Sunday, June 4, 2017

Having lineage doesn't mean you can fight!

Holy cow!  I had a lot of awesome feedback on that article on lineage but my teachers and friends that I consulted all gave me the same prediction......  "You are going to have a lot of people misunderstand the article and try and argue about how lineage doesn't mean you can fight".  And they were all exactly right.  It didn't matter that Byron specifically addressed it in his comment, people still had to build a strawman just to have something to argue about.

So let's say it again here, just in case anyone missed it.  Lineage is very important but it doesn't mean you can fight at all.  Sun Lu Tang may have created an amazing martial art style but his daughter isn't know for beating people up, does that make sense?

Let me sum up the last blog in a different fashion, maybe this will resonate with people better, Lineage is proof of an unbroken line of teachers.  These teacher each bring their own ideas and influences and that is how styles evolve and break off into different branches over time.  To claim a lineage is to claim to have direct, un-hindered access to the sum knowledge of a select group of people.  That's it, nothing more.  For example, I claim the lineage of Gao Baguazhang that comes through Bi Tianzuo and his student Yang Yusen.  That means my understanding of Gao Bagua is what was handed down from Gao Yisheng and Han Muxia to Wu Mengxia and Bi Motang.  They taught Bi Tianzuo and he in turn taught Yang Yusen.  To me, being part of this chain of amazing martial artists is a massive honor and I truly cherish being part of this group but in no way do I make the claim that I can fight as well as they do.  It simply means I have been handed the tools that these great men have proven in real life are effective.

Lineage CAN however be influential in the skill that students have at fighting, though.  Don't misunderstand and think they aren't connected at all.  In some ways, lineage greatly increases the chances that a student will be a skilled fighter but in no way is a guarantee.

The way this works is that teachers who receive excellent combat training from their teachers (lineage) are more able to pass on what works and what doesn't to their students, whereas the teachers with no lineage first have to log massive hours of sparring and actual fighting to find out what works and doesn't work from their art.  If a teacher creates an art but can't prove they have pressure tested it should be a red flag for most potential students.

That may be too ethereal for some so let's break it down a different way.  Having lineage means you have access to more tools than someone who just learns off video or creates their own style.  For example, many people know the Gao Bagua palm changes but it's VERY rare that someone knows all the Hou Tian or the Animals.  These are techniques/tools that lineage Gao people have access to that give them more options during a confrontation.  If they train hard and are able to use them on the fly is another matter entirely but they do start with a distinct advantage.  The tool analogy is good, I was having a conversation with Sifu Jason VanWinkle from Wei Yong Martial Arts about this post and he made the analogy of working on cars.

Most people start with basic tools like hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.  (Hands, feet, head, elbows, etc).  People without lineage or who are creating their own art have to teach themselves to be proficient with the basic tools, what is used for which task, proper usage of the tools or what will damage the tools.  People with lineage have a leg up here as they already have a teacher who can give them the quick run-down on these ideas.  Lets use a martial example here.  Say a non lineage person is learning how to punch from watching others.  He has to figure out how to throw the punch from his core, where his elbows should be, the right way to hold his hand and how to line up his wrist.  We have seen LOTS of examples where teachers who don't have a lineage are demonstrating and they are doing some wacky things.  This is a result of the teacher having an idea but not testing it first to see if it's true.  (Side note, this applies to that Taiji vs. MMA fight that just happened.  The teacher had an idea and didn't test it to see if it was true and got beat up for it.).   People with lineage should have a teacher that teaches them the proper mechanics from the beginning so they are already ahead of the curve in this respect.

While the non lineage person is still struggling to figure out the basics on their own, the lineage person SHOULD be moving past that point.  They should be learning more intermediate or advanced concepts, things that will take many years for the person who is making up their own art to even start to comprehend.  This is akin to the lineage student having access to more advanced tools like electric drills and table saws where as the non lineage guy is trying to figure out if a screwdriver would work attached to the head of a hammer.  That may sound absurd but we all know there are a few teachers out there trying to pass off a screw-hammer as a viable tool.  LOL

Teachers with no lineage don't have the luxury of having the tools handed to them with instruction, they have to personally use each move/tool hundreds of times after they create it in real life to honestly say that they KNOW it works.  Each concept and idea has to be rigorously tested in real fights to know if it is functional.  And let's be honest here, 99.99% of the time teachers who create their own arts aren't using their arts with any regularity so how can they promise their students that the art works well enough to ensure their safety?

I think this presents a fairly solid argument that having lineage does give you a leg up and should by all means indicate you have a better ability to fight.  Whether someone follows through with that or not is another issue and truly not related to lineage, it's more related to if they have the heart for it or just want to rest on their laurels.

I invited Shifu Matthew Staley, a martial cousin in Gao Bagua, to add his thoughts to this.

As Conley Shifu said, lineage gives you access to better, more refined tools.  This is a double edged sword though. I originally started my martial career in Pai Lum,  a system with a very obscure lineage once you get past the Grandmaster Daniel K Pai, but in its prime produced a lot of rough neck fighters.  In my early 20's I transitioned to my internal master and gained a lot of depth with a classical lineage.  That being said, because of the time frame I spent under my internal master we didn't spend a lot of time on application or fighting.  This was because I had a very good rough background in Pai Lum so I was comfortable bridging and throwing hands.  
Both my internal and external masters were good at fighting and I received a lot of insight from them both, but we still threw hands frequently although less so in my internal training.  The risk with lineage is you assume that because you belong to this tradition you have gained the abilities of your ancestors,  which is blatantly untrue.  Those known for fighting prowess were thugs and roughnecks to some degree, they were unafraid to cross arms.  Modern people capitalize on that and believe because they are from a lineage of fighters that they too are a fighter.  You get out of the training what you put in, if you don't ever play drills with someone actively trying to hit you,  with no sense of reality or active engagement it doesn't matter how great your lineage is. If your lineage is good those drills can get more and more refined assuming your teacher kept the effort up.  
Case in point I had a senior student that talked about how superior internal was over every other art, but refused to train application or fighting because he was afraid to be hurt.  He still assumed he'd be amazing because he trained the internal arts.  He had access to a good lineage but never put the effort in.  Meanwhile some of my younger siblings in Pai could have murdered him with because they focused on fighting a lot and were not afraid to mix it up.  In the end lineage can and will make you better especially if you view it as something you have to uphold and live up to.  If you just want to ride it's coattails into history you are no better than any other hack or charlatan teaching no touch knockouts.

I think it's perfectly clear now how people with real lineage view the concept of lineage.  No real person who has a lineage is claiming to be the worlds deadliest fighter or that their art is superior to any others.  In fact, lineage holders are extremely cautious with their claims to greatness because if they are lying, their family bears the brunt of the shame. 
I would like to leave you with one final thought that I have seen is very true over the years and if you pay attention, will more than likely become apparent to you as well.  The people who make the case that people with lineage are automatically claiming to be fighters are more often than not people without lineage.  Often it's a strawman argument, created by people who don't have any martial family as a way of lashing out against others when they find themselves backed into a corner and frequently from the same people who complain about how lineage people are mean when they criticize fake teachers for making up their arts.  I believe if you consider it, you will see the connections clearly. 

Jesse Conley is an instructor who owns Stone Tiger Martial Arts
in Vancouver, WA.  He teaches traditional Chinese Kung fu, focusing on 
Gao Bagua, Xingyi and Taiji, with Ma Tongbei also offered.
For more information, please check out our website
or email him at

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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.