Unraveling the Essence of a Grandmaster: A Perspective on Leadership in Martial Arts

Datu Tim Hartman

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Unraveling the Essence of a Grandmaster: A Perspective on Leadership in Martial Arts

Understanding the concept of a ‘grandmaster’ can often be challenging. However, one shared quality among all grandmasters is undeniably their innate leadership skills. Taking Modern Arnis as our reference point, we see a clear hierarchy – from the students to the Guros (teachers), ascending to the Masters, the Datus, and finally, the Grandmaster. This pyramid illustrates the evolution of leadership, with each rank commanding the one beneath.

At the pinnacle, the grandmaster symbolizes the embodiment of leadership, often likened to a president or a king. They bear the responsibility of guiding all other ranks, setting the course for the future of the organization, and embodying the essence of the art.

However, recently there has been a surge in individuals seeking to earn the title of ‘grandmaster’ for personal prestige, with little or no intention of shouldering the leadership responsibilities that the title demands. It’s my humble belief that such behavior undermines the sanctity of the title and the art.

Take note, martial arts aspirants who have achieved the esteemed title of ‘grandmaster’, yet only lead a handful of students from a school, recreation center, backyard or garage, it’s time to either rise to the occasion or respectfully step aside.

I present these thoughts as my personal perspective. I acknowledge and respect the diversity of opinions in the martial arts community and I am open to engaging in constructive conversations about this or related topics.

So, dear readers, community members, and fellow martial arts enthusiasts, I invite your feedback. Do my sentiments resonate, or am I just being overly critical? Are we, as part of this revered tradition, upholding the high standards set by our predecessors?

Thank you for considering my viewpoint, and I look forward to our dialogue.

With all due respect,
Datu Tim Hartman
World Modern Arnis Alliance

#modernarnis #DatuHartman #arnis #datu #Filipinomartialarts #grandmaster #martialarts
 

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Gyakuto

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Unraveling the Essence of a Grandmaster: A Perspective on Leadership in Martial Arts

Understanding the concept of a ‘grandmaster’ can often be challenging.
What is challenging about the concept?
At the pinnacle, the grandmaster symbolizes the embodiment of leadership, often likened to a president or a king. They bear the responsibility of guiding all other ranks, setting the course for the future of the organization, and embodying the essence of the art.
This sounds very much like what one would expect of a company CEO. Just because a person can wave a stick, swing a sword or throw out their foot with exemplary possibly superhuman skill it doesn't mean they are able to shepherd people, organise an association or plan for the future nor should we expect them to be able to do these things.
However, recently there has been a surge in individuals seeking to earn the title of ‘grandmaster’ for personal prestige, with little or no intention of shouldering the leadership responsibilities that the title demands. It’s my humble belief that such behavior undermines the sanctity of the title and the art.
The fact that the term ‘grandmaster’ makes me, at best, cringe when I hear it because I associate it with an obese men in stars and stripes keikogi and 5 tags on their threadbare black belts suggests it is already a moot term. The proliferation of one-touch knockout masters and those with a death touch has seen to that.
Take note, martial arts aspirants who have achieved the esteemed title of ‘grandmaster’, yet only lead a handful of students from a school, recreation center, backyard or garage, it’s time to either rise to the occasion or respectfully step aside.
I don’t agree. A certain Japanese Karate 8th Dan Hanshi once resident in the U.K. moved away from ‘his’ association when nepotism meant the control of the organisation when to the not-very-able son of the originator of the style. He taught a handful of students, often in Hyde Park in London for a long time and until besieged to build the art up once again into a substantial association as other seniors students defected from the mother association. But that didn’t seem to be his intention.

I personally think we should dispose of the English term ‘Grandmaster’ because of all it’s silly associations and revert to the terms in the native language of the art being practised - if only to save me from cringing.
 

HighKick

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Unraveling the Essence of a Grandmaster: A Perspective on Leadership in Martial Arts

Understanding the concept of a ‘grandmaster’ can often be challenging. However, one shared quality among all grandmasters is undeniably their innate leadership skills. Taking Modern Arnis as our reference point, we see a clear hierarchy – from the students to the Guros (teachers), ascending to the Masters, the Datus, and finally, the Grandmaster. This pyramid illustrates the evolution of leadership, with each rank commanding the one beneath.

At the pinnacle, the grandmaster symbolizes the embodiment of leadership, often likened to a president or a king. They bear the responsibility of guiding all other ranks, setting the course for the future of the organization, and embodying the essence of the art.

However, recently there has been a surge in individuals seeking to earn the title of ‘grandmaster’ for personal prestige, with little or no intention of shouldering the leadership responsibilities that the title demands. It’s my humble belief that such behavior undermines the sanctity of the title and the art.

Take note, martial arts aspirants who have achieved the esteemed title of ‘grandmaster’, yet only lead a handful of students from a school, recreation center, backyard or garage, it’s time to either rise to the occasion or respectfully step aside.

I present these thoughts as my personal perspective. I acknowledge and respect the diversity of opinions in the martial arts community and I am open to engaging in constructive conversations about this or related topics.

So, dear readers, community members, and fellow martial arts enthusiasts, I invite your feedback. Do my sentiments resonate, or am I just being overly critical? Are we, as part of this revered tradition, upholding the high standards set by our predecessors?

Thank you for considering my viewpoint, and I look forward to our dialogue.

With all due respect,
Datu Tim Hartman
World Modern Arnis Alliance

#modernarnis #DatuHartman #arnis #datu #Filipinomartialarts #grandmaster #martialarts
Taking Modern Arnis as our reference point, we see a clear hierarchy – from the students to the Guros (teachers), ascending to the Masters, the Datus, and finally, the Grandmaster. This pyramid illustrates the evolution of leadership, with each rank commanding the one beneath.

At the pinnacle, the grandmaster symbolizes the embodiment of leadership, often likened to a president or a king. They bear the responsibility of guiding all other ranks, setting the course for the future of the organization, and embodying the essence of the art.
There is nothing wrong with an organizational schematic. However, 'pyramid' is usually seen with bad connotations as a scam, so I would recommend treading lightly on its use as a descriptive.
Again, comparing a high-ranking student in any martial art as a President or king is really, really leading people to misunderstand the intent of your message. They are the owner of a school or possibly a group of schools, nothing more. They are Not leading a country for Pete's sake. To me, that is a comparison stretched Way too far. Putting a GM on a pedestal and making them 'godlike' is just wrong. This was Never the intention of the arts that I am belted in, Kali being one of them. This is a tendency driven by man, and usually the man at the top of the pyramid.
However, recently there has been a surge in individuals seeking to earn the title of ‘grandmaster’ for personal prestige, with little or no intention of shouldering the leadership responsibilities that the title demands. It’s my humble belief that such behavior undermines the sanctity of the title and the art.
Since your debate appears to be driven by a structure that is organizational in its basis, I suspect you take exception to the great number of small, independent schools or groups out there (in the park, gym, or whatnot). For your purpose, much of this behavior is self-regulating and there are few in this model that call themselves Grandmaster. There will always be exceptions and people who self-award to a high Dan. But this happens in and out of organized systems.
Wrong is wrong.
I fully believe some of the best pure martial artist in the world are, or never was, attached to a system or a name. Were they the best businessmen? Maybe not. There is a huge difference.
Take note, martial arts aspirants who have achieved the esteemed title of ‘grandmaster’, yet only lead a handful of students from a school, recreation center, backyard or garage, it’s time to either rise to the occasion or respectfully step aside.
The comment creates a conundrum for many people. The sheer number of people practicing and ranking up in the martial arts has risen at an exponential rate. Nearly every style of martial arts (that still exist) has seen large scale expansion in the last 3-decades.
However, in a lot of systems, a person cannot get to the rank of GM in that timeframe, and it is dependent on what rank your system deems 'GM' and the vehicle(s) used to get there. At the same time, there is a huge flood of people ranking up and nearing this magical Dan level.
So, what should we do? Tell them they must open their own commercial school, pay dues to their system, and have a certain number of students before they move forward in rank? This is just not practical or sustainable in large. It must be acknowledged that some people just cannot teach, no matter the subject matter involved. In greater number, not many people have the resources, opportunity, or desire to open their own school. But the same person can be very, very good at their craft. Should we limit their progression, possibly leading to a fracture in the relationship which could further lead to a split of the school/system and ultimately diminishing the whole? How is that better?
I have not been actively involved in Kali with Tuhon Bill McGrath for some time. My Shotokan Sensei (Paul Tucker) was a very old American when I trained under him. He experienced a Lot of Okinawan exposure and influence, having lived and trained there over 35-years. He was Not GM by 'official' rank. The majority of my time is spent in a Korean vein of martial arts. But the theme was the same in the discussion of high rank no matter the style or cultural influence. Grand Master is a modern, made-up title that doesn't have much substance. My Korean GM (and others) have often said they do not know how, when, where the convention got started, and they Never address each other as GM. It is always 'mister'. or 'miss' within their group. Mister Shin address Mister Han as such, and so on and so forth.
Can the nomenclature have value? sure. Organizationally, it can have value for structure, just like the color belt system does. It really goes off the rails when it becomes a back-slapping gesture. Which is strongly what you are describing. IMHO.
Sir, I look forward to your response so we can further discuss.
 

Hot Lunch

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A certain Japanese Karate 8th Dan Hanshi once resident in the U.K. moved away from ‘his’ association when nepotism meant the control of the organisation when to the not-very-able son of the originator of the style.
I always that that was a given in associations either based in Japan or started by a Japanese person. Which, personally, I have no problem with, as long as they never claimed that rising to that position is meritocratic.
 

Hot Lunch

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So, dear readers, community members, and fellow martial arts enthusiasts, I invite your feedback. Do my sentiments resonate, or am I just being overly critical? Are we, as part of this revered tradition, upholding the high standards set by our predecessors?
Thankfully, I've never trained any place where someone held the title of "Grandmaster."

If you're the top dog in your association, then titles such as "kaicho" and "so honbucho" are sufficient. These titles simply translate to "association chief," or something similar. Not "grandmaster."
 

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Unraveling the Essence of a Grandmaster: A Perspective on Leadership in Martial Arts

Understanding the concept of a ‘grandmaster’ can often be challenging. However, one shared quality among all grandmasters is undeniably their innate leadership skills. Taking Modern Arnis as our reference point, we see a clear hierarchy – from the students to the Guros (teachers), ascending to the Masters, the Datus, and finally, the Grandmaster. This pyramid illustrates the evolution of leadership, with each rank commanding the one beneath.

At the pinnacle, the grandmaster symbolizes the embodiment of leadership, often likened to a president or a king. They bear the responsibility of guiding all other ranks, setting the course for the future of the organization, and embodying the essence of the art.

However, recently there has been a surge in individuals seeking to earn the title of ‘grandmaster’ for personal prestige, with little or no intention of shouldering the leadership responsibilities that the title demands. It’s my humble belief that such behavior undermines the sanctity of the title and the art.

Take note, martial arts aspirants who have achieved the esteemed title of ‘grandmaster’, yet only lead a handful of students from a school, recreation center, backyard or garage, it’s time to either rise to the occasion or respectfully step aside.

I present these thoughts as my personal perspective. I acknowledge and respect the diversity of opinions in the martial arts community and I am open to engaging in constructive conversations about this or related topics.

So, dear readers, community members, and fellow martial arts enthusiasts, I invite your feedback. Do my sentiments resonate, or am I just being overly critical? Are we, as part of this revered tradition, upholding the high standards set by our predecessors?

Thank you for considering my viewpoint, and I look forward to our dialogue.

With all due respect,
Datu Tim Hartman
World Modern Arnis Alliance

#modernarnis #DatuHartman #arnis #datu #Filipinomartialarts #grandmaster #martialarts
Is your point that "grandmaster" is a designation of leadership of the organization? If so, I'm cool with that. That's the case with higher ranks (above nidan) in the organization I came up in (Nihon Goshin Aikido Association). Ranks above nidan weren't technical, but recognition of contribution to the art (creating instructors that started new schools, etc.). I have no issue with that.

I think some see the term as a designation of expertise. For them, it wouldn't matter whether you have a small program, etc. If you reach a relative level of expertise, you're "worthy" of that designation. For me, that kind fo thing should be reserved for some kind of technical rank (even if the technical "test" isn't a physical test). When I left that association, I knew I'd likely never have a large group, so I simply terminated ranking at something equivalent to nidan.

Personally, I don't like viewing anything in MA as having "sanctity". This can (and often does) lead to unquestioningly keeping things exactly as they were passed along, revering those of higher rank as unquestionable and almost infallible, and not growing the art or yourself within the art.

I think the use of "grandmaster" by those leading a small group is mostly about rank for marketing and prestige. I'm not a fan of that, though I've had some of the same questions (will someone question my ability because of my rank) along the way, myself.
 

Gerry Seymour

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Thankfully, I've never trained any place where someone held the title of "Grandmaster."

If you're the top dog in your association, then titles such as "kaicho" and "so honbucho" are sufficient. These titles simply translate to "association chief," or something similar. Not "grandmaster."
What's the linguistic issue with the word "grandmaster"?
 

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Thankfully, I've never trained any place where someone held the title of "Grandmaster."
Or you just didn't know. I've never wanted to be called Grandmaster. I don't even get called Master. I'm just not that formal. These are titles that the organization uses. Students call me Sir or Sabumnim if they're being formalish. Otherwise, it's Mark.
The only person I've ever insisted call me Master was Mrs. Dog. And you can probably guess how well that worked.
 

Hot Lunch

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What's the linguistic issue with the word "grandmaster"?
Same as what Gyakuto said. I hear that word, and the first thing that comes to mind is someone whose belt and gi is covered in a bunch shiny accoutrements.
 

Hot Lunch

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Or you just didn't know.
Top dog of the last association had the title of so honbucho. Teriyuki Okazaki (head of ISKF, my current association) has the title of Chairman and Chief Instructor. Gustavo Machado has the title of Head Instructor.

The closest thing to "serious" I can take that word is if a rapper has it in his stage name.
 

Buka

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Or you just didn't know. I've never wanted to be called Grandmaster. I don't even get called Master. I'm just not that formal. These are titles that the organization uses. Students call me Sir or Sabumnim if they're being formalish. Otherwise, it's Mark.
The only person I've ever insisted call me Master was Mrs. Dog. And you can probably guess how well that worked.
I’ll bet she’s still laughing. 🤗
 

Tony Dismukes

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However, one shared quality among all grandmasters is undeniably their innate leadership skills. Taking Modern Arnis as our reference point, we see a clear hierarchy – from the students to the Guros (teachers), ascending to the Masters, the Datus, and finally, the Grandmaster. This pyramid illustrates the evolution of leadership, with each rank commanding the one beneath.

At the pinnacle, the grandmaster symbolizes the embodiment of leadership, often likened to a president or a king. They bear the responsibility of guiding all other ranks, setting the course for the future of the organization, and embodying the essence of the art.

This sounds very much like what one would expect of a company CEO. Just because a person can wave a stick, swing a sword or throw out their foot with exemplary possibly superhuman skill it doesn't mean they are able to shepherd people, organise an association or plan for the future nor should we expect them to be able to do these things.
As Gyakuto notes, the skills and attributes of an effective organizational chief executive don't have any particular relationship to the skills and attributes necessary to be an exceptional martial arts practitioner or instructor.

Beyond that, I'm not sure why any martial art needs a hierarchical organization, especially one where each rank "commands" the one beneath. I don't see any particular benefits and I see lots of ways it can go wrong.

I'm also skeptical of the idea that any martial art is best served by having a single person in charge who guides its progress. In my experience, technical development in an art primarily comes from the collective experience of thousands of practitioners around the world as they continuously share and test new ideas.
 

Buka

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I respect Martial Etiquette and Protocol. Always have.

I’ll address anyone in the arts with whatever designation they’re been given by their organization or are known by. As will any of the students I’ve taught.

Over the years I’ve been addressed however MY instructors wanted me to be addressed by my students.
There finally came a point where I felt I had been studying and training long enough to decide for myself.

Which comes in handy memory wise. Since the nineties turned into the two thousands, I’m addressed, by my choice, as “Coach” Not Coach Buka, just Coach. If I hear somebody yell “Hey, Coach” I know, before turning around, what era that student is from.

If a former student addresses me by my first name I know he’s from the Seventies. If I hear “Sensei” I know the person is from the first half of the eighties. It comes in handy trying to remember names. Old students enjoy being remembered by name.


There are certain caveats to this. If I meet a twenty year old kid who introduces himself to me as “Master”, I’m not going to call him that. (And, yes, I’ve met several)
I will, however, address them as Sir. I just don’t buy into the twenty year old Master thing. Even if they’ve been training since they were three.

In college, it was the same way. Some teachers were Mrs or Miss or Mister. Some were Professor. One was Doctor.
It was all good.
 

Wing Woo Gar

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Or you just didn't know. I've never wanted to be called Grandmaster. I don't even get called Master. I'm just not that formal. These are titles that the organization uses. Students call me Sir or Sabumnim if they're being formalish. Otherwise, it's Mark.
The only person I've ever insisted call me Master was Mrs. Dog. And you can probably guess how well that worked.
It’s “Lord and Master” and if you want to make it work, shake the ice in your empty glass when she walks by…
 

Wing Woo Gar

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Top dog of the last association had the title of so honbucho. Teriyuki Okazaki (head of ISKF, my current association) has the title of Chairman and Chief Instructor. Gustavo Machado has the title of Head Instructor.

The closest thing to "serious" I can take that word is if a rapper has it in his stage name.
Like Master P said, “ there they go, there they go”
 

Buka

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P.S.

One side note. There was a twenty year old who called himself Master. He since has changed and became a great student of the Arts and doesn’t refer to himself as Master anymore.

But we would’ve let him off that easy. We still address him as “Young Master MuchFaster.”

Why? Because we’re still busting his balls.
 

Hot Lunch

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I’ll address anyone in the arts with whatever designation they’re been given by their organization or are known by. As will any of the students I’ve taught.
Here's the catch: some titles imply a greater level of submission/deference by the addressor to the addressee than others. That's why it's not always this simple.

The title of "chief instructor" implies a healthy distance between the person using that term and the person to whom the title applies. The titles of "master" and "grandmaster" imply an unhealthy relationship between the holder of that title and the person addressing them as such. Cult leaders immediately come to mind.

By the way, since I've been on this forum, this is probably the second most discussed topic after... belts.
 

Dirty Dog

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By the way, since I've been on this forum, this is probably the second most discussed topic after... belts.
And for the most part, the people who care a lot about rank are also the ones most concerned with titles.
 

Buka

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Here's the catch: some titles imply a greater level of submission/deference by the addressor to the addressee than others. That's why it's not always this simple.

The title of "chief instructor" implies a healthy distance between the person using that term and the person to whom the title applies. The titles of "master" and "grandmaster" imply an unhealthy relationship between the holder of that title and the person addressing them as such. Cult leaders immediately come to mind.

By the way, since I've been on this forum, this is probably the second most discussed topic after... belts.
It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ll address you with whatever title you want.

There are some I will not. Known charlatans for example. I’ll still call them Sir or Ma’am, though.
 

skribs

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For me it's simple.

Students learn martial arts.
Instructors teach students martial arts.
Masters teach instructors to teach students martial arts.
Grand masters teach masters to teach instructors to teach students martial arts.
 
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