When you practice martial arts you are in a sense opening yourself to become a container for information. Martial arts and traditional dance uniquely share information that can only be held in their truest forms in living containers. No book or even video could ever capture the energy of the tiniest details buried deep into the arts. Therefore what we are able to learn lives through us and we become keys for the future of the style.
Every so often the art finds itself in the hands of someone who thirsts for it. Someone who will not be satisfied at just having bits and pieces but should adopt the art into his/her lifestyle completely. The art and this person blend into a harmony that becomes more than human. It becomes something we have grown to know as heroic.
In recent times our heroes have been replaced with actors and movie stars who carry the fame of heroes but lack any real heroic intent. We slowly follow them into a blind pathway of logos, sponsors, and name brands which are all part of a system that weakens our being. Heroes in fact are just the opposite.
In martial arts we have examples of different types of martial arts heroes that we identify with for many reasons. The truth is that many icons of the arts may be less involved with the art than you would suspect. However let me first say that all the people I am mentioning, I hold in the highest respect. I am merely making an observation based on conversations I've had with a variety of masters in Asia.
Let's start from the most obvious and influential hero, Bruce Lee. Bruce's first intentions with the arts were to learn how to be a better practical fighter. His course took him through many roads and teachers who were containers for the arts. However Bruce was very much unlike his teacher, Yip Man, who wished to be low key while preserving all of the information in the art. Bruce believed that if he found a faster more efficient way to fight, it would be better than learning any style in it's entirety. Bruce was very successful in his unique path of creating Jeet Kun Do which opened the doors of thought into the martial arts world. Still he had underestimated the root of his power which stemmed from routine Wing Chun training. Because he never gave his students a full blueprint of what he had learned, none of his students ever made it passed his level. And he himself, never surpassed his master.
Next we can take a look at Jackie Chan. He was the inspiration that followed Bruce and kept the martial arts in the spot light for years to follow.Without him, martial arts would clearly have a much different face today. In both the Eastern and Western world he is responsible for countless numbers coming into the arts. Yet he was birthed from a school that was focused on entertainment first. Starting as a performer in "Beijing Style Opera", he had to learn many different martial arts routines. The goal of the routines were to make something entertaining that looked like martial arts, not making martial arts look entertaining. He has inspired a new way to look at the arts through a lens which has birthed into what we know as martial arts film. Any master you meet will tell you TV martial arts and real martial arts are quite different. Therefore even with all of his inspiration, we still see the real arts struggling to survive today.
After the Great Culture revolution many masters of the traditional arts were killed, leaving many styles without teachers. When they witnessed the fame of Bruce Lee they decided to revitalize many of the arts that were lost. They created extravagant movements from the readings that were left behind but lacked the reason behind the moves. This is what has become modern day wushu. Very few individuals are like Bruce Lee and Donny Yen who put the art before entertainment. Still they are all heroes for if they did not exist, nor would I.
These heroes were recognized in a time of peace making them very different from the heroes who preceded them. The masters of today are birthed from masters who lived in a time of term oil where the look of the art could never compare it's effectiveness. Many masters would have to kill literally dozens of individuals before they were recognized for their art. Whether they were fighting for peace or for fame, it is clear that they have very different characters than we would be used to. It is said Ghengis Khan killed 10,000 with a sword. Imagine how that would affect the way you think when you go outside. What kinds of things would you talk about? How would that change what you dream of?
The point is that just because spends most of his time showing martial arts on the camera, does not mean he spends his life in the real martial arts world. The martial arts world I have come to know is full of heroes who have never had the chance or desire to be in a film or a ring. They thrive on the fact their art will be passed on and relish in the actual training. Nothing can be quite as fulfilling as doing a perfect move. A completely correct interpretation of power through your body is like a full body orgasm. (That's why the monks don't need to leave the temple) The best things in the real arts are the things now one but you gets to witness.
Now we live in an age that a different kind of hero is needed. The true arts remain in the hands of a few and we must train and fight for their existence. Between the need rise in technology and the laziness of people we may find martial arts in museums some day. Which means that if you are training right now, you are a hero that's legacy will be for future generations. We may not compare to those of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and others, but we are equally if not more important than they are in our quest. Tomorrow go to your teacher and become the thirsty container that needs all of the information. Culture will be the new riches and you will live a life of wealth.