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Old 06-25-2008, 10:23 AM   #1
Ellis Amdur
 
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How one becomes a master

Some time ago, Dan H. posted a question in a middle of a thread, concerning how someone became a "master" of an art. (Hi Dan). He included my name - and Peter Goldsbury's - in the question, wondering if our various researches (don't know if what I do can be qualified by such a term) in any way could illuminate what is unique about an Ueshiba Morihei or Kodo Horikawa. The salient question really comes down to this: The knowledge is either/both available or discoverable. Yet only a few people emerge with genius. The following link is the best answer I think I will ever find, on the life of a Grandmaster http://www.newsweek.com/id/143083
It believe it speaks for itself, but to sum it up - only death - not even torture - only the destruction of life itself will destroy genius and passion.
Best

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Old 06-25-2008, 10:45 AM   #2
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Re: How one becomes a master

I thought this was going to be like How do you get to Carnegie Hall? - practice, practice, practice - with the assumption that you already have genius enough to separate yourself from everyone else who practices as much as you do and will never play there.

If I spent my life trying to be a naval aviator, I still may never have the chops to be a top gun pilot. Same if I spent my life trying to be a singer for a rock n roll band. I think a level of natural talent is required for GRANDmaster title. I was just going to train as hard and SMARTLY as possible and get to some form of master. Grandmaster can be for others unless I discover some dormant innate talent that has been so far hiding within myself.

Rob
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Old 06-25-2008, 11:43 AM   #3
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: How one becomes a master

Thanks for pointing out the interview. Genius and despair seem to be pretty close most of the time, and I often wonder how that was for Morihei Ueshiba. His genius has been spoken about a lot, but I sometimes feel that to understand his mastery, it would ne necessary to know much more about what he was running away from (just in the way that most of us are).

I recently read the autobiography of singer/songwriter Christy Moore. His format is the folk song, the whole book is organised not as a chronology or in topical order, but around individual songs, which he takes as points of departure for remembering his life. The intensity and risk in his life, and the drugs, become very clear, but he also mentions one or two "mystical" experiences on stage. I was especially stunned by him writing that some of his preferred songs he never plays on stage. Seemed like a master to me.
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Old 06-26-2008, 02:32 AM   #4
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Re: How one becomes a master

Q: "How do I become a master?"
A: "Print a business card."

The exchange may sound facetious, but it's not.

Ask what is at the heart of this question in the first place.
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Old 06-26-2008, 02:37 AM   #5
Mark Uttech
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Re: How one becomes a master

In the school of zen buddhism, there is the saying: "Even the Buddha was only halfway there."

In gassho,

Mark

- Right combination works wonders -
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Old 06-26-2008, 03:59 AM   #6
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Re: How one becomes a master

"What's at the heart of the question?" It's not just practice. I never saw anyone, anywhere, practice as hard as the Tokai Daigaku Fusoku %5 high school judo team in Japan. (I would practice with them 1x a week. I was welcome every day, but it took me a week to recover each time).
Of all the team members, only one of them was going to be the "next Yamashita," and he, sadly, died of leukemia his senior year.

I suppose that there are at least two reactions to the article that I linked to this thread. The one is, "Wow, what a wonderful story." The second is, "Do I have THAT in me? And if I do, what's holding me back?" Which answer is yours defines what the question means to you. (Actually a third reaction comes to mind. Some - I imagine Kuroda Tetsuzan, for example - might react, "That's a kindred spirit.").

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Old 06-26-2008, 04:29 AM   #7
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Unhappy Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
I suppose that there are at least two reactions to the article that I linked to this thread. The one is, "Wow, what a wonderful story." The second is, "Do I have THAT in me? And if I do, what's holding me back?" Which answer is yours defines what the question means to you. (Actually a third reaction comes to mind. Some - I imagine Kuroda Tetsuzan, for example - might react, "That's a kindred spirit.").
I had both reactions to some extent, and "What's holding me back?" is the Koan that has been with me for a while.

Also, while I appreciate and practice the "inward" kind of enquiry about mastery Mark and Joe seem to propose, I think studying how others solved the riddles in their lives and became what they are can compelement that in an extremely useful way. Ultimately, I guess, both studies converge.

As an additional aspect, personally I would only call somebody a master if they manifest their art in a way that makes their life and practice inspiring, or even worth emulating to a degree, beyond technical skill in that art, even to people who dont practice it. But that is just my take, and I am not sure I am expressing it well.
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Old 06-26-2008, 10:41 AM   #8
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Re: How one becomes a master

Do you wonder if a duck admires how an eagle soars, or if an eagle is envious of how a duck swims---all while you sit at the table eating a chicken dinner?

What is there that you can master?

For what it's worth, I dug this up---something I had written some time ago considering similar questions: http://inexhaustiblethings.blogspot....0/mastery.html. No answers, I'm afraid :-)

Last edited by Joe McParland : 06-26-2008 at 10:43 AM. Reason: link did not appear
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Old 06-26-2008, 10:56 AM   #9
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Re: How one becomes a master

That was a great read.

Amazing how humble and honest he is. Grandmaster Flash is a pretty good example indeed.

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Old 06-26-2008, 10:58 AM   #10
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Joe McParland wrote: View Post
Do you wonder if a duck admires how an eagle soars, or if an eagle is envious of how a duck swims---all while you sit at the table eating a chicken dinner?
I wonder that since a duckling is a small duck, what the heck I'm eating when I order dumplings. (stolen from tv)

Rob
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Old 06-26-2008, 11:12 AM   #11
Ron Tisdale
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Re: How one becomes a master

Rob,

Ewwww...


Best,
Ron

Ron Tisdale
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Old 06-26-2008, 11:33 AM   #12
Ellis Amdur
 
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Re: How one becomes a master

BTW - in framing this discussion, I was not even thinking about the moral or ethical as a component to what we are talking about. You can, if you want, but I (and Dan, in his original musing, I believe) were simply talking about mastery of the skill. For example, Artur Rubenstein was a narcissist who would wake his children in the middle of the night and force them to sit attentively as he verbally described what he did and how he felt during his concerts, screaming at them if they fell asleep. Claude Debussy's wife, furious at the way he treated her, poisoned herself, and then, semi-conscious, realized that he'd discovered her and was searching her clothes for money before he called for help and she was so furious, that she willed herself back to full consciousness, staggered off to a doctor and lived a long life - divorced. Caravaggio was probably a psychopath. Ty Cobb was a murderer and a nasty racist. - OR, consider the personality flaws of Takeda, Ueshiba, and Sagawa. Horikawa, at least, seems to have been an ordinary man - albeit with quite a temper at times.
The point - it should be obvious, but it links with some of the discussions on that other thread regarding childbirth and "internal power," is that a moral dimension is not requisite to mastery. To be sure, GMFlash's story is wonderful due to, among other things, that moral dimension, but were he a nasty, misogynistic, dope-slinging man, it would change the mastery of his art.
That Ueshiba, rather than being a Nelson Mandela type, (facing down the Kempetai and refusing to teach at military and spy schools), was an ordinary man of his times, who cooperated with the military, bowed his head when told to and taught soldiers and spies to maim and kill, and accepted his gov't imprisoning, torturing and murdering some of his "brothers and sisters" in Omotokyo - does that make his martial art any less skillful? It adds nuance to considerations of the moral dimensions that aikido professes, perhaps, and is part of Peter's discussion on how modern aikido, the mass art, developed. In that other dimension of moral stature, of course, such questions are very relevant - hence, Stan Pranin notes, the alienation between Ueshiba and his nephew, Inoue Noriaki.
But unless one imposes a religious or Buddhistic definition of mastery (one certainly can - feel free), that is not relevant, I believe, to the question of "how" one becomes a master of one's skill.

Last edited by Ellis Amdur : 06-26-2008 at 11:37 AM.

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Old 06-26-2008, 11:52 AM   #13
Dennis Hooker
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Joe McParland wrote: View Post
Q: "How do I become a master?"
A: "Print a business card."

The exchange may sound facetious, but it's not.

Ask what is at the heart of this question in the first place.
First get a job as an apprentice bater on a fishing boat, then become an assistant bater, then a bater's helper and after a few years a master bater.

Dennis Hooker: (DVD) Zanshin and Ma-ai in Aikido
https://www.createspace.com/238049

www.shindai.com
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Old 06-26-2008, 11:57 AM   #14
Joe McParland
 
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
BTW - in framing this discussion, I was not even thinking about the moral or ethical as a component to what we are talking about. [...] But unless one imposes a religious or Buddhistic definition of mastery (one certainly can - feel free), that is not relevant, I believe, to the question of "how" one becomes a master of one's skill.
I didn't see anyone else bring morality or ethics---or even a possible definition of mastery---to the discussion until now.

Here's a question: Today, would O'Sensei want to become the perfect Ellis Amdur?

The eagle can't be a perfect eagle while wanting to swim as well as a duck.

The way to improve a skill is to practice. The way to mastery may be a different thing entirely. The way to realize what mastery is and how to achieve it may likely be found in dedicated practice of Aikido---even though my tenchinage may always suck.
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:20 PM   #15
Fred Little
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
But unless one imposes a religious or Buddhistic definition of mastery (one certainly can - feel free), that is not relevant, I believe, to the question of "how" one becomes a master of one's skill.
Beyond the moral issue, there is the additional relevant question of whether the mastery sought (or the seeker of mastery) is closer to the hedgehog or the fox, as this linked essay by Isaiah Berlin on Tolstoy's view of history discusses. It's a lengthy essay, but the executive summary is right up front for those who won't give the entire essay the time and attention it deserves -- and will reward.

Regards,

Fred

Last edited by Fred Little : 06-26-2008 at 12:23 PM. Reason: corrected link
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:20 PM   #16
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Joe McParland wrote: View Post
I didn't see anyone else bring morality or ethics---or even a possible definition of mastery---to the discussion until now.
Well, I did intend to bring in morality, though certainly not in a cheesy or black and white way, rather the contrary. For myself, I am not sure I can separate the question of extreme motivation - to master a skill - and a discussion of morality in the broadest sense. Precisely because of the very apparent flaws of so many highly skilled people. But I am also not sure anymore I understand Amdur Sensei's question, and I do not want to contribute to more thread drift, so I am back to lurking. Thanks for the exchange.
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:02 PM   #17
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Dennis Hooker wrote: View Post
First get a job as an apprentice bater on a fishing boat, then become an assistant bater, then a bater's helper and after a few years a master bater.
"master bater".... I laughed until I cried. ohh dear god, my side hurts!
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:53 PM   #18
Aikibu
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Fred Little wrote: View Post
Beyond the moral issue, there is the additional relevant question of whether the mastery sought (or the seeker of mastery) is closer to the hedgehog or the fox, as this linked essay by Isaiah Berlin on Tolstoy's view of history discusses. It's a lengthy essay, but the executive summary is right up front for those who won't give the entire essay the time and attention it deserves -- and will reward.

Regards,

Fred
Thanks Roshi

Well my life depends on the philosophy of being powerless and the danger of trying to achieve any power not in the service of a higher power. Aikido Iaido and Zen are vehicles for me to be of love and service...If I am diligent and give it my best efforts then perhaps I will leave a legacy or warm smiles and happy memories in those whose path I have crossed or walked along...

Technical Mastery is meaningless without good charactor in my experiance and and it's dangerous to deify anyone beyond thier humanity O'Sensei included...

I think that fact that technical/physical mastery is a meme that deifies someone may be a bad side effect of Modern Western "Media" Culture... That makes Mr Berlin's essay a very good read...

William Hazen
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Old 06-26-2008, 02:04 PM   #19
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Re: How one becomes a master

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Parabola Magazine or the books written by Joeseph Campbell However I do recall an issue on Prophets and Prophecy that had a few stories from different cultural and tribel traditions on Mastery. One theme of that issue still lingers with me...

One does not choose to be a Prophet... One is chosen...and there in lies the struggle that marks of the life of most well known Masters...

William Hazen
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Old 06-26-2008, 02:58 PM   #20
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Re: How one becomes a master

Mastery is certainly is a relative term isn't it? From what vantage point do we view a master of something? And just who is doing the viewing?
Comparatively, how does,
a) A master of something, that exhibited innovation and an amalgam of disparate disciplines that they could somehow see through to arrive at a new vision, stand when examined next to
b) The master of the piano? A carpenter?
The former may have required expertise in several areas and a genius level of insight to see a new way of doing something. The others practiced, failed and practiced some more.
Or how would a. view b.?

OK, here's another take. Two people play the piano. One becomes a master of classical the other improvisational Jazz. Who is the more masterful? They both play the same instrument, yet the former is playing others compositions, the later requires just as much-arguably more-technical skill, but a far greater level of intuition, heart, and innovation. Same instrument.
Is the outcome equal? Are they equal in the mastery or their skills? Maybe there is no sense in a subjective qualitative value at all. It's just mastery of, whatever.

The reason for the initial question was in the context of the martial arts though. How do we explain so many who are really nothing more than the Budo wallpaper, that so very few stand out from. As in my piano example, or Ellis's High school Judo kids, the Martial artists, down through the ages were all doing the same thing. Yet the fire, the spark, touched only a few.
When all are looking in the same direction-why do so few…see.

Practice is not all, but practice has a tendency to build on itself. The old Fortune favors the well prepared" idea. In training the body incrementally is able or prepared for the next epiphany. No preparation, no epiphany. Does a perpetual linked series of preparation and hard work affording epiphanies then become a foundation for some stunning enlightenment? Or does enlightenment create the foundation for hard work and preparation that leads to epiphanies?
It sure isn't about intelligence only. I know a few extremely intelligent guys who are, for all practical purposes, useless. They are perpetually drawn to by the vagaries of intellectual stimuli. So, mastery cannot be all about intelligence. There is some measure of insight as well, and others of organizational skill, work ethic, innovation in the face of failure and just plain dogged determination.
And here is my last. I beleive there is a measure of the George Bernard Shaw idea. [i]"The reasonable man looks at the world and wonders how he can change to fit in, whereas the unreasonable man looks at the world and wonders how he can change it to fit him. Its no wonder the wolrd is ruled by unreasonable men."[/u]
Where I see that fitting in, is that there is a fine line between truly studying and accepting, leadership over you, and then seeing through it, piercing the veil and daring to trust in your self and that "spark" or epiphany. Moreover, seeing it fail, and daring to do it again.

Many a good idea has been stopped dead by a mans own doubts. It's easy to do what your told. Many people can't live with the idea they are capable of so much more. For then they'de have to walk in it.
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Old 06-26-2008, 03:04 PM   #21
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
It adds nuance to considerations of the moral dimensions that aikido professes
I have to take exception here. I believe that the moral and ethical are not "nuances" of the spirit of Aikido, but additional requirements to Aikido's mastery. This is precisely why I can never fully agree with Mike and Dan that Aikido's full realization is completely encompassed by some physical skill, no matter how sophisticated. What could possibly be the purpose of attaining mastery level skill if one still treats others, or oneself, like crap (great examples in Amdur's post above)? In my own estimation, any skill level attained must be tempered with deep contemplation about how such skills are to be used, and significant effort should be expended, on the part of the martial artist, to forge himself into a person of quality, not just a person of means. This in no way takes away from the importance of gathering means, but is, in my opinion, at least as crucial in terms of seeking martial arts (at least Aikido) mastery.

Last edited by bkedelen : 06-26-2008 at 03:11 PM.
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Old 06-26-2008, 03:05 PM   #22
Ron Tisdale
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Re: How one becomes a master

Wow. Great post Dan.

2nd Wow...Rennis, what are you doing lurking here? Man, things are looking up...

B,
R

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Old 06-26-2008, 03:14 PM   #23
Fred Little
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Dan Harden wrote: View Post

Many a good idea has been stopped dead by a mans own doubts. It's easy to do what your told. Many people can't live with the idea they are capable of so much more. For then they'de have to walk in it.
Quote:
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."
It seems that Goethe didn't actually say this, though he's often credited with it, but it still coincides with your point ....

Regards,

FL
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Old 06-26-2008, 03:15 PM   #24
Rennis Buchner
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Re: How one becomes a master

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post

2nd Wow...Rennis, what are you doing lurking here? Man, things are looking up...
Damn, my ninja lurking skills obviously need some refining. Been lurking here a lot recently. Certain discussions here have had great bearing on issues (or perhaps "gaps" is a better word) that have come up in my training the last year or so....

Best
Rennis
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Old 06-26-2008, 03:24 PM   #25
Ron Tisdale
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Re: How one becomes a master

Ditto, and the same for me. Lot of work to do.
Welcome!

Best,
Ron (short cut my arse...)

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