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Masterful as compared to knowledgeable

The Fringe Dweller's Guide to the Universe

Masterful as compared to knowledgeable

mas oyama

When I think about mastery, my head goes to the martial arts. I've been engaged in martial arts various and sundry since I taught myself jujitsu when I was 12. I had a year of judo when I was 17, then several years of kyokushinkai karate, which was developed by Mas Oyama. He was the guy who brought karate to the U.S. after World War 2. He's famous in karate circles for demonstrating the power of his style by fighting and killing bulls with his bare hands. (Of course, in this politically correct age, he'd be in jail for cruelty to animals, but I digress.)

I started out with a sensei (teacher) named Richard, who taught karate in the basement of the student union building at good old Elmhurst College, where I got my B.A. He was 6'2" and, I thought, pretty fast. Well, he decided to open a dojo (school) in the next town over, and import a teacher from the main school in Tokyo (Japan ;-)). We got Sensei Miyuki Miura.

He was in his mid 20's and was rated number 2 in full contact karate in Japan. This would be the equivalent of a small town baseball team hiring Willie Mays as a batting coach. He was that good. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Until they dedicated the dojo. Then I saw the angels sing.

The dedication took place about a year after Sensei arrived. His English was better, we'd become friends, and he'd "only" broken two of my ribs and given me a major blood clot on my shin. More on that later.

mas nakamura

Two guys arrived from the New York City dojo. Again, I was forced to raise the bar on mastery. One guy was dressed in full body armour, the kind used in kendo (sword technique). This allowed the other guy (who was later introduced as Tadashi Nakamura, Master of the New York City dojo and head of kyokushinkai karate in North America) to hit the first guy full force with his hands and feet, and not kill him. They sparred for a bit. Then, the guy in the armour picked up a sword. The other guy tossed various fruit and vegetables at him. He moved the sword a bit and sliced the fruit and veggies in half. This later became the appetizers for the party. (I'm joking there.)

Finally, Nakamura fought against the sword. The culmination was him kneeling down, and the guy with the sword took a healthy cut, straight down at his head. Nakamura slapped his hands together over his head, and caught or trapped the sword between his palms. I'd never seen anything like it. Mastery.

I progressed to the brown belt level, and around the time the above show went on, I was training the new students. Punches and kicks were pulled, but accidents did happen. I was sparring with Sensei one day and had never seen a spinning reverse kick before. He spun, I though he was retreating, stepped forward, and walked right into the kick. Heel in solar plexus, toes on ribs. Two broken ribs and I thought I'd never breathe again. I did, obviously. He had me get up and fight some white belts, protecting the ribs with my elbow. Fun.

Anyway, I recovered and practiced and started to get a bit cocky. I could break a board tossed into the air, punching through it. Even though I'm 5'7", I could kick pretty high. One day I was sparring with Richard (remember, he's 6'2"), my former Sensei, now Senpai (senior student). I did a kick, and managed it perfectly. My toe stopped against his temple (great control!!) He grinned. Congratulated me. Then he called Sensei over. Told him what I'd done. Sensei smiled and stepped in, taking Richard's place. We bowed to each other. I began an attack, which he blocked, but my intent was to set him up for my famous kick to the temple. He was my height. This would be easy.

My foot never got more than 6 inches off the ground.

Each time, no matter which foot I used (I favoured my left, as I'm left handed and footed) he's see it coming and, using the side of his foot, kick me in the shin. I tried 20 times before I gave up.

Two hours later, I had a blood clot the size of a half tennis ball raised up over my shin. The skin does not stretch well there.

My mastery was not mastery. I had knowledge, and skill, but not mastery.

Long opening story, for a simple point. I learned in the martial arts there is always something new to master. Mastery takes time - it comes through practice, dedication and the willingness to yield. One must yield what does not work, yield the need to know, and yield to instinct. For those of us following this path, we know the following: I can learn from anybody, but am taught by one with mastery.

What this also means is this: humility is a good thing.

I know, for example, that I am an excellent therapist and a good Bodyworker. However, I also know that others are better than me at both. Gloria, Ben & Jock in category one and David Raithby in category two jump to mind immediately, and I acknowledge repeatedly, in all that I do and write, my relationship to all of them.

I meet a lot of knowledgeable people. These are people who have read a lot of books, taken courses, flitted from one thing to another.

I can't tell you how many people, for example, want to become "counsellors" without rigorous training -  like getting a Master's degree or a Dip.C. from Haven. The usual line I hear is, "I listen really well when my friends have problems, and they love my advice."

There once was a woman in Port who used this line with me. She wanted to get her Master's degree without getting a B.A. first. She'd almost completed High School, had been "counselling" in a centre for battered wives, was 45 and thought the "system" should just let her get started on her Masters. She expected a shortcut at the counselling school too, so she wouldn't be "old" when she started.

Boy, I sure want to go to her for counselling… not.

Or take relationships. I gained a new client yesterday, with husband issues. No matter what direction I went with her, she'd say, "I know that," or "I've read about that," or "I've tried that." Finally, I asked her to imagine staring at herself in a full-length mirror, really seeing her body (her tilt, her rolled in shoulders and tucked head, her skin rash) and think about her life. How did she like it so far?

At that point, she crumpled, sighed and said, "I have a lot I don't like about me (she actually said "wrong about me," but I suggested a fix to the language) and really have a lot to learn." I agreed with her sentiments. Her knowledge hadn't helped a bit, in the real world.

Dar and I have been practicing the art of communication for 18 years now. We're not as "perfected" at it as Ben & Jock, but I can't think of anyone I know other than them who communicate better while maintaining a healthy 7/24 relationship. 18 years of hard work, developing a skill both of us consider vital. I would humbly suggest we have reached mastery, and still have much to learn.

Knowledge is never enough. Knowledge typically is derived unsupervised - from books, courses, practicing without feedback from others further along the path. I'm intrigued by the number of people who have attended Haven and then ended up on my doorstep. After the initial euphoria wears off (same for me!) the letdown comes. The letdown is, nothing has miraculously changed. They have a new skill set, a new way of talking and relating. That is knowledge. Mastery comes with diligent, rigorous practice. And mastery requires feedback. From a master. Which means admitting, again and again, that knowledge is not enough.

I'm working on a novel. Way back when Into the Centre was born, I presented 14 points - 7 Points of Confusion and 7 Pillars of Wisdom - about how life is. The points are the backbone of the novel. The protagonist, Roberta Thatcher, is on a pilgrimage into herself. In one chapter, I address the mastery issue this way:

Here's another rule: Never hang out with any person who does not have a mentor you would go to for advice. Never, never, never, hang out with someone with no mentor. No matter what excuse they give.

It is not, in my opinion, possible to progress into wholeness without a mentor. It's not enough to simply be knowledgeable. Often, because we gain a particular skill, and because the people around us don't have that skill, we can convince ourselves that we have mastered the thing. But that's like being a brown belt. Sure, I knew more than the white belts, but confusing my knowledge with mastery lead to broken bones and blood clots.

This week, find a mentor. Work hard. Dedicate your life to this walk. Get the basics and the requirements under your belt. Stop looking for a shortcut. ("You mean I have to use good communication all the time with my partner????" YUP! No excuses.) Let go of your ego need to be seen as wise and all knowing.

Even the master knows her or his place. True mastery is the humility to know how much there is always left to learn.

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