The average student joins a martial arts school and begins training in the basics. As a student advances in rank, he begins to develop more complex moves and understanding of basic applications. He also learns to integrate these techniques into an overall strategy of how and when they are to be used. It is at the highest level that a student is taught the true inner concepts and principles that are the real key to success within a system. This knowledge is usually only handed down to an inner circle of students that is chosen very carefully. While this ancient martial arts custom has been a tradition for centuries, it is a common tactic with most mentors and coaches today.
The absolute best way to progress in any endeavor is to find a teacher that has already accomplished great success in a specific area, and then duplicate the strategy and tactics the instructor used to get to that position. The remarkable thing is that most people that have achieved any level of success are usually more than willing to share their secrets, but at the same time do not wish to waste their time on unworthy students. The prerequisites with most mentors for acceptance are usually the same as they are with a martial arts teacher – a sincere desire to learn, as well as, the willingness, commitment and discipline to stay the course.
A good mentor will look into the future in order to see what a student will potentially do with the knowledge once he has attained it. This is where the character test is used. To share the summation of a life’s study in any area is seen as a priceless gift and therefore should not be given to someone that doesn’t appreciate that value. If knowledge is indeed power, then every serious mentor or sensei carefully screens his students before he shares the fruit of a lifetime of work. The gift of knowing the little things and how they are integrated into the overall system can save years from learning the old-fashioned way of trial and error. This concept is true in business, personal relationships and the martial arts.
In the dojo the sensei watches the students as they train and sees which of them train hard and which ones tend to coast during their training. He watches to see which ones are disciplined and are always respectful to others. He looks for the student that trains the way he is told even though he doesn’t understand the reason just yet. Little subtleties are shared about protocol, which allow other senior teachers to recognize who is “senior” and deemed worthy of higher-level training. Gradually the student progresses into an inner circle of students that the teacher begins to share things with that the average student will never see.
A person is always only as free as the options they maintain and the choices they have. Most of the time the truly best developed alternatives are not common knowledge and are only shared with a small specific group. Knowing where to find this knowledge and the proper etiquette necessary in order for this information to be shared is a big step towards Martial Arts Mastery. Many times, the okuden of a classical martial art is based on character, etiquette and behavior as much or more than it is on physical attributes and techniques.