Nowadays, many martial arts instructors call themselves Grand Master, Great Grand Master, and even Supreme Great Grand Master (don’t laugh I’ve seen it).
I can understand when those terms are used as a sign of respect by devoted students… But, I feel that, in the martial arts world, we have a tendency to over do it. Instructors are just instructors… teachers…Some better than others, some with more experience than others, but in my opinion, very very few are “Masters”. At best, some of us are “Maîtres d’armes” (master at arms).
After our trip to India in 2011, it became even clearer, that a Master is someone who has mastered all desires, to fully enter the path of spirituality… the journey is long and complicated before deserving this title…
Did you know that in many traditions, the Buddha, Jesus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Apollonius, are called Masters… We suddenly feel very small, with our little fists, or our little swords…
So how should we call ourselves? It is an individual choice as for which tradition to follow. Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Indonesian… They all have their traditional names to refer to a martial arts instructor.
I personally think that keeping our traditions alive is important; the world needs the respect and discipline that the Martial Arts can provide. In our modern societies, I am convinced that education would be much smoother if school students were to call their teachers “teacher”, “Sir, “Ma’am”, “Sensei”, “Guro”, instead of “dude”!!
But we shouldn’t isolate ourselves from others by “over-using” martial arts titles. Inside our Kali Majapahit schools, instructors are called Guro (a custom that came not from us, but from our Filipino students), but outside the school, we are just Lila, Fred, Guillaume, Ben, Vincent, etc.
After a “spiritual” trip to India, I seriously considered to stop teaching martial arts at one point. Teaching people how to punch, kick, stab another human being… It felt so pointless, so futile, so empty. Then, I’ve realized that martial arts were just a tool; A way of teaching more universal truth, about Human behaviors, about health, about psychology, and even spirituality.
Martial Arts instructors are not special. We are not special. But we are trying to DO something special. And that makes all the difference in the world.
PS: I am talking about the martial arts world. Some other institutions use the world “master” to honor not a person, but a function… In this case, it is very different.