery is much the same, we cannot expect to achieve it by accident we need to actually focus on it.
Aside from martial arts there are a few practices that can help us practice mastering ourselves.
Fasting, this is maybe the easiest one to access since it just involves not eating and because a lot of use have a poor relationship with food, to completely stop eating for 3 days can be harder than it sounds. But again, if you approach it through with thought and introspection, rather than just punishing yourself with it. it can teach you a lot.
Controlling your addictions.
This is similar to fasting, because many of us are actually addicted to food rather than using it to fuel our body. However, we have a lot of other addiction that we have manage. We all know the big ones, drinking, smoking etc. but what about the smaller addictions that you have? Damaging habits that you tell yourself are ok or maybe blame others for, can you control yourself and stop them for 2 months, 6 months, a year or even stop for good?
This is a little different from the last previous examples because it involves doing something rather than resisting temptations. Meditation especially standing meditation from the Chinese martial arts can teach you a lot about your relationship with time and how fussy your mind can be.
What all these things have in common is how much people try to talk themselves out of the practice while they are doing it. Thoughts like, “this is stupid”, “I won’t learn anything” ‘I have done enough already”, and more will continually bubble up in your mind, all to try to justify that giving up on your chosen task is ok and in fact the right thing to do.
In time you may realize that this same internal voice is popping up all the time. Driving your addictions, your emotions, and your fears
It is that voice that we need to master on the path to self-mastery. To master it, however, we first need to be able to hear it.