Compare/Contrast: Mr. G and Master Preston

Throughout the six years I've been involved in the martial arts, I have never come across two masters more opposite in their personality and characteristics. To choose between the two, in any manner of thinking, would be easy for the average person because of their incredibly differing character traits. My former Tae Kwon Do instructor, a seventh-degree black belt named Preston, is a hard, cold character who shows very little emotion and respect for others. He demands a lot from his students, and eventually many turn away from this distasteful excuse for a professional martial arts studio. Richard Gilliland, on the other hand, is the most jovial, fun-loving individual I've ever met. Everyone has a great time at this eighth-degree black belt's school, and because of the manner in which he interacts with his students, one can hardly help but love him.

Master Preston demands ultimate respect from his students, insisting that they seek him out upon entrance to the school to greet him and bow. Richard Gilliland sits behind his desk and calls out a greeting to those who walk through his door at different times during the day. Although Richard Gilliland holds a high rank in Sanshinkai, he does not require that his students call him 'Master'. Instead he prefers a more casual term, asking the students to refer to him as 'Mr. G'. Many of the adults from Karate International of Kernersville converse with him on a first-name basis. If any student at Preston's Academy of Tae Kwon Do dared to refer to Master Preston by his first name, he would probably explode.

Preston's deadpan nature subdues the liveliness of many of his students. Those who feel free to joke and laugh in the locker room quiet considerably upon entering the presence of the Master. They dare not laugh or even speak during class, for fear of invoking a stinging reprimand. Classes are entertaining when Master Preston is away and one of the higher ranking black belts is left in his stead, simply because the gloom is momentarily lifted and everyone is free to have fun and express themselves. Mr. G's students feel free to talk, laugh, and even joke during class and with the instructors without fear of reproach. All types of classes are enjoyable because of the carefree atmosphere surrounding the area, and a group of people consistently gathers around Mr. G's desk to absorb his amiable, enlivening persona.

Preston's insensitive, impassive nature inevitably rubs off on his students. Whereas many of the members of the school, young and old alike, started out with their normal, interesting individuality, the vindictive atmosphere at the Academy quickly cowed their passion for having fun. Although martial arts is a serious endeavor for anyone, a genial atmosphere makes the journey to black belt and beyond appealing and enjoyable. At Mr. G's studio, students who come in reserved and very quiet quickly blossom in the friendly, family-oriented atmosphere of the school. The vivacious ambiance surrounding Mr. G and his dojo (karate school) draws people in to the 'circle of life', so to speak.

These two advanced martial artists run their schools remarkably differently. Master Preston's studio is the epitome of perfection. All the students wear uniforms exactly the same and wear matching sparring gear. The mats are clean and the building is spick and span. All the equipment and fighting shields are in their proper places. Spectators have the convenience of comfy, perfectly matched chairs and clean, dirt-free carpets. Mr. G's school, on the other hand, has personality. Instead of the hospital-clean look, mismatched chairs in various sizes sit around for resting and paraphernalia fills the corners. Bo staffs lean against the wall on one side, while another has concrete blocks and 'battle batons' for fighting. The bin of equipment for the classes is in no particular order; instead everything is jumbled together. Because of the fact that this karate school is partnered with a recreational center for kids, magazines, books, computers, and homework are scattered around in the back workout room, which doubles as the place the children play. The floors are concrete and painted both red and blue in alternating, uneven places. One mirror is cracked in the corner, and recreational apparatus is hung from the rafters and stacked in one corner. At Mr. G's school everything is easily accessible like at Preston's studio, although it is arranged much more comfortably.

You can assess Preston's qualities just by his physical appearance. His emotionless, unsmiling face betrays his demanding disposition and warns everyone to 'back off: you don't want to mess with me'. His towering, lean, fit body hints at hours spent in the gym to enhance his physical appearance. The body posture he adopts suggests he's critiquing your technique, as he stands with crossed arms and legs spread shoulder-width apart and stares at you with his unblinking eyes. Mr. G., standing at an impressive six feet tall, presents quite a different figure. The man is well muscled, and, to say the least, imposing. White hair recedes from his forehead and frames a countenance of perpetual cheerfulness. Interestingly, Mr. G, on first sight, could be more intimidating than Master Preston merely because of his physical size. Both men are daunting adversaries, considering their physical capabilities, strength, and intelligence.

The demeanors of these two men are extremely different. Master Preston remains pretentious and arrogant, acting like he knows it all. If someone attempts to tell him something, he'll interrupt and let him or her know as quickly as possible that he already knows everything they're talking about. Mr. G cordially listens to what his students have to say, down to the littlest child that walks through the doors of his school. He'll joke and laugh with them, but always makes sure they understand that he is authority and worthy of respect. Master Preston insists on the highest degree of deference to himself. Mr. G commands that his students show respect but also allows them to interact with him and the adults and black belts with familiarity. Master Preston insists that all of his students refer to both men and women as 'sir', for tradition's sake. Customarily, men were the only teachers in old schools, and as women received higher ranks and began teaching, the custom was upheld and 'sir' remained the prevalent moniker. Mr. G maintains that his students say 'sir' and 'ma'am' to males and females respectively.

Master Preston rarely comes out of his office, which is located down in the basement of the school, other than to teach class, but Mr. G is very outgoing and loves to interact with people. Michael Preston chooses to talk only to the select, sycophantic few that have gotten into his good graces. Others he all but shuns from his presence, unless they seek him out and force him to communicate. Mr. G will walk around his school and chat with anyone that happens to be standing nearby at the moment.

The self-defense techniques each practice are virtually the same; both Tae Kwon Do and Sanshinkai practitioners use kicks and punches. Preston taught only the sport of Tae Kwon Do and not the intricacies of how to defend yourself in a close-at-hand situation. The main focus at Preston's Academy was sparring, and instead of focusing on practical street combat, martial arts competitions were emphasized. Techniques taught at Karate International, however, are truly self-defense techniques. Throws, defense against grabs, bear hugs, knife attacks, sticks, kicks, and other real-life situations are taught. Mr. G's way of teaching is not about strength, but rather outsmarting your opponent and doing something they don't expect, such as defending yourself with only a pencil or small stick.

The beliefs these two hold about their abilities are very different. Master Preston came across as believing himself to be a top-of-the-line martial artist who knew everything there was to know, but Mr. G continually refers to himself as a student of the art. Whereas Preston seems to think he has exhausted the extent of martial arts knowledge, Mr. G realizes that even at eighth-degree black belt he has barely scratched the surface of the same realm. Preston calls himself a master and all but lords that fact over his students, while Mr. G consistently insists that he, along with all the others, is learning more about the art every passing day.
Master Preston was tutored mainly through one martial arts master, Sun Yi, and thus has a very limited perception of the field of Tae Kwon Do. Mr. G, on the other hand, trained with many other martial arts experts. Having served as a Navy Seal in the Vietnam War has greatly increased his life skills and augmented his prevailing abilities in karate. Training under different instructors has broadened Mr. G's horizons and provided greater insight from different viewpoints otherwise unavailable.

These two martial arts senseis (teachers) are so different in likeness and manner that one would hardly believe they could compare in any way. Comparison goes no further than that both are teachers of the martial arts, own their own schools, and cut an imposing figure. Rather they differ with each other more, in speech, action, interaction, and studios. The differences between the two are very nearly absurd in their exact oppositeness. Having spent more than two years in the environments of each of the two schools, my interaction with Mr. G and the experiences at his karate studio have been much more beneficial to advancing my journey as a martial artist than did Preston's. Although both men are affluent in their practices, in my opinion Mr. G is the better black belt martial artist because of his communication skills, integrity, knowledge, courage, and extensive life experiences.