Friday, November 27, 2009


My entry for contest at

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.-Leonardo da Vinci

Poor is the master whose pupils do not surpass him. One devoted student is worth ten thousand halfhearted students. A student no more accepts a teacher than a teacher accepts a pupil.

In the Mahabharata there is much that relates to martial arts. In one particular instance a man sought a renown teacher of archery who was a vassal of the royal family. The would be pupil was essentially turned down by the teacher who having many wealthy pupils had no need or even time for other students.

So the would be pupil built an image of the teacher, a mere effigy and trained by it with devotion. His skill surpassed that of even the best student of the teacher who had denied him instruction. Truly it was his dedication to practice, and not his allegiance to a teacher or an effigy that resulted in his great skill. His actual loyalty to the instructor whom he had made an effigy of was his undoing for when the foremost pupil Arjuna, of the great teacher Drona, who was under the impression he was the greatest archer in the land, learned of the skill of the would be pupil; he confronted the man and asked who his teacher was.

The man replied that his teacher was Drona, the same as the teacher of Arjuna. Arjuna went and confronted Drona and Drona went to the would be pupil to ask for his payment for instruction as was his right as a teacher. For this payment Drona had the man, who had become the best through practice before the statue; sever his tendons in his arm rendering him incapable of using a bow. Thus Arjuna became the best archer.

This story illustrates the relationship of practice to skill, and of the nature of loyalty being both a benefit and a weakness.

In these modern times we often hear people say that they know but a fraction of what their teacher knew. And yet knowledge is nothing compared to practice. It was said by early Yang family Taiji players that if the first four energies alone were mastered, then a persons skill would be tremendous. And yet how many teachers teach their students endless material? Far too many, because now martial arts is not about practice, it has become about information and instruction.

It is said that the student gets the instructor they deserve, when it is said that Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master consider not only the instructor the student gets, but the student the instructor gets. To be blunt students who lack devotion never become masters and the amount of people called master far exceeds the number of those who have mastered even the basic techniques of their myriad respective arts.

A teacher is something you learn from. A dojo is a place you practice. The universe is both. Do we hope to surpass the very skill of nature? Let people suffer their loyalties. Let their scope narrow to depend upon information and not practice. Ultimately we are but our own instructors and our own pupils and cannot learn or be taught anything by another. Shall we hope to surpass ourselves? Indeed to surpass ones self is to refine ones being to improve in skill and method, something arrived at by practice over time and no other way. In this age, thanks to the internet, the amount of formerly inaccessible information is more than adequate to facilitate all a person needs to practice and develop the skills of their choosing. Perhaps all we really need for a teacher; is an effigy after all.