Is Authentic Best?

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.
Seek what they sought.

Matsuo Basho

In any field of human knowledge with at least a generation or two of transmitted history a common question arises. It starts as a discussion and often ends as a debate about authenticity. Are the follower’s interpretations true to the founder’s intention? Does modern expression accurately represent traditional practice? What exactly constitutes fidelity to the original?

For those who are past-oriented, authenticity is the preservation of ritual forms and norms. We can describe their ideal as traditional. They are like archaeologists researching artifacts to formulate coherence from partial records.

For those who are present-oriented, authenticity is the prioritization of direct relevance and application. We can label their process as progressive. They are like engineers finding ways to create practical tools with useful functions. Neither the traditional or progressive view is more or less authentic than the other, nor are they mutually exclusive objectives. The primary meaning of authenticity and its source merely differs.

An approach to martial arts can also emphasize the past or present. The former focuses on conforming to lineage teachings and emulating old masters. Value is placed upon accurately adhering to previously defined methods and upholding long codified concepts. Conversely, the latter tries to continually analyze and update accepted theories and current techniques. Energy is invested in evaluating and improving the system by incorporating contemporary insights and forgoing outdated ideas.

Regardless of when they’ve been codified, certain prevailing rationalizations, theories and principles can block, rather than unlock, a natural range of human biodynamics. That is, arbitrary thinking inhibits actual doing. In such cases, if remaining true to functionality is the priority, then it is better to alter or abandon these concepts. As a movement strategy, our WingChun methodology relies on alignment to essential physical parameters, rather than elaborate psychological assumptions.

The IAW employs a progressive perspective towards Self-Defense. In other words, we find authenticity rooted first and foremost in the living body rather than inherited ideas. While acknowledging previous iterations of the art, our primary purpose is to challenge conventions, even our own, based on testing them against immediate reality. It is not to be different for difference’s sake, but rather to discover new dimensions and to evolve greater capabilities. This development is implemented both in terms of optimizing ways we teach as well as how we learn.

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