The Master’s Origin Story (And Why It Matters)

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photo ©fspyma

My teacher’s daughter told me the following story exactly like this, without exaggeration:

When he was six years old, Mr. Vizzio sat on his instructor’s doorstep every single day for a year. But his instructor – the master – did not acknowledge him.

Then at seven years old, Mr. Vizzio was allowed to get tea for the master. That went on for another year. Just getting tea. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Then from eight to nine years old, Mr. Vizzio stood in horse stance every day for hours on end. Over the next year, he learned only one punch. And then one block the year after. And this kind of training went on and on.

When I met Mr. Vizzio myself, that slow approach and deep introduction to the method was slightly attenuated: at age eighteen, I had to ask every single day for a year if he would accept me into the school before he did.

When I explain this kind of training to my students, I use the analogy of how I take my coffee. I tell them that I appreciate my coffee tasting like coffee. I don’t like it to taste like hazelnut or vanilla or caramel.

Here’s how I say it: I like my coffee to taste like coffee.

The same rule applies when I search for teachers. I like for them to be teachers—rigorous and uncompromising with me so that I am stretched, pushed, pulled, and expanded. That’s how I view the best and most effective way to learn.

In addition to that, trust between the teacher and student grows and becomes credible, principled, and reliable. My mentor, as an example, is very rigorous. She won’t allow anything but humility into our space, and on many occasions, she has reminded me that if I bring my personality along with me to our work, the relationship will cease, and she will no longer help me.

What’s personality mean? My wants, my personal desires, my preferences (likes or dislikes), ego, and force. She’ll have no part of that whatsoever.

See, in order to learn, to change, to elevate, you’ve got to want it as much as you want to continue breathing. Anything personal will get in the way.

It’s up to us as the students to detach from whatever is holding us back so that we can find our own wings. In the same way, leaving personality out of the dojo is very important.

In the former (some would say more refined) days of martial arts, there was such a strong vetting process that it forced the student, if he or she wanted in, to leave out a sense of self. The student’s being ignored for a year, being a servant for a year, or being in horse stance for a year allowed the teacher to know whether the student was ready, truly ready, to become transformed.

It was important, I think, because the teacher then knew that all ego had been disavowed. Today, the methodology is different. But maybe we need to reinsert the old ways so when you come into the room to train, you’re able to access valuable lessons that you may otherwise miss.

As a student, I respect and recognize the effectiveness of putting ego aside and not bringing personal preferences into the classroom. I also respect and recognize the challenge and reward of allowing yourself to petition a rigorous teacher.

In doing each of these things, we receive the benefits, the beauty, and full unfoldment that martial arts brings to our experience.

– Gene Dunn & Foundation of Love

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  1. Lisa Feldstein

    As Shihan has reminded us from past teachings, “a glass needs to be empty in order to be filled…” That makes sense and I believe to be true…

  2. I haven’t trained at BBJJ in over a year due to a back injury (unrelated to BBJJ) and lack of balance. However, the messages of the DOJO have been with me every day and continue to serve me in my professional development, my mentoring capability, and my outlook on life itself.

    Thank you for this article and every other message you send. Just because you may not get a “like” or a “share” doesn’t mean it isnn’t impacting lives exponentially’

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