I was talking with a newly acquainted co-worker during lunch time and we found out that we were both martial arts practitioner. When I asked him where he trains, he promptly replies, with not only information about the dojo and its instructor, but also included the full lineage of his Shotokan Karate school, tracing all the way back to Gichin Funakoshi, father of modern karate-do and founder of Shotokan karate.
I would have expected that if he was practicing at a school like Fang Shen Do, where the teacher created his own style and credited his superior fighting skills for having trained with a guy that trained with Bruce Lee. So it was kind of odd that my co-worker would feel the need to point out how his school is linked to the founder of his style, especially since Shotokan Karate is pretty common around the world. Maybe he felt I would better gauge his skills if I understood the history behind his school?
The conversation drifted to the technical area we studied in University. When came my turn to talk about my academic studies, I promptly took a piece of paper and drew my Electrical Engineering lineage.
Impressive, isn’t it? I can trace my Electrical Engineering (telecom) degree all the way to some of the most influent physicists and Engineers in history! Surely that matters when people consider my worth as an engineer!
Okay, I didn’t really trace my lineage… and the above lineage tree is entirely fabricated. As any normal person would do, I told him about the specialty I studied and University I attended, which is loosely translated from French into “School of Superior Technology” or Ecole de Technology Superieure. That was enough information for my colleague to understand my academic background. As an engineer, I am defined a lot more by my work ethics and accomplishments than with any association I may be linked to.
What is it about martial arts that makes people want to identify with other masters, other languages and cultures? Unlike Engineering, there are no laws, standards, or single ruling organization in (non Olympics) martial arts. This lack of authority opens the door to all kinds of less than honourable characters, ranging from the masters who claim holding the monopoly on the legitimacy of a style to those who self proclaim themselves as masters and start their own little martial arts empire.
By exposing his lineage to me, my co-worker gave himself “legitimacy”, or the right to wear his black belt and claim his achievements.
Martial artists, just like any other human being on earth, should be judged by their personalities, skills, determination and their achievements. Exceptional masters produce both good and mediocre students. There is no doubt that training with a renowned teacher will help with martial arts abilities but at the end, it all comes down to the strength and dedication of the practitioner. Instead of identifying with external elements which are irrelevant to their skills, wouldn’t martial arts and its practitioners be better off by training hard and pushing their abilities to their limits?
To see more of Jeremy Nguyen's work, please visit http://www.fluidr.com/photos/kenzotuki/sets