Best advice ever given to me as a martial artist? “Know yourself and exactly why you are training in the martial arts, and then carefully select the best role model teacher who directly addresses your motivating passion.”
For me, that meant looking all across America for a teacher who inspired me with his skill, ability to teach others those skills, and who lived an exemplary life. Unfortunately, so many of the people I found in the early 1970s teaching martial arts were actively into the drug scene, suffered from failed marriages, and did whatever they needed to bring in pretty unimpressive amounts of money. For me, I was finally driven overseas to find a teacher worthy of me, and an art that clearly addressed what I wanted to get from the martial arts.
There are so many martial arts out there. There are competition martial arts (in so many different forms with their required rule books), health restoration martial arts, historical time period martial arts dedicated to preserving ancient or lost cultures, body movement refining martial arts almost abstract in their artistry, and of course self-protection martial arts. Each approach is so radically different from all the others that it almost seems silly to use a single term like “martial arts” to describe all the variations. It is absolutely undeniably true that most will not fit your deepest committed motivation. Pick the one that does.
It is so important to consider the character, knowledge, life values, and life style of anyone you would call teacher. You are getting so much more than just technique alone. You are getting a way of thinking, a way of relating to problems, a way of finding solutions, a way of regarding those who would attack you, and even a way of dealing with those who would befriend you.
Unfortunately, I have seen too many young students sign on with a real rascal of a teacher, perhaps knowing full well of his flaws, but sure that they can get some technique without also taking on his negative behaviors and thought patterns. I silently shake my head. It is just not worth it, in my book. Pick a skilled teacher that you respect and hope to be more like one day. Training with a bad person is its own punishment.
This naive ignorance regarding the influence of a teacher is even more awkward in the days of the 2020s. Young martial artists of the current generation seem to give no appreciation for the importance of lineage in martial arts study. Everybody is on their own, taking little bits from various people along the way and then forging a best-guess as to what is proudly called one’s “own system”. When I was studying martial arts in the 1960s and 1970s, the most important question asked was, “Who is your teacher?” That does not seem to count for much these days.