The Solitary Path of Mastery

“At their heart, martial arts are a solitary path. No one can walk that path for you.”

I’m paraphrasing one of many great bits of wisdom shared by Mark Mikita, a 50-year martial arts practitioner and teacher, at his talk on longevity in martial arts at the 2017 edition of the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium (VISS).

One of the beautiful things about an event like VISS is that it gives practitioners an opportunity to be inspired in their own journey. You are not simply going to a class with a single instructor  — you are exposing yourself to a wealth of ideas and approaches from a variety of practitioners.

There was a time when I found ideas different from my own to be threatening. After all, I had invested years training particular techniques, within a particular system, following a certain pedagogy. As an instructor, it was also challenging because my students would come back from an event like VISS full of new ideas and challenges to the ways we had been doing things all along. Were we doing things the wrong way? Had I wasted my time on a particular path? Would my students leave for greener pastures?

Part of my journey has been finding that my worth does not come from what I know or what I do. I am not here to impose my way on others, instead I am a companion on the path with my students. Sharing with them what I have learned from walking this road a little longer than them but not closing the door on their own discoveries nor shielding myself from the things that their fresh eyes can show me. One of the best things I can do for myself and my students is to keep renewing my openness to change. I can do my best to equip them to be their own guides and model what I have learned as my own teacher.

The most powerful thing you can share with your students is a way of being, not simply a way of doing.