The Life Cycle of the Martial Artist

December 22nd, 2009By Category: Uncategorized

untitled1Not too long ago, I experienced an almost comical interaction between one of my martial arts teachers and the grandmaster under whom he was trained. We had a rank test coming up, and despite my having spent months preparing for it, the night before, my teacher told me that it was his decision that he wouldn’t allow me to test. He pointed out my specific areas of deficiency, and those things which I needed to improve on first, and wished me better luck next time.

As disappointed as I was, I respectfully accepted his decision, reminded myself that it’s about the process, not the ranks themselves, and decided to spend the rest of the training session working on those things which he said I needed to improve. Soon after he said it however, the system’s grandmaster (who was in town for the test, and standing within earshot), came over, and watched me train for a little while. He then told my teacher, ‘Ah, he’s fine. Let him test.’ My teacher grudgingly agreed, and went to look at other students, and the grandmaster winked at me, slapped me on the shoulder, and walked off.   The situation was comical to me because it reminded me so much of the parent who’s trying to get their kids not to eat so much candy, and the grandparents who just keep giving it to them anyway.

This, I think is one of the most interesting elements of martial arts training- the longer you train in a dojo the more it comes to feel like family and like home.  You walk in, and the particular smell of the place, the feel of the floor underneath your feet, even the lighting itself all evoke a sense of familiarity, comfort and ease, that could only parallel the feeling of arriving home.  The grandmasters (seemingly regardless of the system) who’ve been through it all, seen it all, and experienced it all, almost always seemed to be relaxed, comical, and quick to ‘spoil’ their students’ students.  The young masters, who worry about their students turning out bad, or making the same mistakes they did, push them hard, make no allowance for excuses, and are especially hard on the ‘elder’ students.

The new blackbelts, (much like adolescents) who are just beginning to realize their own strength, are generally cocky, fight-happy, aggressive and out to prove something. Almost invariably, they are the quickest to call anyone with a difference of opinion ‘wrong’ to emphasize the fighting element over the personal growth, and on occasion, to get themselves into actual fights- all while juggling the ‘adult’ responsibilities of developing their own martial philosophy, and helping to train and look after the new students. New students in turn, are also quick to look up to the new black belts, adopt and adhere to their philosophy and much like pre-adolescent kids will generally believe what they are told without challenging the logic of it. …That is unless of course, they were adopted in from a different school/style (family) first and already have exposure to a very different way of doing things.  As for myself, still being a few more years away from my first master’s rank in a system, I am well aware that I still have growing and learning to do.

Perhaps, like my contemporaries, my arrogance has yet to run its course as well, and it isn’t quite my place to write about a lifecycle that I’ve only half been through myself. At the same time however, having taught for the past 15 years, and having two different student bases in Japan (one for action training and one for Taekwondo) which I’ve built from the ground up, I can still see myself in a lot of my newer students, and often wonder who, if any of them, will turn out like me. When they do, I can only hope to have the chance to slap their students on the shoulder, and say ‘Don’t worry about him. You’re fine. Go ahead and test.”


Chuck Johnson is an internationally recognized martial artist and action film actor. He has recently been featured on both Kung Fu, and Nippon, and his latest film project, the Yakuza Hunter Trilogy will be released in the US next year. He currently teaches both action and taekwondo in Tokyo, and Saitama.

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

Related articles that may interest you


  • Chuck Johnson says:

    I'd always wished I'd started younger myself… But what can you do beyond work with what you've got? The other thing that really matters, my friend is that we both keep training 😉

  • Chuck Johnson says:

    Glad you enjoy them! Best of luck in your continued training.

  • sunny says:

    It's so true about the dojo feeling like home. I step through the door, and the smell of the wood floor hits me, and I feel like everything is alright. Thanks for your wonderful blogs.

  • RyanSolberg says:

    Another interesting post by you. I sure wish I kept up with my Martial Arts when I was younger. If I knew then what I know now about the popularity of MMA, I would of quit Karate and wrestling after high school.