Thoughts About Lineage in the Philippine Martial Arts

Earlier today I received a visit from a gentleman who was an FMA practitioner many years ago. He mistook me for a part time FMAer, as many do, because I run a full-time school. Most full-time martial artists are more businessmen than martial artists, and most of those who do the Filipino arts in a commercial dojo are doing the FMAs part time as a side hustle to some other art. It’s understandable and also an honest mistake.

I am actually thinking of a few other subjects I’d like to address as I write this (note to self:  address later! I digress), but something he did in our conversation sparked this article.

First I’d like to apologize for forgetting the man’s name. I asked him a few times, but he dropped so many names in our conversation I must have either forgotten while trying to remember exactly what his lineage was–or I was looking down on the floor trying to count how many he dropped. Apparently, in all of this research of who’s who in the FMAs, he obviously skipped over me and, in addition to thinking I was a part time guy, mistook me for someone who gave a damn.

Digressing some more…. when visiting a martial arts school you know nothing about folks, take some advice from me. Never go in trying to one-up the guy in front of you. Especially if you only plan on doing so verbally. If you are a martial arts expert, then introduce yourself as one and treat the conversation as if you were meeting a peer. If you are not looking for lessons, don’t act like you are. If you are curious about how they do business, then be forthright and ask the questions you want answers to. Like “how much do you guys charge a month?” and “where do you get most of your students from?” and “what are your classes like?”  And always, always–never try to impress or diminish the guy in front of you, especially if you know nothing about him.

Back to the conversation. So, he begins by telling me he was originally a Serrada student back in the 70s, then he met a Master in Vallejo who was so impressed with his Eskrima that he took him as a personal student, then this guy, then that guy…. zzzzzzz.

I realized the gentleman was not interested in lessons, he was not a teacher, and he was not planning to buy equipment from me. Not a problem. But sometimes I have interesting conversations with visiting martial artists, expert or not. So I listen–and that’s all I really get to do because the gentleman talked so much I doubt he even inhaled. Then he said something significant.

“In the Filipino arts, lineage means nothing.”

Um, no. See, in the Filipino arts, lineage does mean nothing–but it also means everything. Anyone in the Filipino arts as a fighting art form–not a business–knows this.

Lineage is more than just a reference point for braggarts and ego. It is knowing where your training, knowledge and skill originated. It is understanding the logic behind why your art is the way that it is. It is knowing why you have no forms, or knowing where the forms in your style came from. It explains why you do things the way that you do, and it gives legitimacy to everything you do. For a man with no lineage must work harder to validate his skill and respect (which have to do with more than just fighting skill), and a man with good lineage must work even harder than HIM to validate his art. Lineage tells those whom you encounter that you most likely know your stuff, and it can also tell those same people you probably don’t know crap. Lineage, depending on who’s in it, speaks loudly to the expectations of those around you.

And there is a saying in the martial arts, “You don’t take those masters into the ring with you.”

Idiots. Shows how much they know about the martial arts; or perhaps I should rephrase that to “how little they know…”

Little do you realize, you do take those masters into the ring with you. When a man sees you fight, he is looking at the manifestation of your master and all of his lessons he imparted to you, his experiences, his theories, and his training regimen–and the master before him, and all those things–and the master before him. With your 3-minute match, you either validate everything they’ve worked for, or you shame it. You stand for them and all they hoped for with the art. Whether you win or lose, you represent not just yourself and your teachers, but you represent all others from your art. Anyone remotely close to what you do: Your teacher’s classmates and their students, their training partners and their students, even foreign styles who are not connected to you by lineage–but perhaps from the same country or only a similar ideology to yours. When you fight, they are proud of you and they share in your glory, even if you lose (just lose graciously and not like a coward). They are pulling for you, and if you look good, they look good. And finally, your own students. They and their pride originates from you and how well you represent them. Train hard, do your best, excel, and prove your superiority. What more is there to the martial arts?

Trust me, lineage is not for us to use when we want brownie points. It does nothing for our skill. Name-dropping is meaningless without the skills to back it up. But without knowing, respecting, representing and having a duty to serve our lineage–our martial arts and our accomplishments become very self-centered and isolated. In this case, lineage does mean nothing. It is not here for us to use as a calling card or a substitute for excelling in the art. It is not a weapon to use to try and make some random Guro you encounter to feel inferior. Especially when that Guro you encountered just finished performing a thousand strikes, 100 pushups, and thinks your ego needs a bone-snapping wake-up call. If I were to name-drop who I had conversations with just this morning, he’d think I was lying.

Yet that’s not important. Who you learned from means nothing if you don’t make him look good when you step out on the floor. For this, lineage is a very unselfish gift we receive from our martial ancestors. It is our martial arts, and we honor them by giving them credit and by being the best representative of them as possible.

Can you imagine Neil Armstrong saying something like, “I am the first man on the moon. My Air Force unit, my science teachers, my pilot instructors, my family, my President, my country, my fellow astronauts, NASA–have nothing to do with it!”??

Yeah, whether a martial artist plays down his lineage, or he exploits it, he sounds a little like that. When he gives full credit to those who taught him, and devotes himself to being an example to the ones to follow him–he is honoring his lineage and therefore honoring himself.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

One thought on “Thoughts About Lineage in the Philippine Martial Arts”

  1. I agree with you even if i haven’t had the displeasure of such a dramatic ego storm..then again I don’t have school to attract those like him…
    I will say that I have always been humbled and honored by those who have chosen to teach and share these arts and have no matter who I trained with been sure to honor them with my actions, movements, training, and skills and always present my errors or failures as my own…in my failure to listen, transmit, absorb, or recall what has been entrusted to me in thier teachings.
    As my instructor presents in our salute….’I am thankful for my instructors teachings, for it is my life in combat’.
    I recall walking into a dojo one time and having the head instructor as if I had trained with my Guro (without knowing if I had from any previous converstations) and that was an interesting discovery that my movements were a translation of his teachings…it was an amazing realization actually..

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