The Wayward Branch

“Listen 10 times, ponder 1,000 times–speak once.”

–Turkish proverb

One recurring theme you will see repeated on this blog is the idea that martial artists too often fail to think for themselves. Over the last half-century, you will notice that the tides of martial arts philosophy sways with the coming and going of “new” arts and training methods. Everyone, it seems, has had their day. Those who have dedicated their entire lives to an art will suddenly, after decades of training and learning (even teaching)–then drop what they are doing to get certified in and claim expertise in the “soup du jour”:  Ninjitsu, Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do, FMA, MMA, Krav Maga, et al. Look back in the Filipino Fighting Secrets Live archives, you will see that I have often predicted correctly the “new” martial arts fad. I have notice in recent years, Datus, Tuans, Grandmasters of Southeast Asian styles, MMA wannabes once again don the traditional gi that they’ve tossed aside like a pregnant girlfriend and once again claim that they have always loved the Japanese/Okinawan/Korean martial arts styles that gave them their start in the arts.

So what happened? I’ll tell you. Somebody got out there in the fighting arena and showed that no, grappling does not beat traditional stand up arts every time, and that theses arts are valid as fighting styles… even in the octagon. Even in the streets. You would think that after 30, 40, 50 years of martial arts training, some of these guys would know that. Well, my observation that most martial artists–even you masters and grandmasters–have not done their own research. They hear once, they ponder once, then a thousand times–strap on the “expert” label and blab what they’ve been told as if this knowledge came from firsthand experience. Many will argue that there’s nothing wrong with this. After all, the masters who came before us were wise men and did the research for us and presented us the most valuable martial arts they could find. Right? Who are we to negate what they’ve done and reinvent the wheel?

That’s the thing, though. They did the research, and they presented the art that they found. I’m sorry to tell you this, my friends, but you have to get your own. Each generation that an art is not stripped down, crucified on the doubter’s cross, reexamined, tested, fortified, strengthened, and rebuilt/repackaged/repurposed–it becomes stale and diluted. Imagine two generations ago, your great grandpa died and left your grandfather his lifetime’s savings that he worked so hard to obtain. A whopping $25,000. Which would have been worth a whole lot more today, btw. Then your grandfather took that money, did nothing with it, then willed it to your father. Who in turn did nothing but save it, and then willed it to you. Bearing in mind that as interest rates stay the same and will add to money at a much slower rate than inflation decreases it’s value–how valuable do you think Great Grandpa’s $25K would be worth today? Not much. But if your grandfather used the money to start a business, multiplied it to say $50K, then your dad invested it and doubled that to $100K, and so on… do you see where I’m going with this?

If someone tells you something good, don’t just take it at face value and pass it on. Scrutinize it. Dissect it. Understand it. Find ways to diminish it and see if you could fortify it so that it cannot be diminished. See if you can fully understand it, test it, improve it, then pass it on. That’s the thing about “respecting” your master’s art. Every art had a previous form. Jeet Kune Do was once Wing Chun. Jow Ga was once Hung Gar and Choy Gar. Brazilian Jujitsu was once Judo. Judo was once Jujitsu. Even the sweet science had humble beginnings as a rudimentary form of fighting under the Queensbury rules. Everything can be improved. Everything should be improved. And each of us who learned from our teachers owe it to our masters before us to take the knowledge they’ve given, their life’s work–and continue the development. Each of us will run out of time one day, and leave unfinished martial arts for our students. If you ever find a master who said his art is perfected and therefore cannot be evolved or improved, I can assure you that your teacher is a foolish old man who is no master. For martial arts mastery is an action word. A martial art is not a “master”; one masters the martial arts. Mastery of an art is not something you do once and then it becomes a state. It is a process. The perfection of the art is an ever-changing, ever-evolving, evolution process that occurs over several lifetimes. Perhaps your teacher’s teacher began it, your teacher continued it, and today–the torch has been passed to you to carry on. Carry ON, not hold still. Capisci? When you are given an art, don’t become a follower of that art–become a student of it. Learn it, study it, especially after you have been granted teaching credentials. You may be an expert to the students and the general public, but to your masters and seniors–you will always be a student. And you should. Keep researching and understanding and developing.

So you do not want to just take art as-is and pass it on without a personal stamp on it, otherwise your martial arts system has wasted a generation on you. Give your students the best version of what you learned, because you didn’t follow your teacher–you were a student of your teacher’s teachings. Don’t give that art as it is because your teacher’s teachings; give it because of your own conclusions. Do it because you tested it, discovered that it works, and it makes sense.

This is why one mighty grand tree doesn’t just grow in one direction. It may have a big and strong trunk, but what gives that tree life are the many branches that shoot in many directions and feed the single trunk they all share in common. This is how arts benefit from having many views and variations and specialties within its family tree.

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