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.