What Is Mastery?

Being the producer and host of the Radio talk show The Secrets of Qigong Masters, I have interviewed many wonderful guests, many of whom are regarded as Qigong masters (hence the name of the show). One would think that everyone appearing on my show must be a bona-fide master of Qigong, Tai Chi, or some other related discipline; however, this may not be the case. It really depends on the definition of “Qigong Master” and whom you are talking to about it. I noticed that some of the guests, despite being internationally recognized as Qigong masters, do not feel comfortable wearing this label and prefer to be called teacher or coach. Others opt for the Chinese term “sifu” that is an honorific way to address a teacher, which is somewhat similar to “sensei” in Japanese. A few of them got so used to the title that they actually prefer to be addressed Master Such-and-Such.

So, given all these inconsistencies and discrepancies, who do you call a Qigong master? To start with, let’s establish that “master” in this context means “a person with a high level of skill and knowledge.” To paraphrase one of my guests named Jeff Smoley, master is a person able to do something very difficult, that even well trained people strain to do, and make it look too easy… someone capable of teaching even the most complex and difficult aspects of one’s art in a clear and concise manner. The reference to one’s art form is not incidental here, since we are trying to clarify the meaning of “master of Energy Arts,” as Qigong can be translated into English. Observing some masters in related disciplines may help us on our quest.

There are several disciplines and art forms historically related to Qigong, including, but not limited to Taiji, Bagua, Xing Yi, and other Internal Martial Arts. Perhaps, examining the ways people achieve a similar status of a master in those disciplines may help us determine who should be called a Qigong master. Unlike most fields of studies, Martial Arts provide an excellent method for testing and distinguishing those with high levels of mastery from all other practitioners. If you prevail over most or all opponents, you qualify to be called a kung fu master (whatever style you specialize in). If you get beat up when push comes to shove, you have ways to go.

It takes years or perseverance and diligent training to reach such a level of mastery, which is beyond the comfort zone of the vast majority of aspiring martial artists. Most enthusiasts also tend to dabble attempting to learn one style after another, qualifying only to be called proverbial “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Throughout my career as a professional martial artist, I also saw many of those, who claimed that they could defeat anyone and using some demonstration of kata or choreographed form to prove the point. In my humble opinion, doing forms may be a fine exercise, but that never makes anyone a real master. But what does then?

In addition to perseverance, another crucial element of mastery seems to be proper training, preferably, by a real master. As it were, having a role model of mastery is essential for becoming developing mastery. Of course, mindlessly following the steps of the best master does not lead to any kind of authentic mastery. The way I explain this is very simple: you become a master by learning to be in the flow; and you can neither be in your flow nor in your master’s flow as long while copying his steps, moves or mannerisms. Therefore, when a true master is in the flow, he or she also serves as a role model of authenticity at the same time.

I noticed that people often view mastery as a destination, while I view it as a process of becoming more and more masterful. This journey has no final destination, because there is always more to learn; however, as we progress along the path, we gain more experience. As it were, the more experiences we have, the more experienced we become. Generally speaking, being experienced, which may mean being more knowledgeable or skilled in our arts, is what sets masters apart from the laymen, even though this division is never clearly defined and depends on each person’s point of view. What is appears to be an advanced skill to one may seem rather basic to another.

So, how can you tell apart those, who achieved certain degree of mastery, from all others involved in the same field of study? I would say that creativity, audacity to think outside the box, ability to integrate different bits and areas of knowledge, and teaching capability, all these qualities are distinguishing traits of an authentic master. Unlike the fine arts or music, for instance, most masters of Energy Arts is likely to apply their skills to their daily lives, so the lines between the arts and lifestyle dissolve. In final analysis, the more one lives one’s art, the greater one’s level of mastery usually is.

Mastery eventually leads to transcending the desire to compare oneself to others, which is mostly helpful or necessary on the initial stages of this journey. Without any competition, it would be virtually impossible to distinguish progress or even find motivation to persist along the path. Without any appealing goal, it would be difficult to maintain the course. Yet, with practice, competition and goals fade away and the enjoyment of the process of self-improvement becomes the predominant driving force of the true masters. This also distinguishes authentic masters from those who seek recognition from others, without which they would not believe in their own mastery. This authenticity leads to self-realization that, by definition, cannot only be experienced internally. Of course, this also leads to realizing that there is no “self,” but that would have to be a topic for another article.

About the Author:

Lama Somananda Tantrapa is the 27th lineage holder of Qi Dao, also known as Tibetan Shamanic Qigong. He has been practicing  Qigong, Dream Yoga, Meditation, and Internal Martial Arts for over thirty five years, primarily trained by his Grandfather who was the paragon of the Russian Martial Arts and Qi Dao Grand Master. His background is complex enough to include serving in the Soviet Army’s Special Forces, being kidnapped in the Ukraine and surviving several near-death experiences.

Lama Tantrapa was ordained as a Buddhist monk in three different orders and initiated into Subud spiritual brotherhood. In addition to being a Tibetan Bon Lama, he studied with a number of Qigong and kung-fu masters, great teachers of Yoga and meditation, as well as Native American, Hawaiian and Siberian Shamans. He is also trained in Cultural Anthropology, Meta-coaching, Hypnosis and NLP. When living for two years on a small tropical island in the Pacific, 7000 miles away from the majority of his students and clients, he pioneered a novel method of conducting Qi Dao sessions over the Internet called Qigong Coaching. In the last decade, he has provided wellness, peak performance and life coaching to thousands of people of all ages and from various walks of life. He is also a bestselling author of several Qi Dao books, executive producer of the film Qi Dao – Tibetan Shamanic Qigong, creator of CD albums Qi Dao Initiation and The Art of Being in the Flow, publisher of the Basic Qi Dao Home Study Course and other multimedia learning materials available at www.qidao.org.

In addition to being the publisher of the new ezine called Mastery Journal that you can read at www.mastery-journal.com, Lama Tantrapa is also the producer and host of the Internet Radio talk show The Secrets of Qigong Masters that you can enjoy at www.blogtalkradio.com/qigongmasters. He is currently working on creating an Internet TV program dedicated to Qigong miracles called The Flow Show.

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