The Quran warns us to be kind to orphans and treat them justly. These are the most vulnerable of us: the orphan is parentless and has no one to protect him or speak for him with the fervor that a mother or father would. The orphan is often poor and disadvantaged. The orphan usually has no ties to familial lines or lineage. And finally–the orphan has little loyalty he owes.
So beware the orphan.
Many poor, lonely, disadvantaged youths have grown up to be feared, loved and respected men. One such man was Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Others include Julius Caesar, Malcolm X, Cyrus the Great, Nelson Mandela and former President Bill Clinton. The same argument can go for allowing a fetus to grow to term, or not banishing the child product of a rape–you never know what this child will grow up to become. You slight a child when he is young–treat him poorly, dismiss his worth–or treat him well, and you may very well come to regret or be glad of the actions you took when he grows up. That poor little dusty kid may grow up to become a powerful and grateful ally or a powerful and vengeful enemy.
“But what is all this ‘orphan’ talk about anyway?”, you might wonder. Because in the martial arts, we have many orphans who deserve better treatment than many of us administer. I am a martial arts orphan. My Kung Fu teacher died when I was 15, and I was the youngest of the advanced class. Two of my older brothers in the family took me under their wing, and I grew up to become one of the senior Sifu of the American Jow Ga family. In the same year, I lost contact with three of my teachers–two due to the Mt Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and the death of my Grandfather, leaving me teacherless at 21 years old. Without direction, I first became a reckless, misguided martial artist who drank heavily and got into fights in night clubs and openly challenged the seniors in my community–but due to the efforts of some close martial arts and boxing family members and friends I was brought back to the middle and guided to become a respected teacher. Meeting me today, you would be surprised to find out I took my last martial arts class with my teachers at 20 years old.
On the other hand, I have a good brother (ST) who joined the Kung Fu school in 1986. It was a year after the death of our teacher, and the same year that the headquarters’ leadership split and went their separate ways. My brother was first the student of my older brother, and then went to study with a few other brothers. One could say that he was a martial arts orphan, because on at least three occasions, he heard the ill-spoken words “I am your Sifu now.” Were these men who wanted genuinely to teach him? Or did they see a young lion cub growing before their eyes, and wanted to be one to feed him? Sometimes, teachers will adopt an up and coming tiger in order to take credit for his skill when he is older. You can see it in some students. They are hard working, they are athletic, they are strong and fearless. But worst of all–they are naiive, easily misguided, and easy to take advantage of. I have seen it many times; I’ve even lost some of my young lion cubs to such teachers.
So twenty years later, you have a fighter, now mature and powerful, skilled, experienced and intelligent. And there are some who would like to discredit him, take credit for him, or see him fail because he was not easy to manipulate when he grew up.
We also have orphaned teachers–men and women who have teachers, but have broken away from tradition in order to create their own paths. They may have had two or three teachers and wanted to combine their systems. Perhaps the teachers disallowed the fusion or excommunicated those young teachers from their schools because they went their own way. Or (using myself again) the young teacher relocates to a new city where he has no lineage or home organization to hide behind. The community doesn’t want to recognize the credibility of the young teacher and his school. Or they gang up against him because they see that he has potential to become a pillar master in the community. Let me tell you; these young, wet-behind-the-ears fighter/teachers won’t stay young and wet-behind-the-ears forever. That’s all I’m saying.
I would like to bring your attention to two young orphaned martial artists…. ready?
Bruce Lee and Remy Presas.
They both came here without the strength of numbers behind them. Neither one carried a certificate or fancy titles. Both used titles that were self-declared. And both taught systems that they came up with in notebooks and in their minds, testing with themselves as crash-test-dummies. When some doubter walked up and said, “How do I know that crap you’re teaching is valid?”–who did they put forward to accept the challenge? No one; they had to do it alone. And many well-connected, big name martial celebrity have been put on their ass by the young, unconnected, no-name martial arts orphan without a school or master to run and cry to. Validation for the true martial artist is a very lonely fight; it is self-declared and self-proven.
And dare I say it… The martial arts orphan is among the strongest of us, simply because they dared to go it alone. The next time some 20-something freelance Sensei, Sifu or Guro walk through your doors–show him respect. He just might end up the next Remy Presas.
Thank you for visiting my blog.