In modern times people tend to have much less sense of their ancestors and their origins. We are a mobile race and change often causes attrition to our beloved objects, our collected memorabilia and even our treasured emotions.
Many of us could not name our great grandparents or even our grandparents. So what could be the use of learning about the background of your favorite martial art? This is an even more significant question nowadays when so much of traditional martial training is coming under criticism from approaches which consider themselves more modern and, yes, even more scientific.
In one way the answer is simple. People love stories and the stories of your style of martial practice can be fascinating and illuminating at the same time. And, of course, some will say that there is an advantage to learning the background about people you chose to relate to over those you have to relate to, such as the obnoxious uncle of yours.
There is something special about knowing that this or that style or form is a hundred, three hundred or even five hundred years old. There is a custom among some vintners, that the only way to assure the quality of their line of wine is for the sons of the vintner to taste the wine from an early age and to commit that taste to memory.
In Kung Fu we also are privileged to know how far from the creator of a certain style we stand. In the case of Tian Shan Pai, or Heaven Mountain style, for instance, our teacher is one of the first non-Chinese to ever learn the style. In the case of our Chen Tai Chi we are only three generations from a student of a top practitioner and his father. In another case our style comes through a tiny crack that passed it only sporadically and to only a few students.
Looking back from the top of the hill we see all these signposts stretching back to eight generations…
Yang Chen Fu (the creator of the most famous and popular Tai Chi form in the world).
Li Shu Wen, undisputed master of the spear, Baji and Pigua.
Wang Jyue Ren, creator of Heaven Mountain style.
Gong Bao Tian, mysterious figure who learned from first generation Bagua master, Yi Fu.
The stories showing the prowess and determination of these true masters can only be inspirational. It shows the process of learning martial arts as something intimately human, unlike so many currently projected images of the martial arts as android or super-human but ultimately uninteresting.
Resources: The Academy Lineage Chart