Martial Arts “Masters” – FACT or FANTASY? – Part 6

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This is “Part 6” and the final section in the series of articles titled “Martial Arts ‘Masters’ – FACT of FANTASY?”.  I hope that this series has served to educate and stimulate. Please feel free to add your comments or your own personal conclusions either at the end of this post or on our “Comment” page.

Shihan Pascetta - Aiki-Jitsu Seminar - Israel



In further considering the differences between “Full time” Masters and “Part time” Masters it is only fair to acknowledge that there are other factors that can also weigh in favor the credibility of the “Part timer”.  Specifically, one pertinent and mitigating factor may well be the type of full time work that a particular Master does in addition to his “Part time” activity teaching Martial Arts.

There are examples of Part time Masters who’s “other” employment parallels and/or supplements their Martial Arts activity. Several examples where this may make a difference might include a full time career Law Enforcement Officer or a full time Career Soldier.

One reason why employment in Law Enforcement may contribute to the experience and awareness of the Martial Arts Master is that this type of work has the potential to uniquely place the practitioner in many real life situations that are less common to a civilian and where the use of Martial skills become necessary or even critical. Realistically, one must not assume automatically that Martial Arts Masters with any Law Enforcement experience could substitute this for advanced Martial Arts teaching and administrative experience in every case. This would depend on what specific LE responsibilities that particular practitioner actually participated in and in what capacity.

For comparison let’s reverse the roles and compare a Martial Artist who had worked as a part time law enforcement officer or even full time officer for a short time period. In this example that individual would have had the opportunity to gain a significant insight to the LE profession, however, you could not equate a person who was a part time police officer  to a person who had been a full time officer and had experienced all the various levels of supervision, leadership roles, and various real time skill sets over an entire career. Subsequently, one should not expect to do the same if the roles were reversed. (i.e.,full time LE with part time MA responsibility and/or experience).

Using as an example the practitioner who had experience as a part time soldier, one might come to a similar conclusion. Although a part time soldier might gain valuable insight into martial methods and perhaps “battle tested” skills, his/her credibility would depend more on his/her actual deployment and should not be n automatic assumption.   Further, one could not equate a part time reserve soldier to a full time Professional Soldier except in certain special circumstances where the reservist has actually seen longer term, real action in the battlefield.

What would add even further credibility and value when weighing these activities would be if either the Police Officer or the Professional Soldier had been in leadership, supervisory, and/or administrative roles. These activities certainly could provide the opportunity for that practitioner to develop administrative and/or leadership experience that would, in many ways, parallel what a full time Martial Arts Master may do to achieve the highest levels of Black Belt.

Are these examples perfect or completely equivalent? Probably not, however, they can, in part, substitute for some of the time and activity necessary for a Master teacher to advance to the higher levels of Black Belt. Needless to say, it would still more likely require such a “part time practitioner” a longer period of time in “calendar” years than a “full time practitioner” to achieve the same level and retain credibility.

Please be aware that I have used these examples not as concrete and infallible examples but as a way to give a more general understanding that in any discipline the practitioner’s accomplishments and credibility must be measurable in real life, career relative activity. I hope that the descriptions here will serve to demonstrate that there are some “exceptions” to the mentioned previously criteria, however, any “exceptions” still must be relevant to the particular situation and not simply arbitrary.


To exhaust the subject even further it is also important to now consider the following propositions:

First, there is an old saying: “A guppy can pretend to be a whale when he is in a fish bowl, but when he is in the ocean, he is still only a guppy”. The most significant point in this discussion may well be that any advancement to a higher “rank” or status must be  connected to measurable, real life accomplishments that are relevant to what that particular status really represents.

Further, it is also important to see that the underlying substance in any “ranking” system is obtained by defining relationships accurately; i.e., junior/senior, student/ teacher, teacher/master, master/Grandmaster, enthusiast/mentor.

At the substance of the credibility behind any system of status, achievement, or ranking there must exist specific, real life interactions that are definable, measurable, and possible to document and/or record historically. If not, they are at best both useless and meaningless and, at worst, fraudulent and/or misleading.

At the core of any Martial Arts ranking system is the student’s relationship with his teacher. This is defined based on him/her achieving the standards set by that particular teacher. If the teacher has integrity then he will have a consistent standard among all of his students. This helps to define a consistent relationship between students as to where they stand in their level of ability and responsibility. If the teacher lacks integrity and/or consistency it further confuses and limits legitimate constructive interaction between all that follow.

Therefore, any diploma or “belt/sash” awarded first indicates that such a student has achieved that particular standard required and accepted by his/her direct teacher. Remember that ranks, diplomas, and/or belts are merely symbols of reality or symbols of accomplishment, not the real accomplishment itself.

The teacher’s own position  is defined by him achieving and maintaining the level of achievement and responsibility set within the particular organization and/or by his “Master teacher”. That standard speaks to his credibility among his/her peers within a given group and also helps define his relationship with those peers.

The Master teacher’s other relationships are also somewhat defined and influenced by his history within the martial arts community. His credibility among his peers within his/her organization/system of practicing and teaching establishes the legitimacy of his achievements and even speaks to the credibility of his own continued personal development.

Further be aware that whenever any student accepts an advancement/diploma/title from any “Master” teacher and/or organization without the legitimate work, practice, accomplishments, etc, legitimately required, this actually enslaves him to that “Master” and/or “Organization”. This should be evident because, in fact, the credibility for any such hypothetical “ranking” is not based in reality of the recipient’s real accomplishment but primarily upon the signature(s) on such a “diploma” or his Master’s reputation rather than his own.

As a result then the accepting recipient has little choice but to proclaim the praises and legitimacy of said issuing “authority” since his own credibility is now dependent on the source of such bogus issuance. What results is not a credible organization with fair and reasonable relationships. It truly becomes more a “Mutual Admiration Society” than a credible ranking organization.

The bottom line is that in Martial Arts, as in life, there is no substitute for hard work and consistency. This is where the rubber meets the road. Any rank accepted or claimed by less effort or real knowledge and skills simply detracts from the credibility of not only the so called “master” but also of all those associated under his/her leadership along with those “above” who have inflated such standards.

This goes beyond “style”, system, or preference of martial arts discipline and is at the heart of the credibility of martial arts ranking, any belt system or simply general integrity. This is the substance that stands between “FACT or FANTASY”.

If you have read this far you may come to the conclusion that Martial Arts ranking is obviously a relatively complicated and imperfect process such that the general population is somewhat unaware of the specifics. It is because of this that it has readily and regularly been abused. On the other hand, it can also be a positive and powerful tool in the hands of a Master and/or Organization who possesses the knowledge, motivation, and  integrity to use it honestly. You can decide yourself if any of this is significant for you.

Now you have been thoroughly informed.  With knowledge comes power. Be advised and govern yourself accordingly!


Copyright © 2010  R.V. PASCETTA, All rights reserved

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