Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I am going to address the topic of tradition and teachers with an analogy, see if you can figure out what I am saying.

Anyone who has played a guitar knows that the basic design of a guitar is the same, despite variation as well.
Imagine then that you have a version of the instrument, your own version of course. And you learn to play it, and play it well.

In learning to play this instrument you draw from many sources. You do not learn from just one person, or learn just one style, but instead become skilled through trial and error and experimentation.

Now imagine that you want to play the instrument for some people and they stop you before you do so and ask you: "who taught you?" You reply that you are self taught but that you picked up a little here and a little there. Then suddenly they dismiss you entirely and won't even give you a chance, they won't even listen to what you can play because you did not learn from someone that they consider authentic.

After some time you come up with a solution. The next time you get asked who your teacher was you reply that he was an unknown man who was a student of a well known master. Suddenly people are willing to listen to you play and when they do they like what they hear. Now your ability to play has not changed, your skill has always been a reflection of your hard work and insight as well as dedication. But what has changed is that now people give you a chance, whereas before they did not.

Now lets say that there is no record of your teacher, so nobody can prove they did not exist, you see you cannot prove what does not exist, to not exist. The universe is funny like that. But some individuals take notice of this and start to question your ability to play, because they cannot find proof your teacher existed.
They assert that what you play is not really music, because you cannot prove you were taught by someone they can find a record for. And worse, since what you play is unique to a degree, they assert that it cannot be music because it is a bit different here and there. Lets say you favor a different scale than many others do, and so people say that you are not playing music because your scale is a little bit different.

In my last article I wrote about the test of a martial art and the test of a martial artist. While I condemned some tests and testers as being ignorant, I need to assert something. The test of a martial art has nothing to do with teachers or lineages. It has nothing to do with names or terms or forms. None of that matters. Like with music the test of skill is found in listening, not questioning. Questions are good, but cannot replace attention and an open mind.

Now consider that in my analogy the main character lied about his teacher, just to be considered fairly. Think about that, what is less ethical, lying about a teacher or failing to give someone a chance because they do not fit your idea of what something should be for it to be effective and authentic. To me if anything a person who has developed their own skill through questioning convention and by trial and error is far more authentic than someone who inherits a system or is the great grandson of some famous person. To me, to dismiss a person or their skill and artistic abilities because they do not have the connections that we associate with skill is far worse than lying about a teacher to be considered in a fair light.

Skill and effectiveness in martial arts has nothing to do with lineage. Often people in lineages reply upon the name of their teacher far more than their own skill. Often they take things for granted, failing to question what they are told and then have no personal understanding, instead they just repeat what they have been told. Think about this, who is more dishonest? A man who lied about his teacher so as to be given fair consideration for his hard work and effort, or a man who repeats what he was told, passing along as if it was personal knowledge, having never questioned it. To me the latter man, who merely regurgitates teachings, is far less honest than the man who, in order to be able to demonstrate his personal understanding must misrepresent himself. One of these men has walked the martial path and must test himself and his art constantly to prove himself, the other is far from the martial path and must repeat the names of his teacher and their claims constantly to prove themselves. One man believes that the test is in the art and skill, the other believes that the test is in the names.

These two types are those who will listen to the musician who drawing from many sources is self taught, and those who will not because the person is not a student or family member of a famous person.

Of these two types, which are you?
Think about it.
I am surprised how many people are convinced by false tests of a martial art.

I was told recently that a martial art "sucked" because when someone asked another person to kick very hard on a pad, the person holding the pad moved the pad and let the kick hit their head, and found the kick wanting in power. I note first that the power delivery of a kick to the head is something few arts lack, but does require training in delivering strong kicks to the head. It certainly is not a test of an art. More interesting perhaps is how the test of power was implied. The person holding the pad seemed to think that a powerful kick continues through the target, which is not always true and is a gross oversimplification. A precise kick would be powerful, but to catch it 2 inches past the target it would not have the same power. But more interesting is the concept of following through or as I like to call it: driving. This style of having power is purely external, it is how people tend to hit a heavy bag. It has a 2 main phases, contact/impact and pushing. However some styles of hitting have different phases, these are contact, and transmission. Notice that impact is absent from contact and there is no push phase, rather a wave transmission phase. The two types of energy have a sort of exclusivity and one cannot be seen easily and does not work on a pad, nor does it work at any point after the targeted area because of the very nature of the blow. If anything hearing about this pad "test" makes me think the person holding the pad was and perhaps is still; ignorant when it comes to how to test a martial art. It is no wonder they are the Carlos Castaneda of martial arts.

One of the main points here though is how people believe that a test of a martial art is a test of a single persons ability to hit something. While this is obviously flawed, many people buy into it. Worse still is the mentality found all over the internet. People perpetuate the downright ignorant view that a sporting contest between two people of different martial arts is a test of the two martial arts. This simply put is stupid, a fight is not a test of a martial system, it is a test of a person and a test of skill. Any martial art has people who are better or worse. Just because you beat one person in a given martial art does not mean you can defeat the martial art, to think so is both arrogant and rather stupid.

I am acutally shocked how common martial art dismissals take place based on ignorant anecdotes. People will say that they know someone: who knows someone in system X, and they think the person in system X sucks, so they conclude system X sucks. This is actually common, despite how ignorant it is. A lot of this is that people sell their own art and basically talk down all others, you can tell when it is pure ignorance when they dismiss all martial arts that are not their own. This is as common as it is stupid, one of the most common forms being gross oversimplifications such as "I can beat a grappler because I know anti-grappling moves" or "Anybody who can't beat a grappler does not know how to fight" All systems seem to have someone stupid enough to do this too, no one system is guilty of this while others are not. These people are ignorant of the simple fact that a test of a martial art is not the same as a contest between two people. Beware those ignorant people who insist that nothing can hold a candle to their system, especially those who dismiss other systems because they claim to know people in other systems who they think are not skilled because they don't share the same opinions. There is always someone bigger, faster stronger and better, even outside of martial artists. No person, and no system is invulnerable and those who claim that their system is superior to others are ignorant, there are no superior or inferior martial arts systems and mistakes occur in all systems. The signs of martial arts ignorance are certainty and a lack of humility. A wise martial artist never claims to know they can beat any system, because they know that is not how things work.

I know that martial artists have to sell their art, after all when you pay a man hundreds of dollars to work with him for a day or two you want him to represent the best. However it is common for this type of situation to be like a naked emperor, you are led to believe that you are wise for paying the money, not because that is true, but because your being convinced has far more to do with what is happening than your being skilled. This works best if you can be persuaded that other martial arts are inferior to the one you are paying for. This is unfortunately as common as it is ignorant and foolish.

One thing wise martial artists seem to know is that the test of a martial art is in reality a life long test, not a fight or a contest, but the actual life of the martial artists once they have undertaken that path. It is deeply personal and has nothing to do with how hard someone hits or their application theory. It is an ongoing thing as well, the true test never ends and those who boast of their skill or dismiss other martial arts are already failing it.