Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Martial Arts: Money & Karma

There’s a very old tradition that it is bad karma for a teacher to make his living from martial arts. Which is why traditionally many teachers would practice a trade from which they made their main livelihood. This isn’t mystical mumbo jumbo but actually sound practical wisdom. Here's why:

We’ve had a rift in my martial arts family – one of the seniors who teaches has fallen out with our Sifu.

Not an unprecedented situation but still a sad one. Chinese styles are notorious for this and often ridiculed for it – Japanese and Korean styles seem to avoid these clashes to some extent, but at a price by having hierarchical and authoritarian structures. In kung-fu we still have the extended family system built around a teacher or a Sifu –and like all families when it works it’s great but when it breaks down, things get ugly.

There’s a lot of charlatans and wankers in martial arts. But the senior student in question isn’t one of them. He's a good guy who has possibly just over-reached and over-sold himself in promoting his abilities and his school.

And this comes back to the karma thing. If you want to sell anything there are really only two fundamental marketing strategies:
(i) ‘The original authentic’ – ie: all the others aren’t the real thing.
(ii) ‘New & improved’ – ie: now even better than whatever it was before.

Unfortunately when applied to martial arts, both strategies are bollocks. Nothing is the original and authentic once you've passed a skill on to someone else they will unavoidably put a bit of themselves into it for better or worse. New and improved - given we all have two arms and two legs (OK most of us) - in all the years of human development does anyone really believe that they have dreamed up a new way of fighting that hasn't been thought of before ?

The truth is a complex one –studying any system is a journey for the student who must initially make the system his master until eventually he is the master of the system. (Now that may also sound like mystical mumbo jumbo too but think about and it’s actually spot on advice for learning anything).

But martial arts punters are as stupid and greedy as any other punter. And if you want to make your living from them you’re probably going to have to resort to the same bullshit as anybody else in marketing.

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