Lineage: Its values and limitations

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by SWC Sifu Ben, Apr 16, 2017.

  1. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law

    Lineage is a funny thing. The idea of an unbroken line of transmission reaching back to the original source can be appealing for some. This distinction can hold value but can also lead people astray into either overvaluing its importance or disregarding its import entirely.

    Who you learned from can be important for transmission of knowledge. It's nigh impossible to have someone teach you a technique or concept who doesn't themselves know it. It's also a stylistic indicator, that is, student will always have influence on their tactics and movement patterns. Even in more modern and competitive martial arts like BJJ or Muay Thai, who you trained and graded under is often a caveat to the belt around your waist because the quality of training, success in application, and qualifications for success all vary, and increase in variation as generations pass.

    Here one of the big problems start to rear their head. Let's take a single progenitor of a style or offshoot of a style. In generation 1 each of the students can have vastly different experiences from how long they stay and train, the intensity of their training and gradings, and the content of their instruction, their closeness to the instructor. Each of these can vary based on the instructor, the individual, and the conditions around training. Students often make the mistake of thinking that simply because two people trained under the same instructor, even during the same time period, that they received the same quality of instruction or training. People may even go so far as to try and use an instructor's fame for themselves. Students who may have rarely or never trained with an instructor may pass themselves off as students, or equal students, through photos of themselves with said instructor. This mirelurk of complications only becomes more difficult to untangle as years pass and even legitimate instructors may take advantage of the shroud time casts as a way to hide their faults and inflate their credibility.

    So how can a student use lineage to judge prospective instructors? I would suggest 4 things:
    1. Lineage can never be a major determinant of skill on its own. Not everyone who learns from a good instructor will be one themselves.
    2. Where possible try to use a more empirical method of determining skill like success in resistant, competitive formats.
    3. Try to compare technique of the instructor considered, to their classmates (successful in #2 if possible), especially in their earliest available exposure as an instructor. Similar technique and explanations for technique, to both to their instructor and fellow (quality) students, is a good sign.
    4. Try to figure out how personally close an instructor was to their instructor. People are more willing to share openly with people they're close to rather than people who simply pay $$$, this includes martial arts instructors.

    Lineage can be a tool in determining the potential for the amount and quality of information you're likely to be in for training under a particular instructor, but like any tool it can fail. Learning to fight and test your skills in resistant formats keeps you from falling into the "classical mess" of blind adherence to tradition, and actually prepare yourself better to be able to assess the possible utility of what is being handed down by a certain tradition. Never rely on lineage alone as a marker of quality but let it inform your selection of instructor.
  2. Remi Lessore

    Remi Lessore Valued Member

    It also helps sift out chancers and charlatans.
    For example in France, where Henrie Plée is considered responsible for bringing karate to Europe, Shotokan was the first largely practiced art to be recognised by the Ministry for Youth and Sports in the FFKADA (Fédération Française de Karaté et Disciplines Associées). Consequently 'dan' grades are a nationally recognised diplomas. You cannot say you hold a dan in anything if you are not affiliated to the FFKADA. You have to call it "degree" or "level" or "darga".
    So karate instructors jumped on the king fu bandwagon in the 80s and now Krav Maga - but it can be anything that is in vogue. They claim to hold dan grades in any discipline they choose and they are not officially committing fraud.
    Lineage is then important especially for a beginner who may be otherwise hoodwinked.
  3. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool the merc with the mouth MAP 2017 Moi Award

    Lineage, can be important, its kinda depends on context, But Knowingly LYING about lineage, is a define sign of somebody/someplace to avoid!
  4. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    You raise good discussion points, but a couple of them I don't really agree with.

    But if the guy is lying, isn't that an issue of honesty/fraud, rather than an actual issue of lineage?

    The underlying but unspoken assumption that I hear is, "Every student must necessarily become a teacher." Why would you even assume that someone who sucks at teaching would become a teacher?
  5. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    Verifying lineage is one way a lot of fraud's get exposed. I believe that is the point and how the two get tied in together.
  6. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    Hmmm, I have a point to bring up, but it is tricky.

    What about when one's lineage is maybe exaggerated or emphasized to a point one could be considered lying. But it comes from a fall out with the original instructor?

    I am aware of a long time Sifu who had a falling out with his instructor. He is a high level long time Sifu- he is not fake in that at all. However, due to the fallout, which was not on good terms, he is playing down (not denying fully) his connection to the one teacher and playing up his amount of training with another instructor. Like when someone (over) emphasizes some seminars and special trips and suddenly that person is claimed as part of their lineage? At what point does one consider that an outright lie and fraudulent? Or is that acceptable?

    I know there must be other cases like this. Where there is a fallout, things get ugly, and so lineage history gets muddled?

    I have been genuinely curious about situations like this.

    And no, please don't ask for more specifics. I don't like to get into politics or lineage wars. This is something I know about through the Internet. Not my school. That is why I am just bringing up a general concept. I have read on here and elsewhere about other similar circumstances. It seems like something that happens from time to time in multiple arts.

    A similar thing that i have read here on MAP is when someone is brought up in a lineage, but due to politics, the person giving the lineage takes it back and denies it. Can one take back their lineage ranks once given? It seems to me like you can't take back a acknowledgment of a rank achieved, but it happens.

    One of the unfortunate circumstances of lineage is that politics and interpersonal issues get involved sometimes. Then, lineage can be used as a weapon to attack the other person.

    I have no answers, just something I have pondered and this article makes me think of it again.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
    Monkey_Magic likes this.
  7. wonglongwingchu

    wonglongwingchu Valued Member

    Lineage is important and so is the quality of training they received, but a lot of people lie about it.

    At some point, it's even hard to promote something legitimate.
  8. wonglongwingchu

    wonglongwingchu Valued Member

    I personally have experienced that in my own lineage. Maybe even in a worse way.

    What happened was that my brother and I partnered with one of our classmates. Both of us is under the same instructor on paper and in public (when in fact, my brother and I have been training under the same instructor and practicing his techniques for a longer time). The organization allowed it because he promised he will learn and dump his old stuff.

    about two years later, we had a fallout because he didn't keep his promise, and have been basically lying this whole time and using our sifu's name for false promotion.

    Then guess what, he is now saying that we are the illegitimate one on social media and tries to spread his propaganda. Even though we have pretty much learned all there is from our sifu, and he barely learned for less than 10 days worth of training.

    So yeah, people are willing to muddle lineages and reputation at the drop of a hat. Especially if money is on the line.
  9. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool the merc with the mouth MAP 2017 Moi Award

    edited for now.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  10. Remi Lessore

    Remi Lessore Valued Member

    I mean,
    Inexperienced people can assume someone is authentic because of a name they use (e.g . Kung fu or Krav Maga, in this context = hard training, or contact combat).
    But when you check the lineage you might find that they are a bb in something else and are just using he name, or bought an instructor certificate after a 4 day seminar.
    There was a guy a few years ago early 90s?) who claimed to teach jeet kun do in the basis that his system used an intercepting fist.
    This may or may not have been true in the literal sense, but checking lineage would show that he had nothing to do with Lee or Inosanto et al and was too lazy or cynical to find a name for his own system.
  11. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law

    Yes. But it is a common one. Sometimes it's outright falsification, claiming to have been a student without having been. Sometimes it's an issue of lack of time/quality of training and inflating oneself to have teaching credentials or seem more important.

    Because I've seen it happen, a lot. Heck how many times have we seen people on here multiple times who've "invented" their own style. People without the technical credentials do it for things like money or external validation. Some people aren't good enough to teach but due to lax, or no controls within a style may end up being able to self-promote as instructors. Some even start out good and slowly slip over the years without the reinforcing presence of their instructor and the echo chamber of being the only big voice in the room.
  12. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    Fair enough. I readily agree with your larger point that lineage does not indicate teaching skill.
  13. Monkey_Magic

    Monkey_Magic Well-Known Member

    I’ve resurrected this thread because I thought Ben’s original post was excellent and deserved airing again.

    Also, I think Aaradia made a crucial point about politics and people falling out with their original instructor. Sadly, I’ve noticed more and more of this occurring (what’s wrong with martial artists?). I’ve no answer, just an observation that sometimes good instructors can’t state their lineage in public because of politics. It’s sad.
  14. Mushroom

    Mushroom De-powered to come back better than before.

    I've known a few people that have fallen out with their Instructors, it's been messy. But that's what happens when personalities clash etc

Share This Page