There are a thousand and one perceptions on what is a Martial Arts or Qigong Master. I began to think more deeply about this subject after being asked by many people. “Are you a Qigong master?” The I read the book Mastery and began to think even more deeply about what is true mastery. In my earlier years of training we simply called our teacher Shifu, which is Chinese for Master. We did not think of what that name meant other than his skill was almost magical to us. I remember when I was only seven years old watching my first master throwing wooden boards into the air and breaking them in half with a fast kick. He said he used his Qi to break the boards. I just considered this guy to be a Master of Qi or Qigong master. He could use that same Qi for self-defense. When I think back, I did not see his other skills. In fact one time during a demonstration I watched him cut himself with some large weapons on accident. When I think to that time, maybe he mastered one aspect of the martial art we did, but not others.
Do Martial arts/ Qigong masters make mistakes?
I have trained with masters who have trained daily for over 30 years for hours on end and watched them lose their balance during some Qigong practices. I have seen a master who has practiced staff training for over 40+ years and watched him drop his staff on accident during a sequence he was performing. Does this mean he is not a master?
The Western Definition of Mastery
Let’s look at the Western definition of Mastery. In the west Mastery has been defined as practicing a skill for over 10,000 hours. This is what they say is the mastery level. One of my favorite books Mastery discusses about Masters of all kinds of genres and what it took them to become masters.
The Asian Definition of Mastery
In the martial arts and Qigong world, we typically think of an old man with a long beard who has practiced a skill for a lifetime. He/she may seem to have magic like skills. The way I was trained is that our teacher we called “Shifu” and other students at our own level were called Gongfu Xiongdi “kungfu brother or sister”. Even if our kungfu brother/sister has reached mastery level and has their own students calling them Master, we do not call them Master.
Be a Pupil First to Become a Master
According to the book Mastery, Robert Greene believes that someone who attains mastery must go through a period of pupil/disciple type training with an older master. Once that student has learned everything they can from the master, they must begin to stand on their own 2 feet and branch out. They must try use their own creativity to take the teachings to the next level. I have seen this applied in China as I have studied with 3 different masters who all studied with the same master, but yet they taught the same form differently. They mastered the form their master taught them and then added their own flavor to it. Once I believed I reached a high level of proficiency in certain styles, forms and combinations I was always pushed by my master to create my own using the principles I learned. After many years I have created a unique style. When I teach, I teach the original principles in traditional form. For example, when I teach the Qigong Teacher Training in January it will be in traditional principle. I will show them variations I have seen and created so they can understand one day how to take these teachings to the next level.
I Am Not Your Master Unless I Take You as My Disciple
An old Taoist master of mine master told me when I first began studying with him that he is not my master unless he accepts me as a disciple. He told me not to call him master until and if that day arrived. That same master told me that a true master would never call himself a master.
Am I a Master?
As I mentioned earlier, I have people ask me all the time, “Are you a Martial arts/ Qigong master?” I tell them different answers. Sometimes I say, “Compared to you maybe, but to my teachers I am still a student.” Other times I say, “I have been working on mastering martial arts since I was a child.” My favorite answer is, “Compared to who?”
One older master from Hong Kong told me he knows I am a master because I am still open minded to learning new things. I have realized the old masters really value humility and a humble attitude. I meet people all the time who are rigid in their thinking and don’t want to try to learn other things. I have learned more about my art by delving into other practices to see connections and patters.
If I look at the definition of mastery I have trained on an average of 3 hours per day for 29 years. I have had many days I have trained 6-9 hours and other days I have trained for about 2-3 hours. If I average it out let’s round it down to 3 hours per day.
3 Hours/Day X 365= 1,095 hours per year
1,095 hours per year X 29 years= 31,755 hours of total practice time.
By a western definition I have reached the level of mastery by more than 3 times the amount of hours needed for mastery.
By an Asian definition I am a master of my students, but a student of my masters.
You can do a Qigong teacher training, but this does not mean you are a master. In my Baguazhang and Qigong mastery training, it is a 2-3 year program. Will you be a Baguazhang Qigong master after that? It depends on whom you ask. In my opinion it is the path to show you how to master Qigong/Bagua, but it is up to you if you take it to that level.
What makes a master? What do you think? I would like to hear all perspectives.