A Buddhist friend showed me a video featuring some Tibetan yogis. These were people whom she greatly admired (some were her teachers). She saw masters, I saw ordinary men. In one of the old video-tapes sold by Taika Oyata, the voice over narration says, “Only master Oyata can properly interpret the kata.” Clearly, these folks look at Oyata-sensei and see “the master.” I just see a man. Now, those yogis were skillful and knowledgeable and well qualified to be teachers. And Oyata-sensei is skillful and knowledgeable and well qualified to be a teacher. And my friend is fortunate to have such teachers as those I saw. And Oyata’s students are fortunate to have such a teacher as Oyata. But, the yogis and Oyata-sensei are not special, unique, elevated, superior beings. They are ordinary men who were fortunate to have good teachers, and who put in the time and the effort to become skillful, and then the additional time and effort required to become truly exemplary. But, they are still ordinary men.

I am an ordinary man. My teachers have been ordinary men and women. My dojo mates have been ordinary men and women. My students have been ordinary men and women. Each of us has mastered some aspect of living life. Each of us has become accomplished at something – accomplished and maybe even extraordinary. So, why should anyone think of me as “master”, much less “grandmaster.” I consider myself to be an average martial artist. And maybe it’s just that I am average for someone who has trained for 40 years, but that doesn’t make me special, just devoted.

My point is this, there are no martial arts masters here, I am no Master – I don’t even know what that word means. I know myself to be completely ordinary. Of course, some of you might think I am being all “gosh, shucks” humble here, but that is not true. Believe me, I have a plenty big ego. Other’s might be reminded of the old saying, “No one is a master who thinks he is,” and conclude that saying I am not a master somehow proves that I really am. I know the truth – ordinary.

So, why am I the guy people come to train with? It is because I was lucky enough to have good teachers, and having good teachers makes a huge difference. I have students (truly, they are really my teachers) who are much better martial artists than I am. They are more dedicated, train harder, have a more intense passion than I. Yet, I’m the guy helping them for the simple reason that they learned incorrect material. What would they be like if they were lucky enough to learn correctly from the start (look at my Yondan son or my Shodan daughter and you’ll have a pretty good idea). And how quickly they are becoming better than me as they discard improper teaching for proper teaching.

So, it only seem to you that I am great if you learned poorly. But, once you know the martial arts properly, you see how ordinary I am. As my friend Dusty Seale and I like to joke, “It’s not that we’re great, it’s that everyone else really sucks.” And they suck because they have had poor teachers.

There is one more thing that makes a difference, too. If you believe that only Taika Oyata can properly interpret the kata, then you will never be able to interpret kata. If you believe that the yogi are special “fully realized beings”, then you can never attain anything. But, when you realize that they are ordinary, then there is no reason (if you have the desire) why you can’t also be great.

Now, go train,
Chris Thomas