Life is too short to aspire to mediocrity. It's better to shoot for the stars and only reach the moon. Nowhere is this more true than in the martial arts. To animate your martial arts with the spirit of greatness, choose the most profound role models you can find and follow them with an obsessive devotion. That's your best chance to receive the direct transmission of the deep spirit of your martial art. If and when you receive the direct transmission, keep in mind that it includes everything - the sounds in the room during your training sessions, the rare smile of your Sensei, the warm air coming in through the windows, the pain of learning, the salty tears of exhaustion, the crushing pathos of washing your teacher's gravestone and the incredible energy of great martial arts techniques executed with clarity, energy and joy. The complexity and emotion of your martial arts should be very profound indeed.
The extraordinary musician, the exemplary painter, the best writer, the gifted singer, and the exceptional martial artist share a unique sort of magic. There's a depth to their performances that only a keen eye can see, only a sharp ear can hear. Their notes are not just notes, their brush strokes are not just brush strokes, their words are not just words, their voices are not just voices, and their kata are not just kata. Instead, they're a deep expression of a collection of meaningful experiences, distilled through countless hours of practices and years of reflection.
If you watch, read or listen carefully enough, you can sense the depth of their technique. If you're lucky enough to have seen their teachers or role models, you'll also be able to see echoes of their predecessors in their art. That's an extraordinary expression of love ... granting immortality to an artist by ensuring that his or her art is preserved in your body, mind and spirit. The level of your tribute corresponds to how well you internalize the nuance of his technique and how well you understand and give life to the principles he held dear.
Today's martial arts world is dominated by light weight players. By that I don't mean people who are small in physical stature. Instead, I mean people who are small in character, technique, and aspirations. Consider carefully the school you plan to attend. Is the approach all about rank? Does the curriculum change frequently ... is it more focused on variation than on depth? Are the lead instructors out of shape, mean spirited, or simply poor technicians?