Sensei. Master. Coach. Instructor.
These are all titles I have heard used to reference and reverence our martial art gurus. They are the ones who take to task the raw clay of our minds and bodies. Through a process of guiding, moulding, encouraging, drilling… occasionally beating – they sculpt us into art.
Some of them prefer a specific title. Some earn a specific title through achievements of their own. Some martial arts have their own honorific titles unique to their own system.
When I was studying Taekwondo, all instructors were “Mr” or “Ms”. Our head instructor was referred to as “Master”. My little sister currently studies under a TKD “Grand Master.”
When I joined the school where I currently train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I was at a loss as to what I was to call the big man in charge of my instruction. I soon picked up the habit of referring to him as “Coach” like the rest of my team mates. It felt awkward at first – seemed like it wasn’t respectful enough. Then I realized, the same honor and respect is still there within that word – and it fits.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I have not noticed a lot of formality like I was used to from studying other martial art forms. Things such as bowing on and off the mats, and opening or closing ceremonies aren’t as strictly observed. It’s a different culture, with less formality, but that same level of respect and trust is still there.
In BJJ, I am quite literally putting myself into the position of serious injury every day. When sparring, or even drilling, with a team mate I am relying on a developed sense of mutual trust. They must trust that they can bend my elbow backwards and that I will tap before they break it. I must trust that they will stop and release the pressure as soon as I tap. There is a bond that forms there, putting myself in a position for another person to choke me unconscious, and trusting that they won’t actually kill me.
Maybe that’s why all the high level BJJ practitioners I know are some of the most humble, secure, and confidant people I know. They have spent years in this environment, knowing what exactly their strengths and weaknesses are – always improving and learning.
If you have an overinflated ego that you wish to keep intact, be warned. It will be painfully excised, probably by the nerdiest looking guy at the school, and probably within your first week of training.
If, however, you are able to stick it out, and humble yourself to learn… you will gain the genuine confidence to be able to look anyone in the eye and know that you deserve to be sharing air with them. You will know your value.