The essence of the art lies with the individual, the history of the art lies in its Lineage. Highlighting lineage helps ensure respect is shown to teachers and those who went before them, those who committed time and energy to an art that you now enjoy.
Dedicating a life to an art has significant implications and should not be underestimated. I have heard stories of how teachers and their families were persecuted in China because they studied and taught, yet they continued to practice and impart their knowledge so that others could enjoy it. A short film I saw recently Be strong, Be gentle, Be beautiful highlights the dedication and challenges faced by Keiko Fukuda, in spreading her art of Judo, now enjoyed by millions.
A Teachers influence is far reaching, how they behave reflects upon their teaching, their art and therefore their Lineage. Reality often crushes our romantic ideas. The global development of Tai Chi Chuan, Karate and Judo highlight the intricate involvement of Martial Arts in the history of and politics of their birth nations. The survival of some arts and extinction of others has been decided by influential families with strong political and social ties.
An honest Lineage should be underpinned by the integrity of the individual.
Unfortunately, many people use Lineage to achieve their own ends, to make them seem more credible, to fill in their gaps, to create a history, to justify the money they paid…. In short, to satisfy their marketing or personal ends thus neglecting their responsibility to both their Lineage and their students.
For the purpose of this blog, I feel compelled to draw a line between traditional martial arts and sports. For the latter the sporting and competition elements are the primary aims, where as in Traditional Martial Arts guiding principles are laid down as a way of life.
It is an important distinction because it cuts to the heart of traditional martial arts, on the internal, external and spiritual level. I always encountered less ego in a boxing gym than I did in a Tai Chi class. On reflection I think I encountered a greater manifestation of fear and insecurity in a Tai Chi class than I did in a boxing gym. The boxing gym was less academic and a more physically honest environment. In my twenties I spent a lot of time teaching martial arts, working in bars and clubs and practicing boxing and martial arts, the perceived and actual energetic differences were striking. Tai Chi classes often fed peoples insecurities, creating greater uncertainty and reliance on the teacher. Weakening not strengthening the Shen of students.
There is ego in all walks of life, sport and martial arts are no different you need a bit of it if you are striving to improve or be the best. It does not need to define you as a person, dignity and integrity shape how we live and how we behave as human beings.
A good teacher should want to develop their students – physically, energetically, spiritually, as a martial artist and person. A strong teacher/student relationship requires trust, this requires the student to open themselves to the opinion and outlook of the teacher.
How a person lives their life is a matter for them to decide but a person who chooses to teach and bring students into their life, as is often the case in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, has a moral and ethical responsibility. Abuse of a position of influence or other people’s good nature lacks all integrity and contradicts the fundamentals of being a good teacher, person or martial artist.
During the last 30 years I have met a lot of highly respected martial artists, some briefly others I got to know well. Unfortunately there were those who spoke of respect, integrity and honesty but demonstrated little, teaching one message but practicing another. There often seemed to be a deeply ingrained need for manipulation and control that far exceeded any of their other responsibilities as teachers.
The philosophy of internal health and martial arts would support the idea that total unanchored dedication to any one thing is in itself unbalanced and therefore unhealthy. You see a lot of unhealthy, unbalanced individuals practising internal martial arts, unfortunately this is from the top down as well as bottom up. All full time teachers have to balance paying the bills with class numbers which will at times affect who is being taught what but it does not explain deeper issues.
A friend made me laugh recently when he said he lost all respect for a Chinese Internal Arts teacher when he saw him smoking behind the bike sheds. This was a teacher who made all students promise never to drink or smoke, allegedly in line with his beliefs, yet it was the first thing he did when they got off the mat. Male teachers seeking the sexual attention of women in their classes is another example that can be levelled at many. It seems there is always a ‘get out’ clause when in pursuit of the Dao but regardless of how such teachers justify their actions, their behaviour reflects on them as individuals, the essence of the art they teach, and it’s Lineage.
The idea that martial arts informs a way of life means teachers should be good human beings, supporting and helping others develop and positively sustaining their Lineage. A teacher’s knowledge of form and technique is not an excuse for being a weak individual.
Martial, health, fitness and life knowledge go hand in hand. It is good to remember and think about those who have contributed to our life, whether it seemed positive or negative at the time it has helped inform us as people. I learnt as much about being a good person and coach from a man who fixed bikes in France as I have from many a renowned martial arts teachers. For the integrity of our Lineage it is worth remembering that we all age, it’s what we do in life that determines if it’s gracefully.