What is tradition, or traditional, in the martial arts?

What is tradition, or traditional, in the martial arts? Who decides what it is?
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Tradition can be described as; “an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior”. But what we refer to as “traditional” in the martial arts often isn’t traditional at all.
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All of the past masters were innovators and none of them went on to teach the art exactly as it was taught to them. The true tradition has been one of constant change, and it was only ever the core concepts or principles that were supposed to remain constant.
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How you bow, what you wear to training, how you greet your seniors, colored belts, the techniques themselves and the thought processes behind them, are all established or customary patterns of thoughts, actions, and behaviors, they may seem traditional, but most of them are modern practices.
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Every style has its own stories that are passed down. This is often about the founder of the system, or other notable practitioner, or about how certain techniques were used in ages past, or how the system came to be. Some of these stories have been passed down for centuries or more, while others much less. But the common thread is that there are stories that are generally accepted as truth without much questioning, with limited or no way to verify their authenticity other than ‘my Sensei told me’.
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Older styles do help us understand a piece of history. They help us understand where the system comes from and helps us preserve a unique part of a rich cultural heritage.
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There are those that see tradition as fixed. It is not. History is fixed, tradition should be flexible, changing, evolving, this is what the creators of our art expected of future generations.
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To understand what is traditional, and the true nature of traditional karate, it is important that we study the words and guidance of the people who formed the art. However, if we still practice the system exactly as it was practiced 300 years ago, or even 80 years ago, we do it more for the sake of preserving history than for any authentic combative need.
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Tradition should NOT be a lack of evolution, it escapes clear definition because it is something as individual as you or I. We all develop our own traditions and inherit some that have been handed down to us. It is in those traditions that we define who we are, as they give us a foundation and a base to develop and grow.
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But tradition does not make something worthy. We can’t just assume that because something is old it is right. Sometimes tradition is just a habit, comfortable excuses to leave things be. We need to think rationally, and with common sense. Today, the study of our applications, our techniques, our principles, need to be based in science and evidence, not because ‘someone’ said so….. Facts don’t care about tradition.👊🥋
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“To be bound by traditional martial art style or styles is the way of the mindless, enslaved martial artist. But to be inspired by the traditional martial art and to achieve further heights is the way of genius.” – Bruce Lee
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