A few months ago I had the pleasure of training with Dan Harden. One of the things that I found most impressive was his attitude towards the material he was teaching. “I’m not the guy. Don’t make me the face for this stuff. I’m not making any if this up.” He asserted that the work we (i.e. all martial artists) are doing has been around for centuries if not millennia. He was simply collecting and collating information to share with other people.
Regardless of what people’s beliefs are about “creating” a martial art, they are either deluding themselves of charlatans. In today’s age of instant information and accessible world travel, we will be exposed to much, much more experience than our predecessors. That still does not make us the creators of anything. Every single one of us had a teacher who taught us the fundamentals, and at some point we started to internalize, experiment and embellish. This is exactly like the oral traditions of the past. Elders would recite stories the way they heard them from their elders, over and over and teach them to the next generation. Despite their best efforts each generation spun the yarn a little differently, but the story remained the same. Raven didn’t turn black because he fell into an inkwell, Zeus didn’t throw pies and the the aristocrats will always be a family act (NSFW).
I am a storyteller. I am also the voracious collector of stories. Regardless of all the great martial arts instructors I have and grow to have, I make no claims as to have made up anything. I prioritize the lessons I teach, and hopefully share lessons in a way that people can connect to, but the reality is that martial arts is a thing that can not be taught. Like a good story, it takes on a life of its own in the audience. I no more teach than I could hold a candle to the light of a vivid imagination.
So, when we work, try not to put my face on the lesson. If you must give it to a stranger, put it on those hard-working first trainers who learned to survive with the skills you are putting into practice. Better yet, make yourself the subject of the story–but never forget that you are not the story. Enjoy your brief time in taking part in it. Share it with anyone with the heart to learn it. Encourage them to make the story a little more fantastic than the one you told them. Then let the story go on, and on until the day when the very last of us feels the need to raise a hand to another and we all learn to live happily ever after.