I am not a Master, I have a Masters degree
By Eli Montaigue © August/2017
I read an article the other day about how long it should
take someone to become a master of a martial art, using Taiji as an example
The article was primarily about how ridiculous it is that we see people today who have been training 10-15 years and are regarded as masters, stating that in fact it takes 27 years to master an art.
But what is a Master?
My father Erle use to put it very nicely, "I am not a Master, I have a Masters degree"
This is the same as I tell my students, that's why my Dad and I do not like to be called master, in the same way you don't call a person Master when they have a masters degree in Science.
Every different system would have their own idea of what it means to have a master's degree, so I'm going to tell you what a master's degree means to me and the WTBA, this is also what my father thought it to mean.
A Masters degree in the Erle Montaigue system means that you have finished your basic training, the physical mechanics and understanding of movement to generate power and sensitivity, balance and timing.
You understand and can explain why we do things the way we do, your physical ability is to the highest standard.
These are all things that can be measured and put into a degree, all these things will get you to your grade 8, then the head of the system after much viewing and training with the student will give out the Masters Degree, meaning that he feels that the student no longer needs constant guidance, because they know when something needs work without being told, every question the student asks is answered with a yes, meaning that the student can go on their own training now and develop.
This does not mean they know everything, but they know almost everything that can be taught in the physical sense, anything that comes after this is your own personal development, by training with everyone, not just the most advanced teachers, as you can learn so much from a student, working together, discussing things, breaking down everything that you do.
This is also not to say that you stop training with your teacher, but you stop training under them and start training beside them.
So 27 years to master an art? Even if you are talking about mastering the physical basics you cannot put a time to this, as one person could take 10 years and another could take 20, but to put a time set to master the art, is to say that the art can be mastered.
I don't believe we ever master Taiji, otherwise why would we keep practicing it.
When we get our Masters Degree, this means "Well done, you've got all the basics right, now go and let it develop and become a part of you"
It does not mean you have mastered the art is self.
It's like a Doctor who does an 8 year course to get their degree, once they have that degree they are ready to go and start working without any guidance, but there is still a huge difference between a doctor when they first start practicing, and a doctor who's been practicing for 20 years, it's experience, and that can only come with time, it cannot be taught.
So when I say that I have a Masters Degree, this does not mean that I have the same understanding of Taiji as my father did, because the understanding he had came from time, I have not yet even been alive for as long as he was practicing Taiji.
So if you think it wrong for someone to have a Masters Degree after 10 years training, this is only because your idea of what a Masters Degree represents is different to that of someone else.
Time spent training, this means nothing as everyone has a different idea to what it means, how much hands on time did you get with your teacher in that time?
One person could have been training 10 years and seen their teacher once a year, another could have seen their teacher every day.
One person could have had a great teacher and the other not so much.
So when you say you've been practicing Taiji for 10, 20 or 30 years etc, it means nothing, the only thing that can be looked at for a persons skill in Taiji, is their skill in Taiji.
A great quote from one of my training camps a few years back.
I asked a new student how long he had been doing Taiji, he said about 20 years.
At the end of the camp he came over to me and said "ask me how long I've been doing Taiji for again" So I did, and he replied, "Two weeks"
This man was humble enough to realise that the 20 years he had been doing Taiji was not really Taiji at all.
Look at Dad and I as an example.
Dad started Taiji in 1967, so he had been training for 18 years when he was awarded the Masters Degree from China in 1985.... Well not really, that's like saying I started Taiji when I was 4, yes I did some Taiji when I was 4, I remember doing some of the form with Dad, I then learnt the first third and was doing Qigong at age 9, but I regard my proper training to have started when I was 14. This is when I started to take a class with Dad every morning for 2 hours, I would always train on my own as well, so I regard myself as having 10 years of daily training from my father before he told me that I had finished my training about 6 months before he died.
So for Dad his proper training with his first decent teacher was in 1974 when he moved to London and met Chu King Hung.
If you take this as his starting point, then it was 11 years later that he got his Masters Degree.
But then he didn't start learning from his main teacher Chang Yu Chung till 1978,
so that's only 7 years training in what he regarded as the "real stuff" to get his Masters Degree.
There is so much more to factor into how you got your skill, how many years you've been training really means nothing to me, I will simply look at how you move, I don't care if you've been training 1 year or 40, if you're 20 years old or 50, how you move is the true mark of your Taiji understanding.
So again, what is a Masters Degree?
Lets look at the videos we have of Erle in the late 80's, and compare them to the late 90's, a lot changed in 10 years, he developed, his understanding was so much higher, then look 10 years on again, and then another 10 years to his final days.
If you look at Erle at that stage of his training, you cannot compare it to someone who has been training only 10 years, but the thing you cannot compare cannot be explained in words. He's not physically better at anything that can be measured, like power, balance, timing etc, when we spared in his last years I was his equal match, but that doesn't mean I had the same level of Taiji as he did, as I only had an equal level of physical skill, not internal understanding.
So to compare a Master of 10 years to a Master of 40 years is ridiculous, what you need to do (if you like to make comparisons) Compare the 10 year master to the 40 year master back when he was a 10 year master.
If you think that the level of the 40 year master is the mark of a true master, then no, the 10 year master does not have that level, so they do not have a Masters Degree by your thinking,
however this also means that the 40 year master was not a master 30 years ago when he got his masters, or 20 years ago when he was not as good as he is now, or even 10 years ago. This is what I mean when I say that you cannot master the art, because what you know today is more than yesterday, therefore yesterday you had not yet mastered it. As I've explained above, that's not what a Masters Degree is.
So the next time you see someone with a Masters Degree in something, don't assume that means they think they know everything, or that they think they are the best of the best, as it could simply mean they have finished their basic training.
Look at Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Yoda is superior in every aspect of the force, he would kick Obi Wan's arse with one hand, yet they both have a Masters Degree.