Articles by Members

This page feature articles posted by members of the Sabaki List.

What is a Master? by Sara Aoyama

Hi all,

(warning: long ramble ahead)

I know this defining of a Master is a popular subject, but also a very individual thing, be it by rank, organization etc. As a kyu rank, what I've learned from the internet is that rank doesn't mean so much (or translate aptly) outside of the system that created it, and that different styles emphasize different qualities all making it difficult to create a definition of universal significance. But lately I've come up with my own
hypothesis, that I'll put out here in interests of having it torn apart so that I can learn more and re-define as necessary. I don't expect to come up with any definitive meaning, even for myself, but this is kind of a "stop along the way" for me.

First of all, I'm reading a tai chi book that mentions an old Chinese proverb that neatly described one aspect of it for me:

 "If the wrong person uses the right means, that right means work in the wrong way."

That makes sense to me in a definition of "master." Because it gets away from the physical sense and implies there is more and speaks to character as well.

Then I started thinking about people I've been impressed by--people who are the "right people." Even though I live in a small town and haven't been studying long, I've been fortunate to meet a few folks who themselves would cringe at being called a master, but have inspired plenty of hot diggedy dog thoughts in me.

So, a few weeks ago, one of them was a guest in my kitchen over green tea, and at 5 am we were STILL GOING, much like the energizer bunnies (kind of old bunnies though), but as I was complaining about a certain move in a certain kata which wasn't making any sense for me, he pushed his tea cup aside, and stood up to demonstrate his point. And I noticed something interesting. We were pretty mellow there by 5 am, but when he stood up and moved into stance I saw a visable "relaxing"  (for lack of a better word)
that went through his whole body-- a kind of settling into himself. And I also thought to myself...hmmm... I've seen that before. But it took a few days and some sleep to remember where.

As it so happens I figured I'd seen it twice before. And another time was in my kitchen as well. Now I can go ahead and name names:-). Because it was Hoosain... when he was playing with my son, and at some point what looked like two kids wrestling, started to look like karate, and I saw Hoosain (who in real life is very focused and intent, but also Mr. Mellow) also visably "relax"  and "settle" as he moved.

The third example I thought of wasn't in my kitchen, but it was also at an unusual time.. about 8 am.   Chinen Teruo Sensei was at our dojo for a weekend of seminars, and on Saturday morning he was scheduled to start a kids seminar at 9 am.

You know it is a strange thing, but I've noticed there is something like "Sensei Standard  Time (SST)" where guest sensei arrive late a lot. Maybe it is just here in Vermont, where sensei's miss turn-offs, get stuck in leaf traffic, or just can't find us. And there are those like Shihan Palumbo who have to e-mail me three times to ask if I'm sure the closest airport is in Hartford and how could that be and I could I possibly check again to see if there is one in Vermont that I might have missed:-))).. okay.. I'm digressing.. but, anyway, they are usually late. So, when Chinen Sensei visited us and was set to teach at 9 am, I figured I'd arrive at the dojo at 8 am, check to make sure everything was set for the seminar and that I'd have PLENTY of time to eat my bagel and drink my coffee. In reality, I pulled up to the dojo at 7:50 am (operating on PSST--Perfect Student Standard Time, ie. an hour and10 minutes early).

But much to my surprise.. Chinen Sensei (with my "not really a morning person" Sensei) actually showed up a few minutes after I had, and I had to scarf down the bagel in the car and hide my coffee and take surreptitious sips in between going about the job of setting up. But it was that same thing with Chinen Sensei--he just wanted to get out there on the floor. And again, I saw that visable "relaxing." It was very obvious--even though he had a whole day of teaching to do, he got there an hour early and just wanted to be training.

So, what I realized that the "relaxing" I was seeing meant, is that these three karate-ka actually are more at home in their skin when they are doing karate than when they are not. And that must come with years of training, but maybe even more than training itself, from just years of "being" a martial artist. In other words, doing karate is a more natural and happy state for them, than not doing karate.

So that's my definition and yes I know I took a looong time to state it. But I think a master must be someone that is more comfortable (physically in these cases, but presumably mentally and spiritually also) doing a kata or some karate movement than not doing it. For me as a kyu rank, and for many others I've seen, when we stand up to go out on the floor, there is more of a tensing, or a gathering of strength, or something more deliberate and forced than a relaxation. Or almost a "putting on the karate hat" type
thing. It might also be a difference in zanshin and the method used to achieve that.


And thank you for reading thru it.

Sara  (who figures she's a coffee drinking master by this definition)

Subscribe to sabaki
Powered by

Return to Home Page
Updated by Hoosain Narker