I just got home from teaching my Saturday morning martial art class. Everything hurts. My orthopedic surgeon and my pain management doctor warn me against what I do but you see how much good it does. Anyway, my own personal experience got me to thinking. Hench this article.

There are many elements that constitutes mastery of a martial art or any other endeavor, for that matter. Martial arts mastery requires time, effort and experience. There are other elements that are necessary to attain mastery of any art. According to what one is trying to master there are many variables but these three are requirements regardless of your area of expertise. The martial arts are no exception. If anything these elements apply even more to the mastery of a martial art discipline than in most other arts. Mastery, if attainable by a particular individual is going to occupy a major portion of his life.

Martial Arts Mastery

Martial art mastery doesn’t happen by accident. It requires deliberation. One doesn’t back into such an achievement. He has to strive with that result as a goal. If you’re blessed with the physicality and coordination; If one has a measure of athleticism and the time to dedicate to the study of his particular system he will probably become a black belt. Things aren’t what they once were. Back in the day it didn’t matter how much you studied or how hard you trained everyone couldn’t and didn’t make black belt. The standards and expectations of the sensei and the system has changed over the years. If you’re determined and have the time to dedicate to your art you will attain shodan and maybe higher. Everyone will not become a master.

By the time one has dedicated his life to an art and fulfilled the necessary sacrifices to become a martial art master many years have slipped by. His original ability has waned even as his knowledge and wisdom has grown. It’s a trade off. Time increases knowledge but it robs one of youth. it will take about forty years or more to reach hachidan (eight degree black belt) and even longer for kudan or judan if those ranks are available for the practitioner. In many systems those rarified ranks are reserved for the master and grandmaster of the system. Except in rare cases, if a practitioner is able to reach ninth or tenth degree, fifty or more years of study have been dedicated to his art. By that time he is no longer burning up the tournament circuit or terrorizing young thugs in the streets. If he is still involved with the art at that age he may do a little teaching but primarily he will walk around (if he can still walk) looking important and wise. Or perhaps he is doing what I am doing now, presenting himself as an authority of all things martial.

Saturday morning kung fu movies (the older generation will know what I mean) have instilled us with a vision of old octogenarian masters flying through the air like eagles and beating up on young fighters. It works on films but in actuality it loses something in translation. Age takes a toll and most of us aren’t what we once were. We know more and can do less. In a real world that’s what happens.

Martial Arts Mastery Aikijitsu ThrowI have dedicated fifty five years of my life to studying and teaching the arts. I still do both in spite of age, injury and several radical surgeries. If I had good sense I would sit my old butt down somewhere but as we all know by now that isn’t going to happen. Consequently, I do what I can. I teach children and several individuals who work in ‘at risk’ professions. I teach police and correction officers, security personnel and psych professionals. I have worked in several of those professions and know the risks that these individuals are exposed to and how to address some of them.

I am supposed to do a couple of seminars and demonstrations at a couple of large important gatherings in the coming months. I was a bit worried about being able to perform at a level that will compliment my rank. Several things happened to allay those concerns. I did an interview for a martial art documentary and the ones who did the filming and watched me teach my class (one an experienced martial artist) expressed appreciation for my abilities, form and technique. He even thought I had the physique of a much younger gentleman. While I must admit that god has blessed my with a decent physique considering my age I have to mention that he hadn’t seen me with my shirt off.

I had pretty much given up on teaching because of age and injury but my ministry (I’m a minister and pastor) found me back in the dojo. I had pretty much resigned myself to managing the organization that I headed and writing the occasional article. God has a way of ordaining certain things in our lives that take us out of our comfort zone. What a difference a few months make. I find myself having to turn down teaching opportunities now. Never the less I still just teach my children classes and my specialized classes for those afore mentioned individuals. I’m not teaching tournament champions and I’m not quite ready to compete in kick boxing or MMA matches but I am still active in the arts and will be in some capacity until they plant me.

As I have said and will continue to say, a master is a master because of what he knows, not because of what he can do. If he is only able to give verbal instruction or is only able to teach in slow motion he is still a master and you would be a fool if you discount his knowledge because of his waning ability. He is a store house of knowledge and ability. Those of us who have opportunity should avail ourselves of the wisdom that they offer.

Speaking of myself again, I want to say that I’m good out of the gate. For five minutes I can be your worst nightmare but if you can outlast me…

My brethren I admonish you to give honor to whom honor is do. Venerate those who have gone where you someday hope to be. Don’t worship him but recognize his knowledge, wisdom and his contribution to the arts. Maybe, if you stay the course and continue to train and study you will reach the place that they have. You can only hope.

God bless you, my brethren. Train hard and go with God.

Dr. Donald Miskel


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Donald Miskel
Donald Miskel started his training in 1959 at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago and trained with several well known and respected martial arts instructors in a number of disciplines. He has attained black belt ranking in six different martial art disciplines. Sensei Miskel taught at several locations in and around the Chicago area for many years. His focus was self defense instruction for civilians and specialized, individual, training for law enforcement personnel and security officers. He worked in several areas of law enforcement, mental health and personal security as well as performing Pastoral duties at several churches and ministries for a number of years. e helped to create the Black Lotus Combative System and he founded the Dante Ryu Gojute Kenpo karate/ Ju jitsu fighting system. Dr. Miskel is an original member of the Black Dragon Fighting Society.