Why Lineage is Important in the Martial Arts by KJN Ronald Stone
Did you ever notice that the ones who protest most against lineage in the martial arts are typically those who have none, or do you find that those who argue standards and curriculum are merely “politics” have none?
To understand this concept, one must first understand what exactly is meant by a “legitimate martial arts lineage?” This concept of lineage is simple. A martial art or any of its various styles traces back to an origin. Judo for example, is recognized as having been modified and standardized into a separate art by Jigaro Kano, a Japanese jujitsu expert who was seeking a more effective method for smaller artists to succeed against larger opponents.
That said, however, merely coming up with an idea or new name isn’t sufficient to claim “new style status” however. Kano’s school first had to demonstrate its techniques in competition with many other styles across Japan until it was recognized as a superior methodology by the country’s governing officials.
To claim status in this martial art today one must be recognized by the Kodokan as practicing within their standards and teaching techniques in line with its philosophy. Perhaps an example would help to explain this.
To claim Major League Baseball Status, all the other team owners plus the baseball commissioner must recognize and accept a new team. Merely playing baseball with a coach who never got past Little League does not make one a “Major Leaguer.”
Do they have fun and play ball? Of course, but sadly no one from such an organization will ever qualify for the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. Is this mere politics? Well, perhaps one should consider the odds of such a team beating the New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs before accusing the system of “bureaucratic nonsense.”
Lineage is like water. The purer it is the better it is. Water flows downhill just as knowledge flows from instructor to student. It is never a straight line but has its ebbs and flows. To claim that a traditional martial arts style is not “modern” or that it hasn’t adapted is to misunderstand completely its essence. A truly effective martial arts style is not only time tested but also adaptable by nature. One should consider that the Bible or the American Constitution even as old as they are still having modern applications and interpretations. However, they still have their inviolate standards.
No one expects that a doctor trained at Harvard will practice medicine exactly as they did when the school was founded in 1782. There are newer, more modern discoveries, techniques, drugs, and laws that affect today’s practice of medicine. That said, however, the methodology of teaching, learning, and training at such an institution are rooted in a proven systemology. No doctor is expected to merely “Jump on a trendy bandwagon” or risk patients with unproven theories. There are methodologies put in place to allow for safety, experimentation, and implementation.
Similarly, in the Martial Arts there are governing bodies that do the same thing. One such organization is the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association which studies teaching methods and updates techniques and disseminates such knowledge to its members. Each legitimate Martial Arts Federation has rules and regulations to assure ethical and honest instruction and can be traced back directly to the country of origin, not to Kinkos.
Just as a baseball player can’t clobber an opposing team with his bat and then claim he won the game; each martial art has philosophies and techniques it deems appropriate or effective. Without that regulation all you have is chaos and an individual’s chance of luck.
It might be good to mention here that martial arts are not just about fighting. The Korean arts for example are tending away from the concept of a martial artist as merely being a fighter to one of being a Warrior Guardian. Protecting, bodyguarding and having a Code of Honor and Ethics is just as important as learning to throw a punch. When and where, how, and why to fight are also very important concepts that are taught in the true martial arts.
The question next arises about technological modernization of teaching. You tube and the internet opens all sorts of possibilities. Information from books or videos are helpful training supplements but they are not replacements for actual physical instruction where you interact with a teacher who can answer your questions on the spot and demonstrate in response to your actions and specific questions. Leaning primarily from supplemental training from books and videos is like squeezing water from mud. It might keep you alive, but it will never truly quench your thirst.
One must remember that martial arts are above all physical and interacting with a teacher gives you the kind of precision that no book or video could ever convey.
A video might teach a student of mechanics that he or she must use a wrench to tighten a bolt in each situation, but there is no substitute for hands on training. After all, “how tight is tight?”
The author jumped on the video bandwagon right from the start to accelerate learning but quickly discovered that a video cannot teach subtleties such as feeling a response or reacting to body motion. In pressure point usage for example an inch or two off the mark could mean failure and in a real encounter such sub-par training can quickly get you hurt.
Just as water flows around obstacles, lineage tends to flow around failure. Having a source to go to prove or disprove one’s abilities helps ensure the honesty of training. One such example would be the Taekwondo school that used framed Korean Army discharge papers as proof of Kukkiwon training. The school owner assumed that no one in his area spoke enough Korean to recognize the fraud and was faking his own credentials. He was wrong and a Korean speaking martial artist discovered the fake certificate on a visit to the school. Even so a simple lineage check with the Kukkiwon would have also revealed the fraud.
Currently there are multi-million-dollar martial arts federations headed up by artists who never achieved Grandmaster status in their country of origin, but rather self-promoted themselves once in the USA due to the lack of legal credential requirements here. By selling rank and creating hundreds of black belts they protect their financial status because for a student to recognize the teacher’s fraud would mean to recognize their own deficiency, and that sort of self-correcting honesty is rare these days. However, these students are only trained up to master level at best, even if they are wearing a platinum belt. It is a “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” situation that most of the students aren’t even aware of, until of course they are confronted with a legitimately trained member of their art.
The author recently reviewed a television infomercial for a Martial Art defense video made by a Fifth Dan under a style I personally know is headed up by someone who purchased Grandmaster status from another illegitimate federation after being told he didn’t even qualify for 3rd dan status by his style’s governing body. So, to clarify the “Master” who made this video was trained by a 2nd dan, not a 9th dan as he thought. The result? Quite simply put, the video’s explanations and techniques would get someone killed or raped, if they tried to use them in a real confrontation. Lacking lineage, the “master instructor” lacked knowledge of application, philosophy, and technique.
Lineage, like water can flow pure or it can be dirtied. In this age of instant gratification, internet confusion, mass publicity and promotion, things can easily get “muddied up.”
One should do due diligence to ensure that what they are learning is what is supposed to be taught.
About the author: R.W. Stone is a veterinarian in Florida. He is an avid horseman, martial artist, best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki TaeKwondo. He is the Master Instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies in Ocoee, Florida.
Read his daily thoughts on Martial Arts at www.facebook.com/groups/koreanmartialarts
For more information on becoming an instructor visit www.kmaia.org