“Talent borrows, Genius Steals”
Several months ago I was publicly accused of “stealing” martial art techniques/concepts from Don Angier. Per the “Martial Arts Police, Koryu Division,” my case is still pending, though they did as much as they could to convict me in the court of public appeal.
Clearly, old news is old news. But ever since these public accusations were made, I been considering things in the light of the old Biblical proverb which states, “Let he who’s without sin cast the first stone.”
What I mean by that is that almost every martial artist before me, most of my contemporaries, and yes even those that made accusations against me are all guilty of such a crime to some extent or another. We all are the sum of many parts. We all take bits and pieces away from the various teachers we have had the ability to train with. Whether that training was long term, or just a few seminars doesn’t matter.
Now, I’m a firm believer that no one individual, no matter how gifted, knows everything. Because I believe this so strongly, I have taken every opportunity to expose myself to numerous martial art systems and teachers. I have especially tried find teachers who have the ability to make me understand the art that I do better, and make me an overall better teacher and practitioner.
But back to my point.
A Chain of Yoshidas
Since I’ve been accused of “stealing principles” from Don Angier, I’d like to use the same absurd logic to see whom else I’ve stolen from. While we are at it, let’s go another step and see whom they “stole” their knowledge from.
Let’s start with Don Angier.
Now, I have already stated numerous times how big an influence Mr. Angier has had on me, and what I do as a martial artist. I’ve clearly admitted to adopting a lot of his terminology, and adjusting/correcting some of my techniques based on his corrections. Maybe too much in some people’s opinions. However, that is not a crime that is called “good judgment.” His skills and knowledge is clearly superior to mine.
But where did Mr. Angier get his information.
While I don’t have specific details about his life and training, according to his very own autobiography he writes:
“Bill (William Hepler) worked graveyard shift at the main Los Angeles Post Office. For almost nine years he came into the dojo three hours before class. Together we worked on categorizing the basics of the art and how to make them as precise as possible. We worked out pragmatic counters to all of the forms and counters to the counters. It was only with his help that I was able to systematize the art and start listing its scientific principles.”
Mr. Angier further states:
“Slowly, he (Ark-Yuey Wong) began showing me some of his skills. It would be very easy to underestimate this mild-looking, elderly man. He was indeed a wonderful man and artist, and I must admit that some of the things he showed me helped me understand my own art more fully.”
Now it’s my understanding, and forgive me if I am wrong, that Mr. Angier also studied martial arts with other instructors in Japan and Los Angeles. If this is true, and his own statements about his life are factual (which I’m sure they are), then Mr. Angier’s art is a sum of various sources. He did not get all of the art he now teaches, or at least all the insights into that art, from one source. In fact he clearly states, “We worked out pragmatic counters to all of the forms and counters to the counters. It was only with his help that I was able to systematize the art and start listing its scientific principles,” which shows a progression and departure from what he was originally taught.
Like many of us, Mr. Angier sought out others who could help him better understand the core information he had. As I have, he used the information he gathered to make himself better.
However, I don’t hear anyone accusing him of thievery. I don’t see anyone questioning where he obtained the sum of his knowledge. But maybe he is just an exception, or perhaps he is just above reproach.
Of course, Mr. Angier’s approach to improving himself via other sources isn’t unique, even within the particular martial art style he teaches. Yoshida Kotaro (1883-1966), the father of Mr. Angier’s teacher, Yoshida Kenji (1903-1954), was skilled in more than one style of martial arts. Not only did he teach Daito Ryu to the public, he was also known to have denso (transmission scrolls) in several different arts. He possessed technical skills in Kito Ryu Jujutsu and Onno-ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu, which I’ve read were evident in his public teachings.
I have no idea if any one can say with any certainty what influences one martial arts style had upon any other for Yoshida Koatro, but his history shows a certain level of cross training and exploration. Clearly, he saw the value of training with various other instructors, who must have had something worthy to offer him.
Since Yoshida Kotaro took the time and effort to train with others, I think it would be very hard to believe that he didn’t embrace and incorporate new methodologies or concepts he felt were more effective and efficient than what he previously possessed.
Nor would it be beyond the realm of possibility that over the years he incorporated other methodologies into his core base as his abilities and comprehension of scientific principles improved.
However, I’m sure there is no one out there that would accuse Yoshida Kotaro of theft. Nor in my opinion should they.
So how about all the insights I gained from training with Wally Jay.
Prof. Jay was never my instructor, but I did attend numerous seminars he gave. I also have his books, and a video, which I’ve read and watched countless times.
I’m no Small-Circle Jujutsu expert, but I believe I understand the concepts Prof. Jay taught. I know for certain I employ some of them when doing certain techniques.
In many cases, the information Prof. Jay taught at these seminars helped to clarify things I already knew. Sometimes I was shown a subtlety that just made old techniques even more effective. In other cases I disagreed with his assertions, and although I will admit he is more of an expert than me, I never did techniques again after learning them at a seminar.
Basically, I thank Prof. Jay for enhancing what I already knew. I also thank him for exposing me to techniques and concepts that with practice and some trail and error eventually added new dimensions to old forms.
Most of all, I thank Prof. Jay for adding to my martial arts lexicon, and giving me the tools to break down and explain various techniques to my students in a much more concise manner.
The funny thing is that while Wally Jay is credited with developing “Small Circle Jujutsu,” his creation was nothing new or revolutionary. It was based on the martial arts he had learned from others, as well as his own research/trail and error. He may be the person responsible for propagating “small circle” methodology in modern times, but he didn’t create it all on his own.
This is not my just opinion, either. In the article “The Founder of Small Circle Ju Jitsu,” Michael Belzer states:
“In 1962 Jay attracted the attention of a 22-year old martial artist from Seattle named Bruce Lee. Lee was amazed how someone with little formal training in judo could go on to produce champions. However. from the many long hours that Lee spent at Jay’s dojo (training hall) with friend Jimmy Lee, the legendary martial artist saw the value of Jay’s broad background in the fighting arts. Jay had adopted various techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, kung fu, weightlifting and jujitsu, and brought them together in what he called his Small Circle Theory Jujitsu. Like Jay and his innovative instructors before him, Bruce Lee knew that talent, technique, and style knew no traditional boundaries and that excellence carried no single banner or flag. The three martial artists spent many long hours exchanging theories, fighting principles, and techniques, and over the following years, a strong bond of trust and friendship developed. As their reputations grew, they remained friends, and while Bruce Lee went on to take Hollywood, Hong Kong, and the martial arts world by storm, Wally Jay established the ten principles that would set his mark in the world of jujitsu.”
Now, following the arguments the “Martial Arts Police” made in their allegations, it must be true that Prof. Jay was also a thief. After all, it’s clear that many concepts he taught and incorporated into his “small circle system” came from other sources.
In fact, I would argue that he is a better thief than I am, since he profited from what he “stole” more than I ever have, or will.
But maybe Prof. Jay is too famous to be publicly accused of “stealing.” Maybe, what he taught has been so widely accepted as being something he “created,” he is above incrimination.
So let’s move on.
Another instructor I’ve gained valuable insights from is Sifu Janet Gee, Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan/Choy Li Fut. Once again, she has never been my instructor, but I’ve attended several seminars she has taught, and had the opportunity to talk with her several times about martial arts in general.
There is no question that her approach to martial arts is very different from mine. Yet as different as things may appear on the surface, the science that makes the techniques she teaches work is the same.
What I like most about Sifu Gee’s teaching method is her no nonsense approach when explaining the way things work. She also has a great talent for breaking down techniques and demonstrating the different nuances that can cause different results.
While I may lack the physical skills (speed and definitely the flexibility) to be able to do her martial art in the manner she can, I still always gain valuable insights on how things need to be done in order to be effective.
More importantly, she has definitely taught me to approach and examine things in a different manner, and to think outside of the box.
I’ve never been privy to Sifu Gee’s training history, but according to her bio, she started training in the martial arts in 1971. Her principle styles have been Choy Li Fut Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan, but over the years she has also studied Aikido, Tae Kwan Do, Jujitsu, Kempo Karate, Indonesian martial arts, and Judo.
Is there anyone out there who doubts the fact that Sifu Gee incorporates concepts, principles, and techniques from numerous sources when she teaches? Of course she does. She studied other arts to improve her skills, and now passes on her combined knowledge to those fortunate enough to train with her.
Furthermore, Sifu Gee states that she has incorporated elements of the “Alexander Technique,” (a method that develops sophisticated conscious coordination designed to improve ease and freedom of movement as well as teach practitioners how to use appropriate amounts of energy for a particular activity), into her martial arts teaching. Now I’ll admit, I don’t know a lot about the “Alexander Technique,” but last time I checked, it’s not even a martial art.
But wait, wouldn’t all this cross training and incorporating new ideas make her a thief too? After all, she is combining and propagating information derived from other individuals. I mean, is she doing anything more or less than I’ve been accused of?
Another instructor who has had a direct impact on the way I teach is Prof. Rick Clark, Ao Denkou Kai. Like the other instructors I’ve listed already, Prof. Clark has never been my instructor, but I’ve attended several of his seminars and have hosted him to teach in the Bay Area several times.
While his knowledge of vital point striking is superior to mine, we often exchange concepts and principles. I would like to think I’ve offered him several ideas to contemplate and explore. At least, that is what he has told me several times.
Prof. Clark’s main contribution to my art was exposing me to the upper level of vital point usage, without wasting my time teaching me all the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo many instructors like to perpetuate.
More importantly, Prof. Clark clarified many of the things my teacher Hiroshi Yachigusa taught me, by explaining them to me in simple to understand English. Since there was nothing lost in translation, I have a better understanding of the material now. Nuances which I may have missed because of language barriers, or the poor comprehension skills of youth, were finally pointed out to me. As a result I’m more effective and efficient when performing techniques.
Prof. Clark also helped me a lot with terminology. Because of this, I am able to discuss vital point striking more professionally, and to a general audience.
Of course, even with all the help Prof. Clark has given me over the years, I now have to say he to is a thief. I mean, he originally trained in Korean systems and judo/jujutsu, and then Arnis. He even admits that what he teaches now is an accumulation of the knowledge he has gained over many years, from many sources.
Yes, it’s true that Prof. Clark has done an awful lot of research on his own, but not everything he teaches was self-taught. Not every principle, or scientific method he employs and teaches is his original work. It is an ACCUMULATION of many things, from many sources.
Once a Thief
Lets face it, I could keep going on and on, naming and discussing numerous teachers I’ve had the great fortune to train with in the last 35 years. There are many instructors who have had a long lasting impression on me, and on the methodologies I now employ. No matter who I would name, no matter what style they taught, they can all be accused of “stealing” information and/or techniques from someone else.
They can all be accused of “stealing,” because they are all individuals who cross-trained, searched out, or researched the martial arts in order to improve what they already knew. They all incorporated knew information they discovered to improve their skills, fill gaps in their primary training, or make themselves more efficient.
Basically they’ve all done what I’ve done.
Yes, I admit I was taught a lot of things by a lot of people, but I didn’t “steal” anything. If anything I took what I was shown, examined it, studied it, tried to figure out how it did or did not relate to what I already knew, and after trail and error either incorporated this information or discarded it.
Furthermore, I didn’t “steal” anything because the information I was given was shared with countless others in public forums. People present were under no restrictions, secret blood oaths, or threats not to disseminate what they were told.
The fact that I elected to share such information in a public forum, on this weblog, while others either do not share or do so more privately, isn’t my concern. Nor is it something I should be condemned for.
To accuse me of “stealing,” is ludicrous. If I am guilty, than so is everyone else past and present because since very ancient times no one has come with an original thought or method in regards to fighting methodologies (except perhaps firearms).
Sure things are explained and presented differently, depending on the style, but we martial artists all do the same things. THERE ARE NO SECRETS, AND SCIENCE IS SCIENCE.
Hiroshi Yachigusa taught me a lot, but he didn’t know everything, nor did he claim to. Looking back, I feel Hiroshi Yachigusa tried his best to teach me what he knew, but because of my age and maturity at the time, and the language barrier between us, that information wasn’t as thorough as it could have been.
I realized this long ago. As result, I have made it my business to seek out and train with others no matter what their rank, affiliation, or martial style. As a result I’m not a parrot who repeats the mantra of one sole individual, no matter how much respect I may have for them.
Nor am I the type of person who isn’t willing to change/alter techniques within the martial system I was taught. If I discover a better, more effective method I will adopt it. Fortunately, this is something Yachigusa Sensei would have approved of, he always felt that the essence of his art that was more important than any of the techniques themselves.
So if the above behavior constitutes “stealing” like I’ve been accused of, I’m guilty. Guilty as Hell!! But though I’m admitting my “guilt,” I’m not doing anything that centuries and centuries of martial artists of the past didn’t do.
Clearly, martial artists such as Musashi, Mitose, Ueshiba, Kano, Funakoshi, Chow, Parker, and even Bruce Lee also sought out better ways to improve their abilities, from any source available to them. They too incorporated and embraced new knowledge. And eventually, they taught their accumulated knowledge to others. Often they did this without giving credit to their various sources.
Their direct students continued these progressions, as did future generations of students after them. To make the claim that your style of martial arts has gone unchanged for centuries is ridiculous. Every instructor, no matter how traditional, makes changes or omissions, based on their ability and comprehension. That’s the human factor.
To make the claim that your system, style, or teacher has exclusive rights to some technical information is insanity. Is anyone so delusional to really believe their way is the best, absolute method, and that their aren’t others doing the same things elsewhere? How conceited, arrogant, and self-righteous can someone be?
To those individuals who accused me of theft, and those that thought there was merit to their accusations, I say you should examine what you do, and really explore how “pure and untainted” your martial art style is. I’m sure you’ll discover that your teacher… Ahem… “Stole” things too.
Maybe worse yet, you’ll discover that you are also the sum of many parts. Perhaps you will find that consciously or unconsciously, you’re as big, or even a bigger thief than I. At least I publicly admit what I do.
Just in case you didn’t get it–if one of the instructors I’ve named above happens to be your teacher, and you now find yourself fuming that I had the audacity to accuse them of being a thief, you missed the point. None of the above, including myself, “STOLE” anything. That’s the absurdity of the whole accusation, since we are all the sum of many parts.
The fact is I have nothing but the utmost respect for the instructors I’ve listed above.
No angry E-mails please.