Friday, July 4, 2008

Time and a Word

There's that word again.


It's a word full of meaning, full of promise, and full of misunderstandings.

It basically got a well-deserved bad rap when connected to "slave."
Tell someone you have a "master," or refer to someone by that title, and people get very nervous and uncomfortable.

Right up front, I'll tell you that's not what I mean by it at all. I'm not talking about a "power-over" relationship where one person has no say, and no choice. I'm also not talking about a BDSM thing where people are playing with the master/slave power structure.

Apprenticing to a master is full of choice. And it isn't play, or pretend.

What I'm talking about is someone who has mastery of a skill, who embodies that, and who is able to teach that skill, that way of being, to an apprentice.

Not an easy task.

Being a master is two-thirds of a very specific trust relationship, with a huge responsibility. Being an apprentice is the other two thirds.

Yes. I know. And we'll talk about math a lot more as time goes on.
But it's exactly what I meant. Each person has to give more than half.

First of all, the master has to actually have the skill. Has to be able to do the thing, not just talk about it.

But it's more than that. Being a master is about teaching, and it isn't always the most highly skilled practitioner who is the best teacher.

Some other necessary qualities:

1. Honesty- especially in evaluating performance.
2. Sensitivity, and the ability to discern subtle changes in the student.
3. Communication. This should have been first on the list. Should be the first ten, really.
4. Good listening skills.
5. Patience- but not for bullshit.
6. Willingness to learn.
7. An understanding of how people learn.
8. The ability to model, and to inspire
9. The ability to be whatever the student needs in the moment in order to facilitate learning. Sometimes, this is the toughest part, when there is a need to be stern or demanding with someone with whom you have a close relationship. You must be able to do this without anger, staying in control of your emotions, especially if your student is not.

There's more, but that's a decent start, and enough for now.

One last bit... what kind of master are we talking about?
The name of the blog includes "swordmaster" but I've also referred to him as my "fencing master," so what's the difference? Are they the same thing?

The answer is "it depends."

In general, most of the time, no, probably not. There are a large number of people out there today who have the title "fencing master," but who are not really masters. The "authority" to give that title originally was only in the hands of other fencing masters. But for a variety of reasons, it currently is not so, at least not in the US, where that title is given most often by the United States Fencing Coaches Association. A coach designating someone a master is a lot like having EMTs giving out medical degrees. Coaches are only qualified to designate another coach- and that's basically what the USFCA does. They CALL them "fencing masters," but they are coaches. They also call what they are doing "fencing," and it isn't, but that's another story.

For our purposes, with this particular person, yes, they mean pretty much the same thing.
Part of that has to do with the fact that my master is trained in more than the modern fencing weapons, and was trained by a master in a long line of fencing masters. And part has to do with what skills and knowledge he is able to teach me, what I'm trying to learn from him, which isn't only about the three modern weapons, or about sport competition. It isn't only about fencing, even. And part has to do with the fact that he is trained to teach, to develop mastery in another person, not just to help someone win a game.

That's his part.
Next time, I'll talk about my part.

No comments: