I find the idea of proprietorship in the martial arts amusing.
The “this is mine and mine alone, you can’t use it unless I approve,” kind of presumptuous ownership, of a muscular skeletal operation that is by nature optional for most humans with four limbs. Who “owns” a lead leg side kick, or a forehand slash, or the form Kusanku? What about the jab/cross/hook combination?
Martial arts “styles” with peculiar moves often claim that it is impossible to learn these from anyone outside their approved lineage. When someone else, through the same trial and error, experimentation, practice, perhaps even glimpsing the material, that originally developed these moves achieves them, they are disavowed as inauthentic. As if the moves originated like divine revelation to only one authorized prophet.
There are instances that I respect of imaginative concepts codified for purposes of instruction, but so far as I know, there are no legal patents for martial art moves, techniques, katas, training methods, etc.
I’ll use a Karate example. Master Jhoon Rhee created a set of katas, forms, set to classical music. The best known of these are “Exodus” and “Granada.” While never a Rhee student myself, I learned Granada informally from one his students. Is it the case that I can never teach the form Granada as I know it, to one of my students, friends, or family? Or that I can not modify it further? No it’s not. I can, and I would not be in violation of a patent, civil, or criminal law.
Some instructors will not teach martial ideas similar to another’s, but it is done not by penalty of law. They may say it’s out of respect, and maybe it’s also because they feel they got something better. But, technically there is no legal violation in teaching or practicing something you learned from someone else, through personal instruction, book, instructional video, movie, or what not. On the other hand, in my old neighborhood there were several Tae Kwon Do schools within a 2 mile radius, all different names, all teaching the same drills, kicks, and punches. Why did they not have this sort of conflict? Most of martial arts has gotten over all that, still some have not.
To compound the issue there are training videos out there by instructors and practitioners, easily purchased, and intended for self training, and many self published instructional videos on you tube. If you buy one, can you be forbidden to use or teach what is on the videos to others under penalty of law? No. So what if I do? Your ego will not be as gratified? Why the did you publish the video?
I have training videos, and a few years ago I contacted one of the instructors/publishers. I told him I had the videos, was training them, and was going to incorporate some of his material into my classes. His reply: “I am glad you find my dvd’s helpful, if you have any questions just ask… Be Well.” That’s the attitude to have regarding video material you put out. In turn, my students know I didn’t originate this material and who did, just that they are getting it from me.
An instructor recently bemoaned the fact that he saw someone wearing a particular styles t shirt, and when he asked the guy where he trained (since he owns the only “authorized” school in the area, being certified by the master) the guy told him something like “nowhere, I video train.” The instructor from that style is upset, considers that training invalid. You’d like for him to come train those skills and concepts under your kingdom? Oh, well.
“The times they are a changing” it’s not like it was 70, 100, 500 years ago. It’s a smaller and faster world. It’s the information age. Master so and so sells the training videos, t-shirts, and does short and long seminars worldwide. I’ve been to his seminars and bought the t-shirts too. So what if the individual trains via videos? So what if he creates his own training group based on the videos in the area? We’re buying a video, not into a religious hierarchy and obligation here.
There’s a popular Bruce Lee story about his being challenged by Chinese martial artists for teaching to non Asians. Bruce had been taught a style of Gung Fu, and was sharing the knowledge with others. They tried to forbid him from teaching outside of official authorization. Luckily for most of us, he rejected their claims of racial, cultural, and martial arts authority, and we are better off for it.
There are still territorial, stylistic, cultural, and even familial claims to some sort of inherent proprietorship of martial arts practices. “Our style’s moves,” “My family’s Art,” “Okinanwa’s punch” “Korean kicks” “Systema movement,” “Gracie Jiu Jitsu,” and more. It is good to acknowledge other’s intellectual innovation, creativity, and contributions to the arts, but when the recipient demands it, it becomes ego gratification. That’s not a martial virtue.
Can you imagine this happening with boxing, gymnastics, chess, or any other skill or practice? “This is the Bobby Fisher technique and you must be certified by an official Chess Master Bobby Fisher school/instructor in order to use it, teach it, or win a match by it.” Preposterous, right? My point exactly. It’s silly and insecure. I can freely get and use the U. S. Marine Corps fighting manual, but not Joe Blow’s method of punching with a fist attached to an arm…
It also strikes me as a contradiction; there’s a form of fear evident in this type of proprietorship. Contradictory, because one of the virtues expected to develop in martial arts training is that of overcoming fears. But there it is: fear, mostly, of losing money. Fear, of losing influence. Fear, of lack of recognition. Fear, of losing “purity.” Some will talk of sharing the art, while being utterly and monetarily selfish about its dissemination. I say get over it, the paradigm of exclusivity in martial arts is over.
I could be wrong, but I think somewhere along the line it was lost that these skills and knowledge are for for the individual’s benefit and development, not for the glory of one person’s legacy or corporation. Given a little time, that attitude begets idol worship and dogma.
Do your practice, share or hoard as you want, but it’ll be increasingly futile to try to pull the idea on others that this is feudal Japan in the 12th century, and you can lord over knowledge and sharing.
There is also a side argument made sometimes, the one about preserving “quality.” Some instructors would have you believe they’re concerned with the skill levels of “their” art. But physical skill is an individual phenomena, not a corporate one. There are higher and lower skilled practitioners in every art, as well as at every stage of learning. I believe it has less to do with skill levels and more to do with money and ego.
Another point often made by “owners” of a martial arts is that you cannot learn their stuff if you don’t have loyalty to them. Bull. It’s they who need to have loyalty to you if they accept you as a student. Loyalty to give you the best they can in as quick a manner as possible, because tomorrow is not guaranteed to either instructor or student.
When I teach, I teach like a mini seminar. Everything I teach is “homework.” You take it with you, refine and develop it, own it, and pass it on as you wish. If you come back, I may try to optimize it for you according to my understanding of it, and off you go again. I coach. My humble material is yours. I am not the “sole proprietor” of martial secrets, or a select franchisee of anything martial arts.
Until the patent office issues a “martial arts” patent, neither is anyone else.
Good people interested in martial arts should seek instructors who want to share the art, rather than recruit members to their kingdoms. I’m glad I’ve found some like that.
Really interesting, and for further consideration, I found one other significant discussion of this proprietorship as I call it here, so do click on it: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?