On Respect, Loyalty & Lineage

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Dr. Makia L. Pai

     The concept of lineage is what guarantees the perpetuation of a martial arts style. It is the familial or family-like relationship that binds the lineage together. At the core of this binding is the sacred relationship between a teacher and his student. This student-teacher relationship can be akin to a father-son relationship. The teacher is the father figure who is given the utmost respect. The student is the son who is taught according to his aptitude and cared for even when he makes mistakes. Traditionally, you have only one teacher, just like in life you have only one father. Although students may at times interact with their kung fu brothers, uncles, cousins, nephews and even grandfather, it is the sacred relationship between the teacher and student that allows the style to develop, flourish and grow. It is only when all members of a lineage respect this structure that the lineage can function in a healthy way, thus insuring the art's survival for future generations.

     Although mutual respect for all is a hallmark of the traditional martial arts, it does seem that people will sometimes more readily show more respect to strangers than to members of their own family and likewise to members of their own martial arts family or lineage. History is full of examples of arguments, bickering and fighting among practitioners of the martial arts and at times even more among practitioners who share the same roots and are related through a common lineage. It is a shame when this happens as outsiders see these displays and wonder why there is no family unity within the lineage. As a result, the reputation of the lineage suffers.

     Many times, this apparent disagreement between members of the same lineage occurs because someone has claimed a position in the lineage that their teacher did not give them. Remember only your teacher can give you lineage to him, you cannot claim it for yourself and it cannot be bestowed on you by those outside of the lineage. Often when a famous martial arts master dies, various people come out of the woodwork claiming lineage to that particular master. This can obviously create friction with the true lineage members who do not believe the newcomer's claim to lineage. Just because you attended a few seminars with someone does not make them your teacher. Just because you studied with a particular teacher for a period of time does not place you in his lineage. The teacher must declare you to be in his lineage either by signed written acknowledgement or verbally during a special meeting or ceremony where other members of the teacher's lineage are present. Every teacher in every style with lineage has a unique way that lineage is acknowledged in order to prevent false claims to the lineage. If somone is claiming lineage through any other way, do not believe them. The actual members of that lineage certainly won't either.

     The cases where the disrespect does not stem from someone's unlawful claim to lineage usually arise when one legitmate member of the lineage belittles another legitimate member of the same lineage for their own selfish commercial purposes. This is usually done orally in front of either their own students or other students in the lineage. Some lineage members may have schools in close proximity and feel that they have to compete for students. Other lineage members may even try to "steal" students who are training with another instructor in their own lineage. While many martial arts instructors have no qualms about trying to steal students of another instructor, it certainly is a shame to see such behavior among instructors from the same lineage. It is usually a student's lack of martial arts etiquette that would allow them to be "stolen". Some of these students may not even be aware that it is happening. They may be flattered by the attention given to them by someone who is older, more famous or has a fancier title than their instructor. While reputable instructors do not engage in such behavior, it is unfortunately not as uncommon as one might imagine. I myself have had a few world renowned masters (not from my teacher's lineage) try to steal me from my teacher (prior to my adoption by my teacher into his lineage). I thanked them all respectfully for their invitation and replied that I already had a teacher. As this kind of response must have been rare for these masters to hear, they all instanteously inquired about my teacher and his lineage. As I replied I could see the respect in their eyes for my teacher even though they had never met him. They all knew how difficult it was to instill loyalty in a student born and raised in the United States. The ironic thing about those students who allow themselves to be stolen by another teacher is that those students demonstrate their level of loyalty to be minimal. As such, this other teacher will just treat them like customers and commercially exploit them as long as they can. No teacher will give the pearls of his art to someone who does not exemplify the virtue of loyalty.

     A different situation arises when your teacher suggests that you go and study with another teacher, usually in the same lineage or in some way connected with your teacher. In this case either your teacher is trying to get rid of you or he wants you to undergo a different learning experience that he feels will make you into a better practitioner of his art. If you feel that your teacher is trying to send you away, you have probably offended him in some way and should see it for the test that it is and don't go. Otherwise, go and learn whatever the referred teacher shows you. Treat the referred teacher with the utmost respect. Usually he will be considered your kung fu uncle (if he shares the same teacher as your teacher) or your older kung fu brother (if he is an older student of your teacher). Either way, realize that you are going as a representative of your teacher and your teacher's teaching and as such your loyalty must always remain to your original teacher.

     If you are being considered by your teacher to one day become a part of his lineage, expect some tests of your loyalty to be included in the lessons of the referred teacher. Do not, however, expect these tests to be obvious. They will be very, very subtle. You will either pass or fail them based on your current level of understanding of honor and martial arts ethics. If you ever consider asking to be a formal student of the referred teacher, you are a fool. Only a disreputable instructor would accept you and even if he did, you would forever carry the scarlet letter of disloyalty. After all, if you left your original teacher for him, how long would it be before you left him for another teacher? Many times, other insructors trying to steal you will dangle the carrot of higher rank or fancier title to entice you to leave your teacher and train under them. Stay aware and see it for the trap that it is. No matter what tests you undergo, continue to show respect to all of the teachers in your teacher's lineage and loyalty to your teacher. If you are one of the fortunate ones who can perservere and stay loyal to your teacher, you may one day find yourself accepted into his lineage. And if you do you may find it to be simultaneously the proudest and most humbling experience of your life. I know I did.


     Dr. Makia L. Pai is the Founder of Dragon Moon® Kung Fu and the Director of Dragon Moon Martial Arts Association.  He is a long time practitioner of the Pai Family martial, meditative, and metaphysical arts.


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