Hollywood, Books and Games make mastering something seem like a quest to earn or find hidden secrets. Most of us get tricked by this thinking which leads us to the idea that if we “prove ourselves” we’ll be able to access the “secrets of the masters.”
A year ago I was asking around the local pagan community: “We’ve all studied magic 101; most of us know how to cut circles, summon spirits, use divination tools… I’ve never seen decent 201 and 301 studies. It’s like all we know to share are the basics. Does anyone know a source for more advanced studies?”
My questions regarding mastery were culminations of a decision I made a while ago. I decided to spend the time and master a couple things I love. Over the last decade there are 4 things that I have spent enough time on to become quite skilled concerning: Magic, Card Game Design, Computer Repair and Web Design.
I eschewed any sort of certification in any of these fields. In computers I didn’t feel the certifications paid their costs back in value, and in magic I didn’t feel that certifications meant anything. I’ve seen “third degree” witches who couldn’t evoke if their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, without any sort of baseline to measure yourself against, you don’t have a good way to measure your progress.
In the end I looked around me, learned what I would like to avoid from the persons I disliked, and chose to emulate those who I liked and respected. After a while, I learned that everyone has aspects I dislike and aspects I seek to emulate. I choose to interact with those who show more of the latter of course, but even people I don’t want to be around have something to teach me.
Starting a couple years ago, I’ve had people ask me to teach them in my fields. I constantly declined their requests thinking I wasn’t qualified since I have so many things that I need to improve; only to see them go off and find someone with a much shorter “resume” to learn from. Recently the universe helped clarify the situation by giving me opportunities to spend time with those I consider masters of the fields. I found myself being treated as an equal and even had them point out that they considered me such… Talk about an old school initiation! In old schools initiations were events done to recognize you’ve accomplished something. The modern mentality of initiating someone onto a path is obviously a lot different and to me, less meaningful.
During one of these conversations, one of the masters was telling a story about someone seeking “secrets.” It was one of those moments when everyone is in complete flow with one another and finishing each other’s sentences, so I acted out her response, “The basics are the secrets!” The table erupted in a moment of cheers “EXACTLY!” and then went silent as we all contemplated what we just said…
Mastery isn't about learning and keeping secrets. Mastery is about mastering the basics, skills which build upon the basics, skills which build upon those skills and so on.
For a long time I've liked the system of Apprentice, Journeyman and Master. However, since it is rarely in use any more I've had to do a lot of thinking and "pulling answers out of my ass" regarding the system. What I've come up with is:
Apprentice: Someone learning the basics, skills which are required to perform the basic duties of the art/science.
Journeyman: Someone who knows the basic duties of the art/science and is ready to guide themselves forward in it.
Master: Someone who has achieved a level of skill in the art/science (or a specific branch thereof) that other masters recognize them as equally skilled (or have reason to lean on their focused skills on a consistent basis).
Grand Master: Many Masters become content at some point, whereas a Grand Master continues to study regardless of past achievement. Eventually the extreme skill-set becomes apparent and the person is recognized as exceptionally skilled even among masters.
I had an Martial Arts Master who turned a basic throw into a work of art. Where we students were struggling with our whole body to get our “opponent” onto the ground, with a seeming jerk of his shoulder and twist of his hip we’d go flying. At the time we’d say to each other… “He’s a master so he’s great at this.” The truth however was that, “He’s great at this, so he’s a master.”
He had spent hours of practice improving each detail. After a time, the basics allows him to learn more challenging skills which allowed him to learn advanced skills and so on until he became a master.
Take Chi Strike Arts. There are multiple “basics” that if you practice empower you to do some pretty cool stuff:
- First: Master the points. Know them, as well as how and when to use them.
- Second: Master striking them. Learn the forms and be skilled at surviving the encounter so you can use the chi strikes.
- Third: Master Projecting your Chi. At first, most people have a hard time focusing their chi enough that a strike affects the point.
When you master all three you end up being able to do cool stuff like striking an opponent’s chi points and disabling them without touching them! Again, there is no secret, just lots and lots and LOTS of practicing. Now those of us who are lazy want to believe there is a secret. We want to believe that if we could just get someone to teach us the secret we could do it too. However, you usually NEED the foundational skills. I have a friend who called advanced techniques "unlearned truths." A secret implies that it would be something a common person could utilize whereas the unlearned truths in his art require a certain skill-set to practice.
Be careful of "Climb the Ladder Syndrome" however. I used to want to learn basics enough to learn a more advanced technique and eventually learned that just because I was skilled enough to practice the "advanced technique" I missed out on a lot by then ignoring the "basic skill." A friend made an analogy to the Olympics. Apparently the cool tricks we see aren't all they exhibit. They aren't just scored on how well they perform the bleeding edge of the art, it's how well they do overall. If you are diving it's awesome that you can do a Quadruple Flip, but if you can't do an awesome Single Flip you will lose.
Of course, most of us just want to do the “cool tricks.” However, now that we’re aware that the cool tricks aren’t secrets, what’s the harm in working toward and enjoying them? At least now we won’t be annoying the Master by trying to IGNORE the very basics which compose the necessary skills of the “cool trick” or ask him to learn "the secret" to the skill!
Power Before Wisdom