Shhhhhhh… It’s A Secret!

I am often asked my thoughts about the existence of secrets in the martial arts. My response usually begins with one of my favourite stories on the subject.

Twenty years ago we ran a full time centre in High Street Preston, one of the first of its kind in Melbourne. On one of the walls I hung a small poster that read, “For the secrets of the Martial Arts, look behind this poster”. I would have a lot of fun observing students peeking behind the poster to read my words, “Get back on the dojo floor and train!”

The subject of secrets was also a great source of amusement to Ohtsuka Sensei. Whenever he was teaching something profound, which was often, and he knew he had everyone’s attention he would whisper to the group, “Don’t tell anyone! It’s a secret.”

I must confess I dislike the term, as it has connotations of something that is strange or mysterious and only available to a select few. A secret is something that is not known or seen by others, or not meant to be known or seen by others.

Even despite Ohtsuka Sensei’s joking, there have been many instances of knowledge being concealed in the martial arts.

From a combat perspective, in a time when warriors relied on their skills and spirit for survival, secrets were important. You needed to be better prepared and more powerful than your enemy. Later, knowledge was concealed for more commercial reasons. Poor, naïve or greedy teachers sold their knowledge to the highest bidder without a second thought.

Sometimes, information may be withheld from a student because the teacher may feel that they have not attained the required skill level or have not demonstrated emotional maturity. This of course may be misunderstood by the disciple and has been a major reason for conflicts in schools. These hostilities are unnecessary and can be avoided. A teacher should have the intelligence and patience to observe and guide their students through the many stages of their development and likewise a student must have humility and trust their teacher. Without this, the relationship is dysfunctional and neither is able to thrive.

Delusions of grandeur and self-importance are an expression of insecurity and a major obstacle in an enduring relationship. Physical competence is a low form of attainment. Temperament and strength of character are the true boons of Martial Arts. Disciples of The Way must cultivate the spirit and learn to balance the mind, body and spirit to obtain refinement of the consciousness.

Knowledge is like a map to a pirate’s treasure. Perhaps someone has seen the map, spoken of the map or even stumbled upon it. You still need to travel the seas, walk the mountains and dig the holes to receive the treasures.

“The most precious treasure is to know oneself.”

James Sumarac

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