Monday, August 14, 2006

Genealogy of Styles

Human beings are social animals. We often sort outselves out into groups and orders of people. There are social classes, political groups, religious groups, gender, race and cultural groups. But I would say that the most universal of all types of groups is the family group. We identify first and foremost with our family. Our names are a constant reminder of who we are and where we came from. Those who have lost family members in some way, like a father abondoning his child or a beloved sister dying, feel a deep sense of something missing in their lives and in themselves. It is difficult for a person to feel whole without some connection to family.

For many years, there have been family-based and passed martial arts. In Korea, they call it Sah Doh Mu Sool, and in China its decents can be seen it styles like Chen style taijiquan, developed from a traditional family style. In Japan also, families would have styles specific to them, passed down from parent to child over generations. They would even go so far as to harbor violently well-protected family secrets from other clans.

What are the merits of this kind of style? What is gained and lost by the exlusion of those outside of the genetic line? What of those schools today which bear the names of the family styles yet have little traceable link to the family itself? Is this a dying form of martial arts study? Should it be encouraged, eliminated, or updated for our times?

Personally I think that the serious practicioner of the martial arts, if he truly feels his lifetime of learning is valuable, should want to share it with others. He should especially want to share it with his children, whom he has the greatest responsibility to teach that which he feels is important. If this cycle of learning-teaching is continued over the generations, a person need never fear that all of their hard work through their life has gone to waste, because their skills will be passed on and improved over time.

With the isolation of a family line, a person has the freedom to teach what he wants without fear of legal or organizational retribution. For instance, because he wouldn't have to organize his school under the name of a certain style, Kenpo, Aikido, or Kyokushin for example, he has no obligation to adhere to the guidlines and restrictions of those styles. He can teach any range of curriculum from strict duplication of the styles to what he feels are the most beneficial aspects of as many styles as he chooses. Also, since he will be teaching within his family, he won't feel like he has to incorporate 'crowd pleasers' (excessive high kicks, frequent belt advancement) to keep his students and their parents coming back and paying the monthly dues.

While laws vary from state to state, country to country, it can generally be said that a parent is ultimately responsible for their children. You don't have to sign wavers and invest in expensive insurance policies if your dojo is made up of those who you yourself have direct responsibility for. No one is going to sue themselves. This is said with the assumption that all truly serious practitioners of the martial arts care about the mental, physical, and spiritual well being of those they practice with and teach.

Teaching martial arts within the family can create strong familial bonds and assist in the indoctrination of correct belief and action. In short, it can be a good parenting tool. Any parent who devotes their time on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis to the loving instruction of their children will see and enriched bond with them. This bond can strengthen lifelong relationships of trust and friendship and ultimately make the student-teacher relationship easier, both in the martial realm and in the general sculpting of a well-adjusted human being. The wise Confucius has said that "the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home."

What of the exclusion of those outside the blood line? I would say that is up to the parent. Some may find is better to confine their instruction to one-on-one lessons in the home, some may invite other children they feel could benefit (though this would add in the aspect of liability), some may encourage their children to join them in their own dojo practice with a class, and some would rather support their children while they are instructed by someone they feel is qualified to teach. That is the beauty of our modern world; we are not confined by strict cultural codes that dictate our family behavior. Thankfully, a war-like society does not drive us to fiercely protect our 'martial secrets', as in cultures of the past. Because of the relative peace and acceptance of our present culture, each parent is free to seek the wisest choice for themselves and their child.


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