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Does lineage matter?

What is a lineage?

Lineage is where an art is passed down from one generation to another. The matter of lineage is not just about a set of skills and knowledge handed down from master to student. It is also about tradition and that you respect your master's teaching and those before him. And that you intend to carry on where they left off.

What does it mean?

Lineage matters where you respect the traditions of a certain style. In Chinese martial arts, if you join a school and become a student, you are considered family. The closer students are the inside door students that have gone through a ceremony. You training represents the characteristics and the quality of that school. Each school, even if of the same style will have their own unique characteristics and syllabuses. If you take Hung Gar, a popular style of Southern Kung Fu. Each lineage will have their own characteristics. So Lam family has a slightly different flavour to Lau Family or Tang Family. In Taiji, whilst the Yang Family is most well known of the styles, there are numerous lineages after over a hundred years. These developed after students left Beijing and went their own way. Many of these schools have forms and methodologies that can be different from each other.

Does lineage still matter?

This depends on who you ask. The traditionalist believes that it does, but followers of the modern approach might not. To the traditionalists, lineage defines what your style stands for and honours the origins of the art. As a student, you should learn about, not just the forms and technique, but also the history of your lineage. A teacher should be able to explain why we do things a certain way and be familiar with the key people in the lineage. Where a teacher has created their own style, it is important that they declare who they've studied and trained under. Credibility matter and you wouldn't want to seen appropriating somebody else's art.

However modern forms of martial arts in China or wushu is not taught this way. Modern forms have developed and evolved from their original counterparts. Forms are split from function and so fighting is taught as a separate discipline. This is known as sanda (some call this Chinese kickboxing). Wushu and sanda are taught in gyms and modern martial arts school. They are led coaches, not teachers and they follow set forms and techniques that are done nationally. As wushu becomes more popular outside China. These clubs also follow this format. This is in contrast to traditional martial arts that are often temple styles or clan based.

Who is your master?

It is not unusual to be ask this question or be asked re your style and lineage. In conversations with teachers of other schools, they would in interested in who taught you and where did you train. They might be familiar with your style and might even know of your grandmaster. All this matters as people perceive you in a different way and some friendships can go back generations. All this is part of martial arts culture.

A show-case art or a living art?

Of Chinese martial arts schools, they may fall into two broad camps. On one hand you will get styles where the you're taught sets of forms and skills. These are how they used to do it and therefore you will carry on doing the same. On the other hand, you have schools were they are more open to new ideas, where they look at improving the forms, techniques and theories, so that the art remains relevant. Neither are wrong and both schools of thought have their merits. It's good to keep old arts going, but society changes. Therefore arts have to move with the times to be relevant. In the school I belong to, we learn the forms handed down from our grandmaster Cheng Tin-Hung. But our master Dan Docherty has also refined, improved and added his own. So you can say that our lineage has evolved. When comparing to others in the Cheng Tin-Hung lineage, each will have their minor differences. However, the basics should be the same.

Whilst it might seem that MMA is modern, it is a sport and the techniques were drawn from various traditional martial arts. This way of taking techniques from various sources isn't new. Virtually all styles of martial arts were developed this way. A number of years ago, I started getting interested in Southern style Chinese martial arts. Namely the styles associated with Hakka people. I noticed that a lot of techniques were similar and most were associated with the Southern Shaolin Temple*. These styles had similarities with White Crane style. Which in turn influenced the development of Karate and in turn influenced Taekwondo. What defines a style and lineage depends how techniques are executed and the theories to support them.

If you learnt your forms from watching a video, are you a part of that lineage?

Well it depends. If you've never been to a class you're not known by the school. So no you're not. There are courses that are taught online, but that is a different matter. Videos can help with learning, but it doesn't replace the need for a teacher. It is a teacher who can correct, certify and grade you. So you can't put this on your résumé/CV.

Does lineage matter to me?

I would say that lineage does matter to me. It's important to learn from people who know what they're talking about. And that you can see who they've studied under and the background to the style. If others are reading about you, they'd want to know the same. For all you know, I could have been making things up. At the end if the day, your level of training doesn't lie.

Thank you for reading my blog.

*Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian Province is branch of the famous Shaolin Temple. Which is sometimes called Northern Shaolin.


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