Lyndon B. Johnson once wrote, “Yesterday is not ours to recover. but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” People often point out that it’s important to remember where we came from, to remember our past. Sometimes that past is not a clear, especially depending on the source.
The martial arts are incredibly old; several thousand years old, in fact. This is taking into consideration some of the paintings and artifacts that demonstrate striking and fighting that originate anywhere between 2000 to 4000 years ago. But some studies have shown some to be even older, originating in China.
Trying to enumerate the number of martial arts styles as they exist today is almost impossible. Many people try to provide a composite list, but the reality is there will always be an offshoot of a mainstream style or an independent master who creates a style all their own. This makes it reasonably impossible to know EXACTLY how many different forms of martial arts there are.
That being said, every style has a story. For example, the origins of my karate style date back to the late 1890’s when the originator of my style fled Japan to escape the mandatory military conscription. He didn’t travel to Japan for the noble purpose of learning the martial arts or studying a mystic art; he fled from conscription.
There are little details like that one present in almost every style. Although not inherently good or bad, some of the details behind the history can lend a unique perspective into where the style will take you. But like an old fashioned game of “hot potato”, the same story can have different details after decades of being passed on through different sources.
Given that the average person has the world’s information at their fingertips via the internet, everyone is an armchair historian. Many students of the martial arts will read a background on something and think nah, that isn’t true… I’ve been guilty of that myself, on occasion.
It’s important to remember that some origins and backgrounds have been passed on through spoken word. And history has often shown that this is an ineffective means of accurately passing on information. After all, the next person may omit certain key details that are important, or only pass on that which they FEEL is important.
Even with today’s use of mainstream media and internet presence, many believe that their version of history becomes “the right one”, simply because they’ve published the book on it. But ultimately, what we learn is what we learn. Although I may be wrong regarding a detail about the style you’ve spent your life studying, it doesn’t mean that respect should immediately be cast aside.
There’s nothing wrong with teaching someone why their information is incorrect or what may be false about it; especially if you’ve studied it yourself. But it becomes wrong if you choose to be confrontational and refuse to have a rational discussion about it. After all, it’s really hard to know if you have the right information unless you were there. And I can almost guarantee there is no one left who was. ☯