Does authenticity matter?
In a previous blog, I covered the importance of lineage. In this new blog I will cover the topic of authenticity and does it matter.
When we choose a style and a school to train, we may look at one of two things. One one hand we may look at lineage or is it any good. Some look at Jeet Kune Do, because Bruce Lee created it. But does it suit you? Is it a classic style? No. Is it any good? Well that depends on your level of skill.
Others look at a style that has history, such as Shaolin, which has a very rich history. But is it authentic? Well that's a bit more complicated to answer. In some ways yes, the teachings and the text still exist. But times have changed and there are now no need for warrior monks. Shaolin demonstrations are still interesting to watch, but most of these demonstrations are now more for entertainment purposes.
So how authentic is Taiji? Well the actually history of the Taiji we know is less than 300 years old. Taiji has evolved from a martial art to a health exercise for the masses. Looking at books on Yang and Wu Style, each generation does things a different way, whether it is large or small frame or that the forms are in a different order. Sons will change forms to suit themselves and brothers may do things differently too. There are also lineages out there that few people know about. Do they matter? Yes they do.
There are in fact many strands in the lineages that claim authenticity and the right to be recognised as such. Can they be considered authentic? If they are done well and the interpretation is in tune with the style, then yes. If authenticity requires proof, then it would be harder to prove. Let's be honest, nobody today has seen Yang Luchan (founder of Yang Style) or Wu Quanyou (founder of Wu Style) in action. There are no photo and film footage of either. There is a book with pictures Yang Chengfu, but this is of him as an older man. How he looked in his prime, we don't know. Is this authentic? Well then you must consider how modern Yang form looks like and consider whether those pictures are helpful from a practical point of view. I have read various books and watched videos from the Wu lineage, including the Gold Book. From what I can see, nobody did it exactly the same way.
Some practitioners of the Taiji use antique swords and sabres, which give their art a more authentic flavour. There are number of benefits from doing this (that's for another blog), such as giving you a feeling that modern spring steel swords cannot give. But is this authentic? This is hard to say, because over time, certain techniques or knowledge may have been lost. But is as authentic as you're going to get? The reality is that martial arts changes with the times, in order to be relevant. Let me put it in a different way. For example with Baroque orchestras, playing music of that period with antique instruments of the time. Is that authentic? Well we like to think it is. But in reality, nobody knows what the music actually sounded like back then. How you play instruments now, isn't like how it was done then. Despite this, I don't think we should stop doing what we do. What matters is if you enjoy what you do.
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