Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Defines a Master?

Nick Feenberg
La Jolla, California
How does one determine or define "mastery?" I've studied three martial arts -- Tai Chi, Hsing-I, and now Aikido. T'ai chi is not generally taught as a martial art and seems more to be a health exercise. You definitely create a great deal of clarity about your personal life in that arena. When I took Hsing-I it seemed to be that if the other person was lying on the ground that you were on the right path. Spiritually, if you follow the traditions of the masters you will achieve success. Aikido is a little different depending on the teacher. You can see enormous results in the field of self-development and personal growth and if you choose to pursue its martial aspects, a great deal of power and ability.
Success in Aikido is defined as defeating the self not the opponent. All three seem to have different ideas of what constitutes a "master." That word is thrown around so freely that it seems anyone can use it.
In my own studies it seems like I am taking baby steps towards mastering my own event. I have much more ability, power and freedom than ever before, but it always seems that there is more to "do," a task that seemingly will take as long as I'm around. You won a world championship, a tangible result around which to measure your level. What about the rest of us, when do we get there?
Nick Feenberg

Mastery is related to whatever you are trying to master. The three arts you mentioned have many differing goals and ideas about what the art is even within the same art. In these the goal seems to represent the desires of the participants. Therefore, mastery is determined by the purpose for studying an art. If you realize this purpose, if you attain the level of skill or transformation that is sought, then perhaps we can say this is mastery.

There is always a subjective component to the assessment of mastery, yet the title is used in different ways for different endeavors. One can be a master bricklayer and this would suggest a certain level of skill. Or mastery can pretty much be just a title. For example, one can be the "maestro" of an orchestra and, although this is "master," it doesn't suggest a particular level of skill as compared to other maestros, just the attainment of that job or role. On the other hand, if one is a master painter or dancer we expect a level of skill that surpasses most painters and dancers. Here it becomes hard to define when that person achieves mastery, but some consensus is reached that they have created something that not only shows a deeper level of understanding in their art than most, but some ingredient not commonly found even in those who are technically proficient in the art.

One thing we should consider is that mastery does not mean "perfect," nor does it mean that the person is master of everything. It must mean that there is a level of understanding and skill that is uncommon and greater than what is easily attainable, otherwise the word doesn't mean anything. But this shouldn't be confused with the person being perfect at everything, and sometimes people fall into this trap, imagining that a "master" is a perfect person.

Whatever it is that you are trying to master, I think we can confidently say that as a student of some art in the process of investigating what the art is and what mastering it would be, that you are not a master. Such questions need to be resolved, and in such a way that they aren't intellectual conclusions but demonstrable experience.

There is no set answer to the question of mastery. It is whatever you create for yourself. Make it powerful and real and you can attain something powerful and real. And make sure that you have fun on the way!
Good luck,

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