The old style of martial arts training originated in a world where cutthroat competition and secrecy were the norm, but today we live in a world of cooperation and abundance. The old style of teaching is fading away because it simply isn’t the most efficient mechanism for the transfer of knowledge in an open world. These are its main drawbacks:

It emphasizes domination over empowerment. A teacher isn’t worthy of your respect unless he proves that he can beat you up, ideally by direct demonstration. The effect of this is to create a culture of obedience and submission, and a pervasive element of fear. It also creates a prohibitive barrier to entry for teaching, which in turn impedes learning. Unless you can beat someone up, you’d better keep your mouth shut, whether or not you might know something that can help them, and unless you are sure you can beat everyone up, you’d better not even try to be a teacher yourself. The alternative is a culture of empowerment, where teachers are respected first and foremost for their ability to help students feel good about themselves and their efforts and accelerate their learning process.

It emphasizes competition over cooperation. You’d better keep your best tricks secret, to maintain your advantage, because prestige is based on relative ranking rather than individual progress. You’d also better not do anything that might help anyone else learn more quickly, for the same reason. Respect is earned by dominating people rather than by helping them. The alternative is a culture of cooperation, where teaching and learning happen together as an integrated process, where your fellow students are your extended family, and the better off any of us is the better off we all are.

It emphasizes skepticism over curiosity. Since you have exclusive access to the one true style, anything that is different must be inferior, and any change in the art must diminish it. The alternative is a culture of curiosity, where all martial artists constantly strive to learn from each other, to develop a versatile skill set, and where the default response to any new approach is “show me how” instead of “prove it”.

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