I’m excited to bring you a guest post this week from Master Curtis Mast, the founder of Atlanta’s United Tae Kwon Do. Master Mast is a Kukkiwon certified 6th degree black belt (Dan) and has been studying Taekwondo for over twenty years. His background boasts a unique blend of both traditional and sport Taekwondo.
Sure, we have a personal connection — he’s a neighbor, friend, and my childrens’ Taekwondo teacher. But his most recent blog post struck me as so universal that it’s bigger than an acquaintance, and I have to share it with you. In it, he talks about what it means to be a master. When can you truly say you have “mastered” anything?
A form of dance?
A foreign language?
You see how this can apply to almost any skill? I can’t think of a single thing that can dodge the question, “what achieves mastery?”
In his post, Master Mast says, “A true Master can make a front stance with a low block look just as a amazing as breaking bricks, or effortlessly defending against an attacker. With each block, stance or kick, a Master is always looking at how to make it better.” This reminds me of a quote I loved growing up. Of course, now I can’t remember the exact words or who said it – either Balanchine or Baryshnikov, I think — something like “a real dancer can break a sweat just standing in first position.”
So, please read his post in this spirit, all the way to the surprise ending – and ask yourself what you’re trying to master, and what mastery means to you. Then, go out and DO it! Use “not only…muscles and tendons, but…spirit and being” — there’s no other like yours.
Master Curtis Mast
of Atlanta’s United Tae Kwon Do
I’m frequently asked to recommend a book for students, and my answer is always the same: “There is no best Taekwondo book. You must find one that resonates with you”. There are hundreds of books out there. And each has just a little gem buried inside if you’re willing to look for it.
I’m constantly trying to find another great Taekwondo or martial art book. Something to build my library. Something to inspire me. Something to help me grow. Something to fill the empty space of knowledge that seems to actually grow in me year after year.
Used bookstores are my favorite hunting grounds. Musty smells, dark wood shelves, dust, and dog-eared pages. And most importantly, no Starbucks.
I recently came across Clearing the Clouds; Nine Lessons for Life from the Martial Arts by Stephen Fabian. A light, thin, quick-read paperback, this little wonder is truly a gem and pleasure to read. The author shares his personal journey through life and martial arts, and offers as the title suggests, nine lessons of personal improvement he has learned from the martial arts.
Clearing the Clouds got me thinking about what is means to be a Master Instructor, and how I got to where I am today. It was only yesterday I was a 16 year old, non-flexible, stiff as a board, but highly motivated teenager training in the driveway in Rome, NY, with my one-day-to-be-father in law as my first instructor.
Fast forward a couple years, and I was a black belt. Then, I blinked and I was moving up the ranks. 2nd degree, 3rd degree. It was when I
was a 3rd degree, on a trip to Korea that I knew I wanted to become a Master and one day own and operate my own school.
According to the rules of the Kukkiwon anyone holding a 4th degree black belt (DAN) or higher is entitled be called Sa Bum Nim. Loosely translated this means, “Master Instructor” or just ”Master”. So how does one become a Master?
For me, the title of “Master” held a mystical and magical meaning for many years. Men and women I that trained under that were so far more physically gifted than I. They were amazing; Inspiring; Life changing and in some cases life-saving.
Mastery is built from the very first day. The practice of basic techniques over and over again. Basic techniques lead to intermediate techniques. Intermediate techniques lead to advanced techniques. But all throughout the training, the basics are never forgotten, never consigned to oblivion. A true Master can make a front stance with a low block look just as a amazing as breaking bricks, or effortlessly defending against an attacker. With each block, stance or kick, a Master is always looking at how to make it better. Fabian writes, “Ultimately, this is the way to Mastery; the enduring process of discovery and knowledge, applied in the forging of stronger and better technique, form and self”.
It is through the repeated practice, persistence, self-discipline and rising-up and returning after failure and frustration that we work toward
Mastery. “Not only is true mastery in the application of form and technique possible only with a deeper mastery of the self, but it is through the long and challenging process of mastering an artistic Way that the self can and must be mastered. Resolve and courage result from frequent confrontations with and efforts to surpass our limitations and weaknesses…By daring, time after time, to confront and exceed our deficiencies, debilities and pain we forge a stronger, more resilient and less perturbable spirit.” [Fabian]
I’ve written before that to move the the next level of Taekwondo, one must perform a technique not only with muscles and tendons, but with spirit and being. “To Master the Way is to become an artist in your heart and soul.” [Fabian]
We study a Martial ART. The art is supposed to be beautiful. Supposed to inspire. “A technique is not just technically correct, but also full of beauty and meaning…Eventually, the punch, sword cut, brush stroke, or musical chord becomes effortless and richly expressive, a delight to the senses and soul of performer and spectator alike.” [Fabian]
But so what? What are you doing with that talent? “All of the effort we put into our own personal development is worth nothing if is isn’t somehow put into use for the benefit of others”. [Fabian]
The true meaning of being a Master, is not what you are called, but what you have become, and what you offer your students and give back to them. Do you care for them? Motivate them? Encourage them? Support them? Inspire them?
THIS is what it means to be a true Master.
Reposted with permission – original post here.
Did you enjoy this post? Please tell Master Mast! Go “like” Atlanta’s United Tae Kwon Do on Facebook, comment here, or click to tweet:
What have you truly mastered? Or what would you like to master?