I’ve heard many people compare learning martial arts to joining the armed forces. Participants become physically and mentally tougher, learn valuable fighting skills, and get their asses kicked on a fairly regular basis. Whenever I run into another martial artist, our common trials bond us together instantly. The running joke goes something like, “What crazy bullshit did your master put you through?” We compare scars and bruises, techniques and tactics. With a knowing smile and a firm handshake, we’re friends before we even know each other’s names.
[Note: This does not include martial artists who brag about their abilities. Those are a totally separate group of people who are all buddies for different, more self-indulgent reasons. I do not consider these people martial artists at heart. See picture. Note the poorly photo shopped American flag, and how the portion of his black belt with kanji has been intentionally blurred. That’s taboo. Badly done, Chuck.]
But things have changed since I was a student. Instructors praise their students constantly. They smile and laugh when their students make mistakes, then encourage them to try again. This positive feedback approach is the complete opposite of what my generation (and all past generations) of martial arts students experienced. How will my students bond in the future? Certainly not over what a bastard I was. I hope. Crap.
Yes, things have changed. My instructors were never wrong. Being in class meant not smiling, not laughing, and never, ever talking back to the instructor. If you made a mistake, the Grand Master would point in out in front of the whole class, often with anger in his voice. And for what? To humiliate the students into getting it right the next time? All it did was make me tense. I was not happy there. Why did I stay?
I think it must have been the people. The fact is, even with the tyrannical nature of the studio, we still had a lot of fun. We still joked around and laughed and goofed off (and got in trouble for it). We would clean up the studio, then go out for Korean food at the 24-hour place in K-town. I had a blast, and it saddens me that I’m not really in touch with anyone from those days. Gotta work on that.