THE ZEN MIRROR
Different And Better
By Jeff Brooks
There is a certain disease that is keeping martial arts in the dark
ages and preventing civilian martial arts from developing and becoming
the well of knowledge, expertise and personal achievement that it could
The disease is marketing and the specific strain of the disease is inclination
to continually proclaim “We are different. We are better.”
Most martial arts schools and styles make this claim. It is so reflexive
that when it is pointed out that they are doing it people usually respond: “Yeah,
well we are.”
There is a problem there.
And it is not a problem solved by either simple formula: that martial
arts should be non-commercial or that hey it’s a business, that’s
There are some teachers who are doing phenomenal research. These teachers
are bringing the practice of martial arts a degree of depth and technical
accomplishment that has been lost in the public presentation of martial
arts – east and west – for generations. The great modern
teachers like Evan Pantazi and Yang Jwing-ming – and there are
many others – all run programs, all sell their services, and all
seek compensation for their work. As they should. Anyone who wants to
can benefit from their work, and they could not do their work if there
were no compensation for it. And they know as well, that in a generation
or so the cat will be out of the bag, the information they have laboriously
gathered, practiced, polished and dispensed will be widely disseminated
and no one will hold a patent on it any more.
That is the method used in science and it is a much better method than
what is used mostly in martial arts. In martial arts there is a feeling
of grudgingly withholding information – not because a rival tribe
will steal your secrets and defeat your warriors – but because
you will no longer get to feel special. In the walled-outpost version
of modern martial arts schools teach suspicion, jealousy and a sense
of betrayal along with a strong punch and a low stance.
Myths told about old teachers may come from a genuine appreciation for
the mastery that old teacher had. But modern students may not actually
know what if any achievements the old master had. He may have just been
a sincere old guy who practiced for a long time. He may have been a martial
genius. But repeating the lineage hagiography does appeal to need of
the modern practitioner to say my way is different, and my way is the
I notice variations in the quality of schools and practitioners and even
of styles. But more importantly I have noticed that there are sincere
practitioners who train hard and really want to develop their bodies
and minds through their arts. I have seen them stifled and bewildered
by controlling teachers who prevent them from exploring in the name of
stylistic purity or “so they don’t get confused” but
who actually are fearful that the student will find out something they
don’t know, or leave them for another style. Then their egos and
their finances will be hurt.
As teachers we have to accept the fact that some students will be fickle
and jump around out of insecurity or an insecure feeling that they are
missing something going on somewhere else. We should let that kind of
student go. Just like having a romantic relationship with someone who
is fickle or wants to go off exploring. Who wants to hang on to someone
like that? Let them go. Urge them to go.
If the student goes off to learn something new the teacher might use
that perhaps painful moment to recognize that he or she does not know
everything and that they can continue their own education. Or if in fact
that teacher feels that they have a complete and coherent and vital system
that they are teaching they should have the confidence to let all the
people who want them to come study with come, and let all the ones who
want to pass them by, pass by.
Sometimes when I give talks to experienced martial arts teachers, sometime
s during my talk I ask, by a show of hands, Who here is fully appreciated
for how really great they are?… silence… pause… no
one has ever raised their hand. And although it is a light hearted moment,
it seems the recognition of the fact touches everyone. We all want to
be appreciated and recognized for the contributions we are making. Most
martial arts teachers that I know of are sincere. Most do work hard.
And most feel that others are not aware of it.
So to adjust their awareness we brag. We are different. We are better.
Its on our websites, in our phone book ad, in our flyer, in our voice
on the answering machine. And what effect does it have? Some might
be persuaded. Others might be turned off. But it does not change the
general feeling that we are under-recognized for our good qualities
and the good work we do. How do you actually fix that?
Okay, by show of hands, how many of you praise all the people you know
who do well, every time they do well? How many of you affirm the value
of everyone you meet who deserves it? … pause… silence… no
I don’t. Of course you can get carried away with that too. But
if you do tell people they are doing well when they are doing well
it works to their benefit and yours… you actually begin to take
note of the incredibly good things that people do for you, for each
others, for their own lives… Stuff you have overlooked all these
years… now you are seeing it… and the world, your world,
begins to change… for the better…
My suggestion, tested in our labs for over twenty years on thousands
of subjects, by trial and error (lots of error) is this: train hard,
respect people, dig deep, be fearless, be tireless and generous in
your teaching (that is a key attribute in the brilliant teachers I
mentioned above) and recognize everyone in your life for what they
Then you won’t have to worry too much about manipulating and
marketing. Good, sincere people will find you.
About The Author:
Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt, US Shorin Ryu
Karate, has been the director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton,
Massachusetts since 1987 and director of Northampton Zendo since 1993.
He is author of “Rhinoceros Zen – Zen Martial Arts and the
Path to Freedom.” His column Zen Mirror and other articles appear
FightingArts.com is pleased to announce its first
book: “Rhinoceros Zen –Zen
Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom,” by Jeffrey Brooks, a work
that portrays the dual paths and interplay between Zen and Karate-do.
and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding
read for any martial artist.
(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)