The Question of Lineage

The lineage of any system holds a special place to students of that system. To many practitioners of the martial arts, your lineage identifies who you are and were you come from and therefore whether you or your style of martial arts should be respected. While the lineage of a system does have significance it is a poor judge of whether a style of martial arts, or one of its students should be devalued.

The lineage of a system defines the history and growth of a particular system of martial arts. It identifies who the practitioners were and who they entrusted the systems further advancement to. Some of the past master may have been famous, but many were not and end up just being a name in a long line of names. This does not mean, however, that they deserve any less respect. Each and every name in a lineage is important and deserves great respect. Without the sacrifice, effort, and hard work of each and every master students would not have the ability to learn a particular style.

That being said every lineage should be taken with a grain of salt. Many martial arts trace their lineage back to a famous hero, or deity. This was particularly common during Republican Era China. Mainly this was to help improve interest in their schools. During the Republican Era the Chinese government promoted the practice of martial arts as a way to improve the strength and health of the nation. For the first time schools began teaching to the public for profit. Having infamous characters as the source of a style may have helped to make it stand out among the competition.

The history contained within the lineage is important because it can help provide insight as to how a system evolved or how it may have been influenced by the times and culture in which a master lived. Some systems have a lineage that is only a few generations deep while others have many generations and can trace the system back hundreds of years. The length of the lineage has no bearing, however, on a systems effectiveness or relevance.

Some schools are known to flaunt their lineage sharing it with any and all who will listen while other schools hold it as a close secret known only to the most dedicated. Most schools however, have will produce it upon request neither hiding nor offering their lineage. Regardless every school should have the information about their lineage as part of their curriculum. It is important for students to know where they come from even if it should not be the primary focus.

The problem with lineage is that many students feel that if they have a lineage that descends from a famous master, or that their lineage has a long unbroken history, that their style and therefore their skills are much better than other practitioners. This is often much farther from the truth. Lineage alone cannot make you a great martial artist. While there may have been a very skilled master in the system’s past, that in no way makes someone a skilled martial artist, a student can only stand on his own skills and accomplishments.

Martial arts are growing and changing all the time. Systems may even have been developed in more recent times as an accumulation and distillation of a master’s prior experience. Systems like these often adapt techniques for more modern considerations. This means that their lineage may be quite short. However, the length of a lineage has no bearing on its effectiveness as a system. Long lineages are a testament to the art and it is great the students have taken up its practice and continued to perpetuate the art but that does not make them any more or less effective.

Lineage is an important part of a system and should hold a special place of reverence for student’s of a particular art. Beyond that it should not be used as a metric for judging another’s skills. Refrain from judging another martial artist based on his lineage. If a student feels that a particular system provides value to him then that is what matters. Respect a student for his own abilities and respect his choice of style.


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