“I have an extra bowl of ice cream”

What is Mastership in the Martial Arts, and what does it look like for me?


It is currently 1:24 AM in Little Rock, Arkansas. My laptop says 11:24 PM because it thinks it’s still in Oregon.


I came to Little Rock for the ATA World Expo, to get training, but also, to test for my 6th Degree Black Belt. Now, all of us who tested are waiting for the results, which could take up to 4 weeks. Then I will find out if I passed or not.


For any readers who are not well versed in ATA, 6th Degree is about 20+ years of training. If you become a 6th Degree, you instantly are now a “Master Candidate” and if you meet all of your requirements over the next year, you are inducted as a Master Instructor in the ATA. Which brings me to my blog post.


From what I have heard, from all who are currently Masters, the “Candidate” year has a lot of thinking to it. What does it mean to be a Master? How did I get here? What kind of Master will I be? What expertise do I have? How am I viewed? What do I bring to the table? What’s my vision? How does that work with the ATA’s vision? What do I bring to the table?


It all wraps around this question: What kind of Master will I be?


And what is that question asking? Is it asking “What are my qualifications & expertise”? Is it asking about what I value? How I am perceived? How do I want to be perceived?


Vanity of Vanities – Depressing or Freeing?


To answer that for what I see for me, at this moment, I need to rewind back to my college days at Corban University. Specifically, something that Dr. Gary Derickson said. It was about the Bible, about the book of Ecclesiastes (I’m going to  butcher it, because it has been so many years):


“A lot of people believe that Ecclesiastes is a depressing book. ‘Everything is meaningless. Meaningless! Vanity!’ But no, Ecclesiastes is a freeing book. It is only depressing to those whose hopes are here on this Earth. But when I realize that everything is meaningless, it reminds me not to put my hope here.”

“So here’s how I apply the truth of Ecclesiastes to my life: When I go to the cafeteria, when everyone else is dieting, I have an extra bowl of ice cream.”


Now, here’s the disclaimer: Don’t misapply the concept. Healthy living, and good stewardship of our bodies, that’s a good thing and I get that. But to put Dr. Derickson’s words (and personality) in my own words, he was really saying “Ecclesiastes says…stop taking everything so flippin seriously.”

While many Christians read Ecclesiastes and read “Everything is meaningless, so DESPAIR!” Dr. Derickson read “Everything is meaningless, so RELAX, man!” There is freedom to the book.

Its summary is found in chapter 12, verse 13: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”


God wants us to love and obey Him, and love others…but He also wants us to enjoy our time here

We are often taught that we, as Christians, have two priorities: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In that order. And I do believe that those should be priorities. But there is a third priority, and I believe that this is a truth that can be seen in the Garden of Eden.

  1. Treat God how He wants to be treated. He wants your faith, He wants to be loved, and He wants to be worshipped. And He is deserving of such.
  2. Treat others the way God wants you to treat them. Which is by the Golden Rule. Love others.
  3. Once the other two are met: It’s okay to enjoy this world. Oh, and help others to enjoy it, too.


God did not put humans on this planet Earth and then say “Now, if you enjoy it, you are a sucky Christian, because you’re really only supposed to want heaven.” God made this planet a masterpiece and put all sorts of things here because he wanted us to enjoy it, and glorify Him.


So get ready for it: If we are to live the Christian life, to the fullest, we should stay away from selfishness…but we should also enjoy this world, and everything good that God made for us!


And that includes hobbies, passions, interests. They should not be priority 1. They should not be priority 2. But they should be priority 3.


So what does that have to do with Mastership?


I want to prioritize eternal beings. That means…

  1. The Eternal One (God)
  2. Anybody created in His image (Mankind)

Once those priorities are met, then…

  1. I want to enjoy this life God gave me, and help others to enjoy it, too.


I am not really a huge stickler on protocol, unless I know what the protocol is meant to teach and why it’s there. If I doesn’t teach anything, then it is a human ritual that will die when we die.

I AM a stickler on discipline. Choosing a right course of action when you feel like doing something else. Why? Because it hits all three of those priorities…

  1. It takes discipline to make time for God.
  2. It takes discipline to be kind to someone when you’re angry, but the golden rule demands it.
  3. A lack of discipline will greatly limit someone’s ability to enjoy life. Spending tomorrow’s money today excessively will prevent someone from enjoying their life to the fullest.


And that’s why I teach Taekwondo. To help people to become more enjoyable to be around, and to help them to enjoy life.


And that’s why I love tournaments. They are fun. Pushing yourself, via competition, to be the very best that you can be is an enjoyable experience.


So, if I passed this testing, how do I want to be perceived as a Master?

I’m going to crack jokes, razz people, and goof off. It is my hope that it sends a message: As soon as you take this stuff so seriously that you can’t enjoy it, it loses the whole purpose.

I will always take discipline very seriously.

God should be taken seriously.

People’s needs should be taken seriously.

Self-defense, the ability to protect yourself or someone else from an attack, that should be taken very seriously.

Learning to respect others, should be taken very seriously.

Understanding bullying, and learning bully prevention, should be taken very seriously.

Anything that DAMAGES another human being, physically or mentally, should be taken seriously. And learning how to prevent that damage, should be taken seriously.

As for everything else…eh. It will no good to us dead, anyway.


So I’m the judge that goofs off at your competition. To remind you: Have fun with this. Have fun pushing yourself to be your best. As soon as it’s so serious you don’t enjoy it anymore…either find a way to get your passion back, or get out of the game. Because that’s what it is, a game. And a great one at that.


If I got my 6th Degree, then next year, I’ll be the Master who has an extra bowl of ice cream.


P.S. After I finished this blog post, I imagined someone reading this and then thinking “He probably typed that because he saw someone taking this competition thing way too seriously this week.” NOT AT ALL.

Actually, I overwhelmingly saw a bunch of Black Belts who truly just love the sport, and love the comraderie with others who also love the sport. In all the people I got to judge, compete against, and/or talk to, I saw people who were competing for the love of the sport, and made everyone else also feel like they were part of their ATA Family.

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