Well I’ve trained and taught in Kathmandu, rode a motorcycle into the clouds to see Everest, did qigong in the high altitude of the Himalayas, met many teachers and masters and even got to draw blood in a quick match in Taiwan. After months backpacking through Asia, training, teaching and so on I feel I have had another chance to really take a look at martial arts deeply from the perspective of other cultures and methods. You know what ? Martial Arts training is hard. Not like getting up for work early hard or even push your car out of a ditch hard. No, it’s more like your head is on fire and the only way to put it out is understand higher mathematics hard. So the fact that almost no one is training or getting good anymore is not really a surprise.
I know that the last time I went to China (Taiwan) in 2006 I was surprised at the number of people training or lack thereof but this trip those numbers have dropped considerably. I have been a touch saddened by it, but even more so its driven me to put more effort in. Let me say though that there are definitely some skilled people out there even titans still walking the earth, but it is definitely falling into what I call the 90 / 10 rule.
90 % of people in any profession are average at their chosen work, above average for some, below for others. Professionals none the less. But 10 % of people in a profession are really great at it, great representatives and game changers. I would go so far to say that there is even the 1%, the titans who still walk the earth, the truly gifted, motivated and sublimely skilled among us in their chosen field. But if you look at this as a numbers game that means the more people in martial arts the more 10% and 1% people will emerge and that’s why I think it sucks that so few people are pursuing it.
Jing Fa Zhang and I talked a great deal about this over tea and one of the reasons in Asia you see less and less young people training in Chinese Martial Arts is not just the MMA phenomenon but Kung Fu is still associated with gang culture, triads and criminals and no parent wants their kids involved in that. So while BJJ, Tae Kwon Do and such are still popular and well attended the Chinese arts are dying. I know that has been said for years and it has been in decline for decades I would say but it was honestly shocking to see it for myself in just a ten year span how much things have changed.
On one hand I want to applaud the dedication of so many people I met and trained with and even the ones I tried to get to see but things did not work out (Like Robert Jay Arnold – Man I wish I could have made that work). On the other hand I want to just put t out there that WE, you and I and all the people who are out there training the arts right now ARE the lineage holders. We are the ones who will keep things alive, pass things on and hopefully through our research and effort bolster and strengthen the arts. If we always rely on other people, other teachers to hold and pass it on we are watching it die. Not everyone teaches or is a good teacher. Not everyone who has ‘it’ is known to the community. I know a few really great teachers with no students at all who train only on their own most of the time and remain relatively unknown.
I say in the face of adversity we let it drive us to understand and practice more deeply. Seek out more teachers and ask more questions. Test our arts ourselves, for ourselves and not just take what we heard it can do for granted. Cross hands, practice your neigong don’t just talk about it over tea and most of all love what we have been gifted by our teachers enough to help keep it alive.