Joseph Wilson, Ph.D Has been studying and actively training in Martial Arts for the past 26 years. He was the 2005 International San Shou Champion and the 2006 National Bronze Medallist in Tai Chi. He has earned black belts and/or instructor certifications in several arts and is also a certified Yoga teacher. Coach Wilson holds a Ph.D in Health and Physical Education and is working towards a Ph.D in Criminal Psychology. He owns and operates Memphis Martial Arts Center in Memphis, TN, where he has been a full-time law enforcement officer for the past 10 years. He is a P.O.S.T. certified law enforcement instructor, an internal affairs detective, and he holds certifications to teach law enforcement officers in over 10 subjects.
Although I understand the tradition behind it, it still unnerves me when people refer to me as “Master Wilson”. Even though I've tried to change the definition of a master for people, the term still evokes the same emotions (good or bad), and certain of the many associations that they may have with it.
Technically, I have achieved the rank of “master” in martial arts. I have received many black belt and instructor ranks. Even though I am only 32, I have been consistently training for 28 years now. My “highest” ranks are a 6th Degree Black belt in Modern Kenpo and a 5th Degree Black belt in Kakuto Yawara (a Japanese jujitsu system). I have never been one for titles, so my students over the years have called me everything from Sensei to Sifu to Renshi. Lately, many refer to me as “Coach”, and I like that a lot better.
Recently, someone asked me what “masters” practice, and what else there was for me to learn. I thought about it and said “I'm still working on the basics.” The person re-asked the question, so I laughed and gave the same answer. It's difficult for non- or new martial artists to believe that someone who has been training for as long as I have would still be working on the “basics”, but it's true.
That's the secret. When I was younger I was constantly looking for a new technique. One reason that my resume is so vast is because I was looking for the “ultimate style or technique”. Through art after art and style after style, I continued to be let down when no magic techniques were taught. After all that, I discovered the secret lies not in “new techniques” but in refinement of what I already knew, refinement and sophistication of the basics. This point was punctuated for me when I was in China working with some of the most amazing martial artists I have ever seen. I trained with them daily, and what did we practice? The basics, over and over again. When I've spoken to Coach Sonnon about his experiences in Russia, training with the masters there, he said the same thing: They worked like crazy on conditioning and basics. Coach Ryan Hurst talked about the same experiences training in Japan with masters of different styles: basics, basics and basics.
How do “masters” learn from basics? There are several answers, but I'd like to highlight two in particular. One is proper mechanics. In CST we learn about the mechanics of the joints and then how to integrate breath, movement and structure to make any exercise or movement more effective and efficient. Once you understand this, you start seeing bio-mechanical efficiency in movement, no matter what you are doing. Using this same principle in martial arts, working the basics properly will give you the kinesthetic awareness to feel and instinctively correct your own bio-mechanics and – ideally -- the ability to manipulate the lack of bio-mechanical efficiency in others, as in a sparring or fighting situation. All it takes is time and practice (daily personal practice -- sound familiar?).
The second answer is refining and gaining a deeper understanding of what you are doing. This can be accomplished by having a good teacher or coach (and I am blessed to have the best coaches). As an example of refinement, let me tell you about my boxing training. Coach Brandon Jones has opened my eyes to more “secrets” of proper stance, delivery and mechanics of boxing than anyone else. Why should this be impressive? My boxing training began at age 18, at the City of Memphis Police boxing gym. I had great, old school trainers who taught me a lot. My second boxing coach was a gentleman named Joey Hadley. Joey was a former protégé of the legendary Cuss D’Amato, and hits harder than any human being should. So I've had great trainers who taught me well. Coach Jones, however, showed me one principle in about 45 seconds. He calls it his “C” position. In this quick lesson he connected more dots than any other boxing coach ever had for me. Don’t misunderstand me: I believe that if it were not for the coaches I had previously and the work I put in, I would not have absorbed the concept so well, but Coach Jones put it all together for me. In the last few months, as I've been incorporating his “C” position into my training and the training of my students, I've seen HUGE jumps in efficiency of movement and delivery of strikes.
This is how I learn now. I go and train with those who are better and more knowledgeable than I am. I listen to what they say, and I implement it in my training. After a few weeks or months of training, I realize that they gave me gold and my game has improved by leaps and bounds. There is no real secret to it; it's just like anyone else learns. The trick is daily personal practice, and then more practice. If Repetition is the mother of skill, Consistency is the father.
In the words of Shunryu Suzuki, on the subject of Sho Shin, or Beginner’s Mind: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.”