RULES AND MASTERY
the studio, visitors could not miss seeing the placard
mounted prominently above the portal.
It read ...
Below, the rules were listed by number:
1. Pay on time.
2. Sign in.
3. Attend class, absences require prior day's
notice to head instructor. Maximum of 4
excused absences per year.
4. Be on time.
5. Lessons are directed to the class.
Entering the studio, you find heightened focus and a
general calm, somewhat alien to one reared in modern
A senior student greets you. You explain you are
interested in learning the martial arts. Could
someone provide information about the school?
You chat with the senior student, who emphasizes the
traditional nature of the program.
You ask, "What makes this school traditional versus
the offerings at other studios?"
The senior responds, "This teacher demands you achieve
a high level of focus. The premise is that your intent
must flow unimpeded into action." Liking what you hear,
you stand ready to launch a barrage of questions when
the senior politely disengages and returns to working
consternation and puzzlement, the master soon navigates
"Are there questions that were
You respond, "Yes, I'm
trying to find out what makes your school different from
the others, and your assistant indicated you place great
emphasis on discipline and tradition."
"Not so much tradition,
not so much discipline. Just the ground rules."
The elder man pointed to
the sign, almost expecting a reaction.
"But why the ground
rules? What's so hard about following four or five
administrative rules The real issue is whether a person
can learn to punch, kick and move, all skills requiring
far more commitment then compliance to trivial rules."
"Ah ha, but that is the
illusion. My experience has always been that ground
rules are seldom observed and even less frequently
enforced. Every person who joins my class has my
personal assurance that they will mind the ground rules,
learn and adhere to them, or be gone."
"Mumbo jumbo" was your
thought. In so many words, you told him so, and he
studied your comment in silence. After a moment, he
returned to class.
You lingered until the
end, greatly impressed by the intensity of work out,
complexity of technique and general level of execution.
Only afterwards does the
master return to further explain.
"Please don't think I'm
a silly old fool. I speak the way I do martial arts.
Just as I don't waste motion, I don't like to waste
words or time. Most people who walk through the front
door are looking for something other than what I teach.
I teach true martial arts. My knowledge is either 'yes'
or 'no.' I am never in between. Take yourself for
example. If I were to ask you what question you had on
your mind as I walked away earlier, what would you
Your response is quick,
"How long does it take for a new student to attain Black
The master's gaze bores
through your own as he responds, "A most common
question. In fact, it has no meaning, and no answer is
deserved. In your case, I will respond that most people
require four years, but those who ask the question
usually take five."
"But why five? "
Before you can finish, he
cuts in, "Now it has become six."
You stand silent.
"Good! Thatís the
best thing you said today! You see my style is not
like a pair of shoes that you try on, then throw away
when they become uncomfortable or worn. You provide the
raw material; I provide the art. Better yet, think of
yourself as the computer and my teaching as the computer
operating system. Together they become one, forever
inseparable, but working more effectively together than
either could as a stand-alone."
"But where do those rules
fit into your scheme?" you ask.
secret of martial arts is not mastery of hard things or
impossible things. It is mastery of the most basic
facets of life. Once those basic facets are
completely mastered and integrated into your person,
more complex chains of activity become ordinary
endeavors. Secondly, each rule has a deeper
significance, spiritual if you will. For example,
underlying the rule pay on time is the ethical
foundation or interchange of respect that each person
must have for another. You pay on time because you
receive on time. By paying on time, you reinforce the
importance of what you learn, your role in the class and
your intention to integrate that knowledge into your
life. Free from having to chase you for the money, the
master's skill is entirely dedicated to the lesson and
improvement of the class."
"This is reinforced by
Rule #2. Signing in is a declaration of your
intent to participate meaningfully in class. You
declare, over your signature, that you are there to
learn. The mundane details of your job and the
struggles and frustrations of life are left outside the
doorstep and are not permittet within. When you sign in,
your mind goes from muddled to clear and focused. Of
course, signing in derives from the platform that attendance
is required. I can only speak for myself in this
regard, but my experience has convinced me that the
dedicated student who attends all classes achieves
mastery, while the dedicated student who does not,
usually doesn't. For that reason, students are dropped
from the program for unexcused absences. The rule is, if
you're not going to make the class, I must have prior
day's notice. For me, not so hard. Many
others seem to struggle with it."
"That means no excuses,
no cars broke down, no grandmothers, aunts or uncles
that have passed away. I have heard those excuses more
times than I care to mention. I have never failed to
teach a class for any of those reasons nor have any of
my teachers beforehand. The clear sign of an embryo
master is that there are no excuses. For a master in the
making, problems are solved before they manifest and
derail intent. The rule recognizes that situations will
occur that prevent attendance, and so long as the notice
requirement is met, understanding is given. However,
more than four excused absences per year means
dismissal. Same reason as above, same explanation."
"As important as the
preceding is, the definitive test of discipline is to 'be
on time.' That rule governs everyone in class,
including the teacher. Great masters have repeatedly
emphasized that timing is everything. Proper timing
means when the emergency arose, your mind was ready.
Proper timing is like descending a snow-covered slope.
As you snake downward, trees blur by, but you pass
safely. Your mastery of timing has relegated the trees
and obstacles to dimensions that no longer impede you.
Proper timing means while the attacker waited to spring
the trap, you were elsewhere. If you cannot learn to
command time, how can you ever hope to learn not to be
caught off guard and victimized by anotherís timing of
"The final rule is that
teaching is directed at the class. Every student
is obliged to learn. The student who chooses not to
learn, either by not showing up or not practicing or not
striving for growth, inevitably drags against the
progress of all. Learn or get out! Class is like a
beautiful sailing vessel that will take you and each of
your companions to exotic ports and destinations. But
each must contribute and learn as they go. More than
anything, that is the path to mastery. I too am nothing
more than a student, always was and always will be. A
student means one who learns, one who works to learn and
one who seeks. If you can't do that, then go watch TV or
play with your smartphone. Thatís where you
belong. Not here."
Nodding your head in
appreciation, you can only respond, "I've got much to
"Yes, and think about
one more thing. These rules are simple and any child can
follow them, or so one would think. I could just as well
call them the impossible rules or the hardest rules. For
every student who joins the class, another is dismissed
because these rules proved to be an insurmountable
obstacle. Take note, my discipline is true. What is on
the wall is what I will do. No matter what you think
today, in time, you will be tempted to test those rules.
Be warned, if I am your teacher, the response will be
quick and as announced. That is the key to my martial
art. Is that what you are looking for?"