Are You A Master? 

Prior to the arrival of Korean martial artists, the use of the title “master” was not prevalent in North America. Japanese martial arts, which had a significant influence on the development of martial arts in the region, that commonly used the term “sensei” to denote seniority and expertise.

However, as martial arts spread and evolved in North America, there has been a cross-pollination of different styles and traditions. Boundaries between different martial arts systems have become blurred, and practitioners from various backgrounds have come together to share their knowledge and experiences.

It’s important to recognize that the use of titles like “master” or “sensei” can vary among different martial arts schools and individuals. Some instructors may prefer to use more traditional titles, while others may embrace a more modern approach. “Call me coach Bobby”… it just doesn’t feel right. Ultimately, any honorific should be seen as a reflection of an individual’s skill, knowledge, and experience, rather than what’s printed on a business card.

It’s worth remembering that the title “master” can be subjective and may vary depending on cultural and martial arts traditions. Different styles and organizations may have their own criteria for awarding the titles.

The true martial arts masters are revered for their expertise in combat techniques, teaching, discipline, philosophy and likely creating a lasting legacy that enriches the lives of many. Real martial arts masters transcend their discipline and become ‘game changers’.

Few cursory reasons for venerating martial arts masters may include:

  1. Technical Excellence: Martial arts masters possess exceptional skill and expertise in their chosen discipline. They have dedicated years to training, perfecting their techniques, and mastering the principles of their martial art.
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  3. Philosophical Teachings: Martial arts masters often impart valuable life lessons and philosophies through their teachings. They emphasize discipline, respect, humility, perseverance, and self-improvement, which extend beyond the physical aspects of combat.
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  5. Cultural Heritage: Martial arts masters are often seen as guardians of a particular martial art’s cultural heritage. They preserve and pass down traditional techniques, forms, and philosophies from generation to generation, ensuring the continuity of their martial arts legacy.
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  7. Contributions to Sport and Self-Defense: Martial arts masters have made significant contributions to the development and evolution of martial arts as sports and self-defense systems. Their innovations, strategies, and teachings have had a profound impact on the effectiveness and popularity of their respective martial arts.
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  9. Role Models and Inspirations: Martial arts masters serve as role models, inspiring their students and others to strive for personal growth, discipline, and excellence. Their dedication, perseverance, and skill can inspire admiration and motivate individuals to pursue their own martial arts journey.

It’s important to recognize that different cultures and martial arts traditions may have their own specific reasons for venerating martial arts masters. The reasons listed above are general observations, but the specific reasons may vary depending on the martial art and its cultural context.

Ultimately it’s not so much what you call yourself, but what others call you and say about when you’re not in the room. There is no need to engage in self-deprecating humor or humble brags, just being polite, respecting others and honest humbleness goes a long way. Hokama Tetsuhiro a friend and certainly someone who is a ‘master’ gave me a wonderful piece of advice well over 30 years ago. “Best way to make friends in Okinawa… pass knowledge down’.

Gambarimasho ~ C.Borkowski

  • photo of the late Ōtake Risuke sensei, someone I would definitely call a master.