Teaching Patronage

I've been thinking a lot about patronage networks. I cover this in my book because it is such an essential part of understanding the context of Chinese martial arts. But for those who have already read my book...I have more.  

First allow me to lead off with two conversations I had recently, one about the future, and one about that past. The first was with a friend who works with computer integration in education at an international level. I asked him if traffic in cities was ever going to improve. He said absolutely it would, robots are going to be doing all the driving. The technology is already here. A lot of people make a living in driving and transportation and they will all be replaced by robots. In fact most jobs today will be replaced by robots, that future isn't far away. He suggested that we would either have to create some kind of socialist utopia or we would live in a dystopia where a tiny number of people controlled everything and everyone else was at their mercy. That's what he said. And I thought to myself, he has probably played too many video games.

Robots will replace a lot of jobs, but so what. The idea that people will have nothing to do and no control over their lives comes from a profound mis-understanding of what money is. Which leads to the second conversation I had. A potential new student in his early twenties was asking me about my teaching style. I was explaining that most Chinese martial arts schools have a curriculum based on trying to set up patronage networks rather than trying to pass on skills and information quickly. I, on the other hand, teach with ideas and games that focus like a lightning bolt on transforming the student into a Jedi.

He was like, what is a patronage network? So I started to explain, and he interjected. Oh, you mean they just want to keep people around so they can make money? (And I was thinking like, no, that's what I want to do.) So I explained that in fact patronage networks were the norm before stable sources of money.  In the old days in China, or in any place where war and famine and general instability were the norm, people were organized into tight relationships of mutual obligation. Often lifelong relationships that transcended generations. When you wanted to get something done, you had to accomplish it through your personal network of friends and family. But those networks were huge and complex, with hierarchies of patronage, with respect and deference, with class and caste, with rights and liberties--all instead of a paycheck.

Gold Florin with St John the Baptist in a hair shirt.

Gold Florin with St John the Baptist in a hair shirt.

This brings us back to robots. If robots do our jobs, and therefore we aren't getting paid, we would just revert back to patronage networks. Because the desire for people to get other people to do stuff isn't going to disappear. But of course money replaced patronage networks and it works way, way, way better. Money is a way of communicating what we want other people to do. That instinct isn't going to go away because of robots. And by the way, the art and culture explosion of the European Renaissance was essentially created because of the creation of a stable money source, the gold Florin. Suddenly people could communicate what they wanted other people to do without having to make friends with them, or without having to subordinate them into a patronage network. 

All of this brings us back to the question, what is the best way to teach martial arts?  Teaching methods are usually created to establish larger outcomes than just the stated goals of teaching. The stated goal of teaching might be fighting skill, or performance prowess, but the process of creating a curriculum is often about establishing and maintaining longterm relationships. The main purpose of education in the modern world is to keep the kids occupied so the parents can work. Schools and curricula are built around that idea but it gets lost because parents feel guilty about it. So we argue. And we put crazy amounts of pressure on teachers while at the same time ignoring the outcomes--especially the way students are conditioned and the amount of time it takes to learn.

If you're not learning at lightning speed, there is a good chance the curriculum was created for something other than the stated goal. So we should ask ourselves, which aspects of our martial arts training are more supportive of an ancient patronage network than they are of me or my students learning?