When I was a child, any sort of space mission was always an event. If a new shuttle was about to be launched, the whole country stood still and watched in awe as the moment unfolded. Most of us still think back to the Apollo moon landing as the defining moment in space exploration, the achievement by which all future missions would be measured. But the fact is, many groundbreaking missions would follow, and each would have a lasting effect on the history of mankind.
A few days ago, I watched as we again challenged the limits of what had been previously accepted, and successfully sent the most powerful rocket ever fired into space. Now, take a moment and imagine that we were so satisfied with successfully landing on the moon that we essentially gave up future exploration and simply rested on our merits; achieving a milestone like the one witnessed with “Falcon Heavy,” would not have been possible. I believe that if we are not careful, the practice of martial arts can have a similar pitfall.
In the practice of “traditional” martial arts, there is sometimes an abundance of unquestioned reverence. Students and teachers alike seem at times unsure of how to move forward without measuring themselves against the deeds of those who came before. It can be a daunting task to learn how to respect and celebrate the past while being present in the moment, and open to the future. We may have an attitude today that no one will ever compare to Neil Armstrong, yet it is only a matter of time until a person walks on Mars. I believe it is essential that we begin to understand how to balance our respect and love for past teachers and methods with the belief in ourselves to move the arts forward.
Just as with the vastness of space, it’s about exploration. Teachers of any generation must be willing to go beyond simple stewardship and find the courage to challenge norms, question methods, and to be expressive and innovative. Of course, one of our highest tenets is devotion to “The Way,” with an understanding that we did not create it. But if we hope to preserve it, we will need to do more than just follow, at times we will also need to lead.