This Is MY Martial Arts Style

Martial artists seem to think that there is something wrong with creating one’s own style, as if every art we have today never had a founder.

I’ve noticed that some founders of a style or innovators will attempt to cannonize their version of their art–as if anyone who varies the style or puts his own flavor into the system now carries a bastardized system. In a way, I understand where many of these masters are coming from, but I also disagree with many of their views. An art should change at least slightly with every generation, and every possessor of each generation. In other words, when you teach your style I am sure you are teaching your version of the style you learned. Matter of fact, you may even be teaching a combination of the systems you learned. Some of you may be teaching a combination of the systems you learned, combined with your experiences and your new, semi-original ideas… basically, a new style.

Once in a while, a Master will have his art so well developed, that few variations can come out of his students, because there is very little room for improvement. My grandfather’s Eskrima is an example of this. I searched and searched, cross trained and cross-fought, and each time I returned back to the styles I originally learned from him. Perhaps due to upbringing–I think the same way he thought, therefore judge arts the same we he did–or loyalty, I feel the Eskrima I learned from him needed nearly no changes, so I only made minimal changes. However, my experience with empty handed fighting led to me changing his Kuntaw so much that one might not recognize my art from his. I spent years point fighting, boxing and kickboxing; while my grandfather’s experiences were either with fighters who did not specialize in empty handed fighting, or fighting people who had karate backgrounds. I consider my art to have evolved from his, and with all the respect in the world–I improved my own family’s art. 

“I improved my teacher’s art.”

Does that bother you? Does it sound disrespectful? It shouldn’t. We should all be in a lifelong struggle to improve our fighting skills. If you have stopped attempting to improve, I would say that you are an inferior martial artist. If you have not improved your teacher’s style, we might even say that either he had a perfect fighting art… or he was an inferior fighter.

Every generation should surpass the last. My Jow Ga Kung Fu teacher used to compare me to one of my Si Hings (older brothers), Craig Lee. In fact, I admired him and sought to mimic him… all the young men of my generation in the Jow Ga school did. Even to this day, I can safely say that I have never seen another martial artist more talented than he, period. But one day, Sifu Chin pulled me to the side, and told me that Craig would always appear stronger and better in my mind, because he was my senior and my hero, but in actuality I would bypass him in skill one day. I did not understand, nor did I believe it. My Si Hing, Rahim Muhammad, once told me to strive to become better than Craig too! And I thought it was not possible. But as I matured, I realized that the younger generations would learn the lessons as well as the mistakes of the older generation. And as long as the younger generation brought the same level of commitment, dedication and hard work to the table–they would surpass them. I also realize now that a GOOD teacher will hope to make his students better than he once was, and he should want his newer generations to become better skilled than former generations.

After all, you are a better teacher than you were 10 years ago, right? I should hope so!

At the same time, each generation will have the new lessons you have to teach, that you didn’t have a decade ago. They will benefit from the new teaching styles you learned over the years, through trial and error. They will have a more knowledgeable, more mature YOU.

And what do you think will happen to the art they learned? It will be quite different than the art your students of 10 years ago learned, correct? Is it so bad to differentiate the versions? Does it bother you that those students teach differently than the students who learned from you in the 90s?

It is like the parent who must understand that his children may not enter the same business he spent his life in. You must allow your creation to take a life of its own. By all means, control quality! But know that your students will bring new ideas, new experiences, and even new material they learned from you and whoever else… and you will always be in their hearts and mouths as the origin of their knowledge and skill. And for us teachers, rememberance and the pride of having top-notch students makes it all worth the effort.

When a student creates his own version of your style, he is not insulting you, but showing the world what a great job you did in teaching him.

Thanks for visiting my blog.