Occasionally people ask me why I never mention my specific martial lineage. I should state for the record that I have discussed my lineage in the past, but it is better now that such discussions fade away. The truth is that although I once had a lineage, I now have various reasons for not wishing to be associated with it, so that link is severed and it cuts both ways. My active opposition to the notion of qi shines out as the most siginficant reason - no one else that I am aware of in these styles is as prepared as I am to state factually and definitely that qi is nonsense. My attitude also reflects the more general fact that I do not represent any specific martial dynasty or style other than my own and consequently no outside lineage reflects my own values and perspectives - I'm quite sure my feeling of not wishing to be associated with any of the recognised lineages is a mutual one! As I have largely found my own way and arrived at my own conclusions, it would not be representative or accurate for me to draw attention to or try to get credence from my pedigree. I am a martial arts mongrel.
Experience has taught me that lineage does not mean very much, since there are those with it who cannot fight or impart useful martial knowledge and those without it who can. Critically, I think loyalty to a lineage, family, style, form, tradition or ritualised approach can only ever be at the expense of the safety of the students. It is another diversion from the only thing that matters - maximum combat effectiveness.
I think that a very real advantage of my being free from lineage is that I am free to teach everything I know without any pressure from those above me to hold back secret lineage methods for only the most loyal or most malleable students, which is a situation that is sadly all-too-common in tradition-oriented arts. I think it is a teacher's responsibility to teach, albeit in a modular fashion so as not to overwhelm, but I'm thoroughly opposed to keeping secrets for a chosen few. If I thought someone was incapable of handling potentially dangerous martial skills responsibly I'd just refuse to teach them at all. I'll teach all or nothing.
Another factor in the widespread witholding of secrets in certain lineages these days is certainly a commercial one. Students are kept hanging on for years waiting for combat applications that only come on the drip feed if they ever come at all. The only reason anyone puts up with it is because the arts create such an air of mystique around themselves with legends and parlour tricks that people think the secrets must be worth waiting for. In reality, they're often nothing special and what one lineage witholds until the end may be taught very openly in another style from the beginning. It is too late to start trying to have secrets now - the arts are no longer the sole preserve of an esteemed few. If people are going to adhere to claims of special skills it might not be unreasonable of us to ask them to prove themselves in actual combat (or at least in combat sports) as their ancestors did.
Whenever I come across the chance to improve something in order to make it more martially effective, I will do so. I know that to many people this is unheard of - a lot of people believe that the classical training methods and techniques cannot be improved upon. They certainly can be improved on and what is more, I think that martial arts are just a tool that people can use as they teach themselves how to protect themselves and others from harm. Martial arts were made for man, not man for martial arts.
Abstract loyalty to the orthodox methods of a fixed style all too often depletes skill because compromises are arrived at whereby lineage accuracy is put before optimal effect. This misplaced loyalty makes people confuse their bodies with traditional forms and entirely different sparring methods and self-defence techniques. In our school, form practice is ruthlessly dragged into line with literal function so that no conflict or confusion can exist between different ways of training. I teach people how to fight using maximum whole body power along with optimal strategy, adaptability and fighting spirit. I think that aim is or should be universal to martial arts and therefore transcends any style.
Specific names, arts, methodologies and form routines have been hyped out of all proportion and the truth almost never lives up to the legend. If there really were one ultimate art or approach, it would have already proven itself and the truth is that whatever happens in a sports ring in a highly specific set of circumstances, no existing martial art reigns supreme in every possible real-life conflict environment. I am continually learning and continually honing. Quite aside from anything else, my approach has been as influenced by my Escrima and Silat training as it has by my Kung Fu / Wushu training, so it is not necessarily accurate to try to describe myself specifically or even primarily as an exponent of Chinese martial styles. Physical facts transcend national boundaries and the fact is that what I do could just as accurately be described as Silat or Boxing as Kung Fu / Wushu. I think this just highlights the cross-cultural commonalities of martial movement and far from depleting what I do, I think this realisation has only improved my understanding and performance.
What I have now is good; I can get it to work reliably against people of all shapes, sizes and temperaments; but there will always be room for improvement. My basic method of optimal movement has been established and is unlikely to change much since it has proven itself repeatedly and keeps on doing so whenever it is tested alongside other methods. How to apply and teach that is an ongoing discovery - it just keeps on getting better. I don't want to impede this process by adhering to something as unnecessary and rigid as lineage. My martial art has a definite direction, but it also has room to grow. I think it strikes a good balance between consistency and flexibility. The science and craft of it are fairly well established but there is still room for it to be expressed differently by individual martial artists and that's the art part.
Martial students who feel that they need the security of a respected lineage need not concern themselves with my work - they would probably feel happier training with other teachers. Anyone who wishes to view my work or train with me is free to do so. I just ask them to take the information on its own merits, try applying it to their fighting skills and see whether it offers them anything useful.
An Anti-Yin Approach to Teaching and Leadership
Something that sits very uncomfortably with my Judeo-Christian cultural values is the idea of leadership as described by Laozi in the Daodejing, at least, in the manner it is often interpreted. It is said that one should adopt a yin strategy with regard to ruling others - controlling people without them realising they are being controlled. Subterfuge methods are employed to make others think they are arriving at ideas by themselves, while in reality you are manipulating events tactically in order to make them see or do things in a certain way.
This approach is seen as the yin approach, the cunning approach, the crafty approach, the gender-feminine approach, the "watercourse way"... I know for a fact that quite a few people see this as somehow romantic - some even going so far as acknowledging that such a path is dishonourable and liking it for that very reason! To my mind that is where "being yin" crosses over into "being bad". I think manipulation, deception and deviousness should be avoided at all costs.
The yin approach is the antithesis of true leadership, but simply trying to reverse such traits will not necessarily yield a positive result. The strictly authoritarian teacher that buys into the traditional "Master* & disciple" relationship can be just as self-serving in his own way. Such a teacher may consider his students to be highly privileged. He may haughtily impart only the knowledge he wishes, to whichever select students he wishes, when or if he wishes to do so. He often has his students running around after him in a servile way. This is as much an abuse of the position of leadership as the watercourse method.
True leadership should be seen as an obligation to serve, not as an opportunity for self-promotion. Providing you also allow yourself room to keep learning and growing, it is fine to openly acknowledge your status as an expert in your field, if that is what you are, but this expertise should be used positively - to help others develop as much skill as you can impart to them, without holding anything back. The development of those you lead or teach should be your top priority. That's the privilege of leadership.
*I consider titles such as "Master" and "disciple" inappropriate because it implies that the "Master" has nothing left to learn and that the "disciple" has nothing useful to impart. I think a good teacher keeps on growing and can learn a lot from the teaching opportunity if he or she remains open to it.