Martial arts schools all tend to have their own unique culture, just like most places do. In the martial arts world sometimes things can get a little… “overboard” at times.
We’ve tried to keep our school culture healthy and in the next few articles I want to look at a few pieces of culture and why we choose to do things the way we do.
I guess the first thing to acknowledge is there is no single right way on any of these things. Just preferences and how they fit into the larger picture of the culture of a school.
The other thing to keep in mind is that martial arts has had a impact on the entertainment industry, but that influence goes both ways. Some of which are good… others not so much.
So, first topic: Titles
And boy does the martial arts world love titles. For a community that stresses the importance of humility some of it seems a little out of place.
In the west we generally had “coach”, “instructor”, etc. In Japan it would be “sensei”, which isn’t a title as much as a honorific, more like Mr, Ms, Mrs, etc but used towards someone in a higher position. Teachers, doctors, lawyers and other positions of authority. Roughly translated as “born before”, or more along the lines of a way to refer to someone who has experience and is passing that along.
Anyways, other languages have similar words (shifu, euro, sah buh nim, etc)
But at some point in the 50′s / 60′s we started getting some serious title inflation…
I am not “Master Andrew”, never will be. language plays a part in how we view things, and I am not anyones master. Just a coach, that’s what I do. I try to make people better at martial arts.
To put it in context suppose you or your child joined a soccer team and the coach introduced himself as “Grandmaster Joe” and wanted the players to call him that… it would seem a little odd.
Some schools try to keep a “mystic” element to what they do, putting high ranking people as capable of inhuman feats like they are in the movies. But, we are all just humans, even the most experienced martial artist is still human. They can’t really run up walls, or blast you with chi from across the room.
Even if someone can be said to have reached a mastery level of skill, calling them “Master Bob” in the martial arts seems as strange as calling a master carpenter “Master Stan”.
The other thing that we have is language related, but also adds some confusion. For example the term “Professor” gets used in some styles. In the native language “professor” means teacher, and is used at all levels. However in English it has a very specific meaning.
Language and context matter, and in English in Canada we have perfectly suitable words. I suspect people would give me a puzzled look if I used the term “Doctor” a title for teaching martial arts, however in Rome “Doctore” was the term used for the person training gladiators.
It’s sometimes marketing, sometimes ego and sometimes a sort of cultural appropriation.
What makes it more interesting is that when Kung fu went to Japan and karate was formed, it took on Japanese terms. When Korea was occupied and Karate went into Korea, it took on Korean terms. When Judo went to Brazil it took on a lot of Portuguese terms.
Yet for some reason in English speaking places we feel using foreign words gives credibility.
Funny little piece of trivia. In Japanese a front was “Mae Geri”, a side kick being “Yoko geri”, etc. The word for kick being “geri”, except context matters and on it’s own it does not mean kick, but poop. Without something in front the word should be “keri”, not “geri”. So we spent a lot of time practicing our poops until someone informed us of what was getting said
For our school we choose to go with first names, or if the child prefers “coach” is also good. Misusing another languages terms is something I’ve seen enough of in the martial arts, and I think it’s a little disrespectful to people that actually speak those languages to be butchering them constantly.