Dacayana UK

WHO LEARNT WHAT FROM WHOM?         By David McGoldrick.

Many arguments occur in the Martial Arts about the source of techniques. I love reading the history and origins of MAs from all over the world and this seems to be the most controversial disagreement that occurs again and again in nearly all styles. 

Most of us can confidently say "I learnt this technique from that teacher". We try to emulate the technique to the best of our ability and one day we pass that on to our students. So naturally when we see 2 people doing the same techniques, we assume that one taught the other. But this is only one of a huge number of possibilities. Two people doing the same technique (or nearly the same technique) could have happened for all sorts of reasons.

Yes, of course, A could have taught B, but B could also have taught A. So, what's the difference? Usually "Ego". In one case, I want to be seen as the source of the information. This puts me in a more senior position. Often, after a teacher and student have gone their separate ways (for whatever reason), there is an argument about who taught whom. Ego takes over and the battle begins. It is often assumed that the more senior person taught the more junior. This may or may not be true. I, for one, am proud to say that I have gotten some great ideas, techniques and drills from my students. I always try to give credit where it is due, but it is my job to teach the techniques, not theirs. So despite my efforts to clarify the source, many of my students will say that they learnt the technique from me, which is the truth, but not the whole truth.

The opposite also happens. People claim that they learnt a technique or art from a particular source. If you learnt from a particular legendary GrandMaster or at a particular legendary temple, it adds credibility to what you are doing. It is "name dropping" and it may or may not be true. In MAs we love to associate with great and respected teachers because some of their greatness and respect may rub off on us, but it is not a guarantee of quality.

The other possible reason is that A and B are doing the same things because they both learnt from C. C may have been written out of history for personal and/or political reasons. Other times, the source of knowledge has simply been lost in the mists of time. Many MAs are passed on in a way that doing academic research into the source would be a very low priority, so things are just forgotten. We are never likely to know the connections.

In the previous scenarios, we are also assuming that lessons were formally taught. On a lot of occasions, 2 people could just have had a fight and learnt from each other the hard way. Pain is a great teacher and smart warriors will learn a lot more from their  defeats than their victories. If someone defeats me with a technique, then I will practice that technique. Did my enemy teach me the technique? No. Did I learn from them? Yes. Will my pride let me admit that's how I learnt it? Probably not.

Another way that a lesson could be learnt without being taught is simply that someone could watch 2 people fighting and learn their tactics the easy way. This happens a lot in combat sports but there is every reason to believe that it also happens watching real fights. A wise warrior can learn much from other people's pain and many people are great "visual" learners. Once they see something being done, they go off and practice it. 

Another option that is often raised is that people can come up with the same things completely independently of each other. All human beings have the same structure and range of movement. Of all the things we can do, only a certain number of moves will be effective for combat. Our number 3 angle strike is one of the most natural strikes a human can throw. The block against this is the most natural human flinch response. So, no one person invented those techniques but they are extremely common movements all over the world. Joints are locked and people are thrown in particular ways. It is no surprise that unrelated MAs could have the same techniques.

Another great source of knowledge is the media. I don't have to know or meet somebody to read their book. Nowadays, we laugh at "YouTube warriors" who think they can learn from the internet with no previous experience or transferable skills. But for experienced Martial Artists, the media can give us a lot of useful information. Some of the earliest manuals and treatises ever written taught MAs. This knowledge was an extremely valuable source of power to an experienced warrior.

A huge source of knowledge in the MAs is military training. Whilst it may not be very personal or in depth, it was standardised, practical and prolific. The military train hard and consistently and most importantly, they are very experienced at applying their knowledge. Many alliances between countries have ensured that these skills crossed over national borders.

Finally, let's look at what happens when something unique is created. This is most likely to happen when someone studies 2 or more MAs. Most of my best ideas come when I apply the idea from one MA to the techniques of another. This is how MAs develop and grow. However, some people are scared to say that they created something because the feel that they would be accused of being a fraud who "made it all up". Well guess what! All MAs were made up by somebody. So sometimes people make up outrageous stories. "I witnessed a penguin defeating a Cobra", or worse still, "I had a vision from God".

I think the message is clear: Be honest about your sources of knowledge. I have seen people of great knowledge and skill who still feel it necessary to make up stories. In this day and age, lies will always get found out.

There are many experienced martial artists reading this who will confirm that what I have said applies to nearly all MAs. I am not picking on any one style or Master. D