Finding Your Way In Modern Martial Arts

By Ooni Wasselmann
Published on Mar 15th, 2015

I'd like to thank the Martial Arts Learning Community for creating a format that allows the ordinary practitioner an opportunity to express themselves in print.

Becoming a black belt in any martial art is much more than a rigorous physical reality.
Depending on the origin or continued venue for your art, the requirements may range from simple memorization and performance of the basic material, to far more complex discourse on its systematic applications. From my perspective, martial arts practice has been more than just the exercise of skill sets for fighting or self-defense...after sixteen years of direct, regular involvement, it has been an avenue that helps to define my life... at times, forcing me to check the use and abuse of my body, while taking a look into the mirror of my heart and soul. (Martial practice is not simply a matter of fighting skill; other sports introduce and expand on the aspect of combat within certain guidelines).
Recently, I've reached another milestone in this provocative journey. At the age of 80, it would be simple enough to stop practicing...age is certainly an acceptable excuse for inactivity. After all, in the US, the average worker is expected to retire at 65, thus spending the rest of their days dawdling in irrelevancies; passing the time farting and belching while the grand children play in plain sight of the back yard. That scenario has certainly crossed my mind; however, despite a lack of youthful vigor, I have chosen to continue to work, in order to learn and develop. With this aim in mind, I write this article (and hopefully many more) while waiting to meet with my regular training partners.
To write...putting our ideas or personal opinion into public view, is far more intimidating than facing off against an opponent in fighting practice, or walking at night, alone; a stranger in a foreign land. Over time, there has been an abundance of expert, written and verbal discourse about martial practice; thus, I have to wonder what else can be said. It is with this in mind that, although hesitantly, I offer the following discussion. I call it a discussion because I won't give any answers to the questions. My answers are not your answers. You are the expert that will govern the path of your choice.
I have an on-going discourse with my training partners about what makes a good instructor. Their ideas come from many sources...some of it is historic; other notions come from intense inward contemplation and, of course from practice, practice, practice. Like myself, they've experienced many variations, high and low along the way.
My opinions come from experiences that were afforded by an adequate environment for the early stages of development; later, that changed and so, as well, did my opinions and attitude. During that earlier time, I attended several training camps where a variety of masters had shown up to tout their skills. Some were looking for the true believer to become part of their fold; the more secure among them seemed interested in offering an exciting educational experience. Somewhere in between were dozens of skilled practitioners presenting their show. Some were hopeful demigods; others just the guy next door. There were action stars, champion fighters, garage studio kings, academics, bullies, nerds and more. Make no mistake; they were very capable and deserving of their position. Yet, they were/are human. This martial art has always been a source of far reaching ruminations on the human variety. With so much available, what, in the end makes one instructor better than the other? Perhaps a far more important consideration is what makes them right for you?
Considering these questions, I'd like to present two diametrically opposed images. One is of the largest (insert system name) school in the world; boasting 200+ students and offering a curriculum derived from many sources, but not directly related to any certain school of thought. In one way, the school is a business model for anyone interested in the money derived from a regular, contractual student population. It's a leaky bucket operation in which the owner and master has a need to rubber stamp everything in his world; human progress being no exception. When he looks at a student, dollar signs flash in the foreground of his spiritual vision. Occasionally, the dollar signs are replaced with the image of the perfect who will dedicate themselves to the master, the school and the art; finally becoming free labor; teaching the mass population for nothing, while the owner collects the till.
The second image is that of a start-up studio, hidden in an out of the way commercial strip mall. The instructor is young, idealistic and searching for meaning in his life. Teaching a single student is far more important, and enjoyable, than hoarding the masses through a door of marketing deception and eventual wealth. Of course, he'd like to make a living and do well, but, in the end there is more depth to his journey than that of a perfect business model.
Greed can never be the brother to virtue. That family will, surely, be divided.
The first model is well funded. It uses a host of marketing techniques to attract the prospective client to a program of sure fire virtue. Advertising attracts the prospective student. Once inside the school, they see several key phrases that grace the walls (i.e.) self-esteem, self-control, discipline, self-defense and so on)....all with the intention of presenting the perfect model of an upright, solid source of knowledge, wisdom and advancement. Marketing and sales are of paramount importance....after the sale, there are deception, poor product delivery and a lack of foresight that spurns customer dissatisfaction and eventual loss of clientele.
The second model may rely on word of mouth or community outreach as a marketing tool. As time goes on, paid advertising will be employed, but for the early stages it is a growth model that has limited funds and resources. The environment is genuinely caring, as friends and family willingly help with the development, while expecting little or nothing in return.
Naturally, there are many variations between the two extremes. It is not my intention to deride an individuals' desire to succeed and be financially secure. More so, after witnessing the traps that befall the pursuit of wealth and status alone, I am merely cautioning against involvement in that atmosphere. Likewise, one does not have to seek out the hermit sifu in order to attain their highest realization. There are many qualified, honest individuals in the arts; hopefully you will become part of their realm, if you are not already.
Since you're reading this, it might be assumed that you are already in some sort of martial arts setting. If so, I would encourage you to evaluate your position on a regular basis. If you are a beginner or, just wish to try, it may serve you well to take a serious look at what is being offered. If you are a parent, hoping to find a way for your children...begin at home; martial arts studios are a poor substitute for proper parenting.
In the follow up to this article, I'll introduce a questionnaire along with some suggested guidelines to help with the process of evaluating martial arts programs and their various elements.
End of Part 1

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Ooni Wasselmann

  Ooni Wasselman currently lives in or around Northern Michigan and Canada. There, he has been hiding from political elements that originated in his native home (Pierogia). In his homeland, he and his family are considered to be extremist and subversive. His family origins go back to the tip of South Holland's Limburg region, between the Belgian and German borders.

            In the early 1900's, a small group of politically oppressed Pierogians settled in the Limburg region to work in the coal mines and sandstone quarries. Eventually, the early members intermarried with Irish and Polish counterparts, who, later came to the US during the massive immigration movement; post WW1. It is rumored that there is some Dutch blood involved; however, that is questionable, as the Dutch population looked upon that particular working class as being the lowest class.
            Ooni was born in a coal mining community in northern WV. He was one of 15 children, 13 of which survived beyond the crib. Coming of age in the Great Depressionâ spurned his âwandering state, which lasted
for several years, including a stint in the US Navy. During that time, he used false identification papers taking the name of Michael Dlugos. After the war, at the height of American automotive production, he lived in Detroit, MI, working in an automotive parts production business.
            Following his discharge from the military, Ooni had found himself in a political fray over the use of supposed martial arts methods, developed in Pierogia during the 60's and 70's. Having learned techniques from his father and uncles, he began teaching self-defense in WV, under his assumed name. By happenstance, some native Pierogian immigrants walked by his studio. As it turned out, Ooni's father had developed the techniques employed by the secret military police of Pierogia some years ago. The tourists reported what they'd seen, back to officials at home; needless to say they were not happy to give up their secrets.
            Fearing retribution, Ooni decided to leave WV, giving up his teaching position. Through a network of relatives, he migrated to Detroit, then to Canada via the Northern Michigan peninsula. While living there he developed the IKEA (International Karate Exclusion Association). Presently, he continues to teach a small group in an undisclosed underground setting.

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