This may sound a strange sentiment coming from me. I love history. I’m definitely not an expert on the history of my predominant martial art medium (karate), but I am relatively well read and have made a few observations on it in magazine articles and books in the past. When I read about the history of my art I don’t look at it from the perspective of someone who is native to the land of its origins, or speaks that language; but I do approach it with both a degree and a doctorate in history and an understanding of what constitutes good practice.
For many people it seems to be incredibly important who their teacher was, who taught their teacher, what each person’s seniority within the dojo was and so forth. Great importance may be attached to what has been written about their form of karate or its predecessor. This can often lead to fierce arguments as to what is right, what is wrong, what is pure, what is adulterated, and who is closest to ‘the original’, as if that is an arbiter of quality.
Now I’m interested in what has gone before, but I take it with a pinch of salt. I treat claims and anecdotes without evidence in martial arts history as I would treat them in any other form of history. When it comes to the application of an art however, I prefer a scientific approach or, where that is not possible, an empirical approach.
I want to know if the type of warm up I am doing is detrimental or beneficial to my and my students’ health, and that the pace and nature of the physical activity I do throughout the lesson maximises positive physical and mental development while minimising the risk of long or short term injury. I want to know if the techniques I’m teaching or being taught are suitable for the purpose claimed. I want to know if the teaching models I’m using are the most effective for promoting sustained skill development. So while I have an interest in history, I’m more interested in checking what I do and teach is compatible with current scientific approaches, or failing that the empirical tests of well researched literature in the field or appropriate physical testing.
The belief held by someone in the past, while interesting and informative, does not make that belief true.
A training method that was used successfully in the past is not automatically the best training method for the present.
A good teacher does not necessarily create another good teacher.
Being wrong does not diminish the value of a teacher in the past. Time has simply given you the opportunity to see the fault and make the appropriate adjustment.
I have written here before that we in the modern world have far greater opportunities to be superior and more knowledgeable practitioners than the icons of the past. We stand on their shoulders and we move onwards: training, researching, testing and learning in a global community of like-minded people.
The history of our arts is a record of its course to the present, possibly true, possibly myth, maybe some deliberate obfuscation and invention – it doesn’t matter. What is important is that you are here, now, training, learning, and hopefully moving forward to ensure that you are as good as you can be.