Mastery as Path



Richard Strozzi-Heckler: Aikido Black Belt Test in Ethiopia

Mastery is a path that has no destination. Mastery is a study of the inexplicable mystery of life moving towards life. This path is available to us any time, anywhere; it’s as close to us as our breath. It requires that we pay attention, wholeheartedly, robustly, and with ample amounts of love. Mastery is not something to acquire or accomplish. If we stay on this path we become mastery; we don’t possess mastery. This is contrary to the popular representation of mastery as a commodity that can be bartered on the marketplace with enough social media tricks, a new invention, or monetizing a way of being. In other words it’s not an Olympic event where we end up on a winner’s podium with a medal.

Yes, we can master an art or a craft, as in mastering the clarinet, or being a master woodworker, or a master calligrapher, martial artist, somatic bodyworker and so on. In Aikido we speak of shugyo which is understood as “the cultivation of the self” and more literally as mastering a discipline. This points us to the notion that the path of mastery contains both a discipline that is practiced and a self that is cultivated. These are the two wheels on the path of mastery-one wheel is the something that we are learning, the other wheel is the learning and embodying of universal principles. In this way the cart can move forward in a balanced, engaged manner that positively affects how we live our lives, how we conduct ourselves. This distinction of mastery becomes an etiquette of being.

To liberally paraphrase Eihei Dogen, the 13th century Zen monk, “To be on the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is realize our interconnectedness to all things. To realize our interconnected to all things is to be at one with everything.”

The deep ground of mastery occurs when we-our personality, ego, identity-is no longer present. This is the nothing that is something. A great emptiness pulsating with love, compassion, and wisdom.

That’s a big bite. Yet an ancient and noble enterprise, and I’d say worthy of our efforts to be human. Let’s get on the mat and re-commit to our practices.

Take it easy but take it.