When I actively trained in martial arts, I personally defined “mastery” as the ability to recall a conglomeration of techniques as taught by your chosen art and perform those techniques proficiently. By that definition, I dedicated years of my life to training and teaching Tang Soo Do, honing myself both physically and mentally to as close to perfection as I could possibly get. I was never satisfied. Every day presented a new opportunity to train even more and get even better. I powered though everything I was taught. I learned as much detail as I could. I practiced ALL the time and I literally absorbed everything. Finally, I was promoted to the rank of “master”.
Back in the day. Total badass….
As I’m siting here writing this blog entry, I’m nearing 45 years of age. I’m 4 years retired from martial arts practice. I used to tell my students that “martial arts is a lifetime practice and once you get as deeply involved as I once was, you never really quit”. When I retired, I spent a considerable amount of time fighting with following my own advice. I had disconnected myself from my students and exiled myself from my instructors. My perceived path of learning had been totally cut off, and I was alone. Still, it gave me the time I so desperately needed to reconnect with my wife and kids, and also teach myself what it was like to be me outside of the “Master Wayne Boozer” persona. In short, my pursuit of my definition of mastery had led me to forget what it’s like to be a normal human being. I was too busy trying to be Superman.
Unless you speak in cartoon bubbles, you’re probably not this guy.
Nearly 45 years on this planet has taught me to laugh at myself…a lot. It’s also forced me to come to terms with a lot of personal experiences (both good and bad). In your 40’s, physically, things start to hurt inexplicably. You can’t run as fast. You’re not quite as strong. The trade-off is that you have a much better understanding of how your body and mind work. Upon retirement from martial arts, I launched myself into the “normal” workforce. I went through two “normal” desk jobs. I settled into the quiet life of family, church and work. I hung up my belt and just became “Wayne Boozer. While the loss of immersing myself into a regularly scheduled training environment sometimes gnawed at me, I pushed the feeling aside and kept plugging away at “normal” life.
Still, the longer I stayed away from the training hall, the more parallels I saw between life outside of the dojang and lessons I’d learned there. In fact, I’ve since noticed so many similarities that I can no longer ignore them. Nowadays, I will often find myself quoting a lesson learned while training to a friend, a co-worker or even a family member. My latest job is much more physically demanding than any previous breadwinning positions I’ve ever held; and, I’m finding that I’m much more cognizant of my health and well-being, thanks to all the years spent in martial arts. I’ve actually started re-integrating physical training back into my life. I attempted this same venture on two previous occasions since retirement. Both of them failed. The first was an attempt to re-enter the dojang. The second was an attempt to recapture the physical prowess that I enjoyed in my 20’s and 30’s. They both failed because I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I understand that now. This time around, it’s for survival at work, personal longevity, and peace of mind. That makes for a world of difference.
Getting back to my original point for this blog entry, I can genuinely say that my definition of the word “master” has changed. Earning the rank of master in martial arts is just a step in the process of mastering life. Don’t get me wrong, the tenacity, consistency and physicality of years of dedication is no small feat. It’s really just for a few to take it that far; but true mastery, to me, now means applying those lessons in real life. It means integrating how all that training changed who you are as a person, and cannot, or should not, be simplified into a series of static, physical techniques. It’s getting in touch with who you are as a person, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The WORLD becomes your dojang. Life itself becomes your teacher. Reaching the rank of my style of martial arts still means the culmination of 16+ years of blood, sweat and long hours in training. What many of us “masters” believe is that once you reach rank, you remain in your controllable environment and you teach within. I have long preached about stepping out of your comfort zone. Stepping into the real world and applying your training hall lessons to LIFE is doing just that. Get out there and apply those lessons! It’s just like training! Some things will work. Other things will fail miserably. Still, like martial arts, when you get knocked down, you get up, resume your guard and have another go at it.
Probably not the best reference, but you get my point. “Go walk the earth, like Kaine in Kung Fu” – Jules from Pulp Fiction
Having said that, I now know that the title of this blog, “Be the Master” is not about learning how to properly throw a side kick. It’s about facing off against the opponents in life that you’re afraid to fight. It’s about self-discovery, acceptance, and self-mastery. It’s about endeavoring to never stop learning.
It’s taken me little more than a very necessary 4 years to be able to do this article and effectively get my point across. Will I ever strap on my belt and uniform again? Not sure; but I’m finally comfortable with the fact that I don’t necessarily have to. I start training when I wake up every morning.