“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

The Foolishness of “Inheriting” a System

I fear that I am about to step on some toes with this one. I am suggesting that this article not be included in the “Martial Philosophy”section, as this is more of an opinion piece. It IS, however, a statement about the truth of how systems and styles are passed down in the Filipino sense. But I do understand that things change, and that perhaps my view is a little outdated or impractical for the Western world or the modern FMA world. So, let me refrain from imposing my view on my readers (as I normally do), because this is actually involving a conflict between two good friends of mine.

In 1992, I had the misfortune of losing three grandparents. I lost both maternal grandparents as well as my father’s father–whom I do not talk much about on this blog, as he was not a martial artist but a boxer. I did not know him as a young child because I was living in a different country. We got to spend a lot of time together when I grew up, and in the last two years of his life I was at his house every week. I learned as much as I could–going through pictures, and travelling and meeting all the family members he told me about in his many stories. My grandfather was a very hard, but loving, man. And I felt as if I was his favorite grandchild–despite that I had a ton of cousins that knew him from birth–decades longer than I had. In the last 6 months of his life, I actually moved in with my Grandpa to help the family offset the cost of hiring a nurse to care for him. During that time, I did not compete but a few times and only worked part time for a Karate school chain so that I could be with him longer. When he died, family members I did not know well seemed to emerge from nowhere. They were looking to take keepsakes–pictures, personal items, even money. I tried my best to fight them off, thinking, “how dare you? I’ve been here caring for him–feeding him, bathing him, taking him for walks…” But my father helped me deal with that with these words (and I’m paraphrasing):  Each of these cousins had a separate relationship with your grandfather–with their own experiences–and they are entitled to the piece of him that they felt they earned.

My father was right. We were all still his blood. We learned what we learned from him, we all loved him, and we will all remember grandpa a different way from each other. To fight over a few pictures was foolish. I called him “grandpa”, another cousin called him “pops”, another cousin called him “Dad”. Are we all still branches of his family tree? Am I less of a grandson because I was born across the water from him? Do any of my cousins love him less because they went away to college while I stayed behind to take care of him? Are any of our memories of him invalid, compared to another relative’s? Or is my method of remembering him and carrying on his name any less important than another family member who loved him just as much?

When I raise my family, I keep his memory in my heart. I use his recipes for his favorite dishes, I use some of his slang, I look like him. But to my children, I am still Mustafa-Daddy, and I take care of my family in my own way. Some things I do my way, some things I do his way. Nothing changes the fact that I am his grandson and my children will hear all the stories I have to remember him by… from my recollection. How foolish would I be to challenge another cousin’s memory of him because I felt my experience with him was more valid or more loving.

You’re Master’s FMA style is an education, it is not a keepsake. It is not a business to be passed down. Nor is it a tangible asset that can really be fought over, taken away, handed over, or stolen. (Or is it?) If he wanted his art preserved a certain way and you promised to keep it that way, then do so. But if your philosophy differed from his, he is not going to turn over in his grave because you want to change what you are doing with his art. Why? Because, my friend–it is now your art. I’m sure your Guro added his own thing into the art when he taught you. And if you wanted to change his style, or change his style back to how it was although he evolved his art–that is your prerogative, because Guro is now dead. And right now, you are the Guro. If you have classmates (and you do!) who do things differently, does this difference change the fact that you came from the same Master? Is one of you now a fraudulent teacher because one of you has a different philosophy from the other? How dare you.

Because to be honest, if your teacher taught him and he is teaching what you are calling fraudulent martial arts…well, I’d say you were calling your own teacher a fraud.

Come on, people disagree with their teachers all the time. My grandfather was not a Muslim. I am. Am I dishonoring him because I chose my other grandfather’s way of life? One grandfather liked the Washington Redskins and the other like WWF. Am I dishonoring one grandfather because I like both sports? How foolish is that?

At the same time, I would recommend you all avoid trying to gain credibility by saying, “I am teaching the pure/authentic/original FMA style of dead Master So-in-So”. Because whether you kept the art intact, or if you changed it, or kept it the same when he was changing it–the fact is still that you are from the same family, all of your points of view are valid, and the only thing that matters is how valid your art and theory stand up in combat. You’re still family. And if my boys see your boys in the ring, they will do what they can to beat them. You might want to join forces and compare notes, learn from each other and develop your skills as a family. Who gives a damn if you both want to be grandmasters? Okay, you’re both Grandmasters. Somebody pour some chicken blood on these guys!

You dishonor your teacher’s memory by tearing his family apart over some silly debate over philosophy and “Grandmaster loved me more” bullcrap. In fact, every grandmaster–FILIPINO Grandmaster–I’ve ever met made each of his student feel as if he were the favorite student. That’s how Grandpas and Grandmasters work. It’s the magic of being a GP or GM. And if you don’t mind me saying… there really is one way in the FMA to settle such arguments for once and for good…

But we don’t really want to go there, do we?

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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3 Responses to “The Foolishness of “Inheriting” a System”

  1. My dad recently passed away and this post resonates with me –we all have different memories and experiences of those who have died.

    Your post makes a lot of sense in view of the scrambling that goes on after a great master dies –all of a sudden people you never knew are in the kitchen trying to get the toaster.

    I suppose what counts is that each of us tries to honor the relative or master. But we must realize people will do that in different ways.

    In light of the recent passing of Sifu Ted Wong, his way to honor Bruce Lee was to preserve what he was taught. Dan Inosanto’s way of honoring Bruce Lee was to expand upon what he had been taught. Both respected Bruce, and it’s sad to see people get caught up in who the “real” student was.

    I’m grateful that my teachers have encouraged me to take what they’ve taught me and go on with it.

    For me, this is the goal, to acknowledge the art or the person ( such as your grandfather, or my dad), and to advance his heritage. How can I expand upon what I have been given?

  2. i know people who said they hope when they die, they die broken, so that their kids will stay in love with each other after they are gone. i didnt understand it when i was young, and now i see completely. greed and ego can rip up a family, and a business.

    this is one reason i don’t believe we should say “guro level 1, guro level 2…” there should be two levels, new expert, and teacher, and thats it. because after they become teachers all that matters is who is better. and there is a good way to prove who is better is someone have a question. amond the students, its just someting political to fight over and stab each others back.

    in a family, this is one reason you give everything away when you get old before you die. its terrible how people can be family and love each other all their life, and then become enemy when they are old.

  3. This is advice many students of great masters could use, and avoid the splintering that occurs when masters die. Like you say, too bad they don’t join forces and become a really powerful system. Families weaken as well by not sticking together.


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