Lineage has always been a characteristic feature of Chinese martial arts that remains important today as a partial method of determining a practitioner's authenticity; thus, it is useful to understand this somewhat complex idea. Basically, lineage consists of the following principles:
- Lineage, at its most basic, is a formal teacher-student relationship similar to a father-son relationship
- Lineage also acts as an "entry point" to a formal school (or family)
- Lineage also preserves Confucian hierarchy, as per generations, as an extension of the father-son relationship that it emulates; a corollary of this rule is that actual parent-child relationships are automatically also equal to master-disciple relationships
- Lineage is principally singular; one can have only one master (i.e., one cannot have more than one lineage)
Participation in a special baishi (拝師) ceremony, the details of which differ greatly by lineage and by master, differentiates simple teacher-student relationships from the master-disciple relationship. Once a disciple is formally inducted into a particular lineage, the disciple has permission to learn from the master (or learn more than other students from the master), as well as having implicit permission to learn from other students of the same lineage.
In some cases, a disciple may not learn from his master at all, or may have never even met him; these special cases are in general a result of an effort to preserve Confucian senior-junior hierarchy. It may be useful to label special types of discipleship to simplify discourse, as elucidated below.Honorary Disciple:
Sometimes, teacher and student are of similar age, and in such a situation, a normal master-disciple relationship is not possible. In this case, the teacher asks his own master to make the student a disciple.
Similarly, if the student is already a lineaged disciple of another art, the generation relationships must be preserved - for example, if a 2nd generation baguazhang teacher wants to teach a 2nd generation xingyiquan teacher, the teacher cannot become the student's master, because they would be of the same generation.
Some examples of this kind of disciple include Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong, who were originally of the xingyiquan (形意拳) school. Although they learned from Cheng Tinghua, since the three were of the same generation (and sworn blood brothers), Cheng could not have made Li and Zhang his disciples; thus, Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong are considered disciples of Dong Haichuan, although they most likely did not learn anything from Dong. Another example is that of Guo Zhushan - Cheng Tinghua's son Cheng Youlong taught Guo Zhushan, but Guo Zhushan was already a xingyiquan disciple of Li Cunyi, making them both the same generation (as Cheng Tinghua and Li Cunyi were sworn brothers). As a result, Cheng Youlong taught Guo Zhushan in his father's name, making him Guo a disciple of Cheng Tinghua.
When a teacher wishes to make his student a disciple of his own master but his master has already passed away, the teacher can hold a special ceremony anyway, officially making the student an official member of the lineage.
One example of this kind of disciple is Liu Zhenzong, who was good friends with and learned baguazhang primarily from Liu Bin. As Cheng Tinghua had already passed away when Liu Bin wanted to make Liu Zhenzong an official member of the baguazhang lineage, he had Liu Zhenzong made into a disciple of Cheng Tinghua. Another example is Si Gentiao (司根條), who was a good friend of Dong's disciple Liang Zhenpu (梁振蒲). Although Liang had intended to ask Dong to take Si as his disciple, by the time Si reached Beijing, Dong had already passed away; as a result, Liang took Si to Dong's grave and held the ceremony to make Si a disciple of Dong, although his baguazhang came from Liang.
In most cases, a parent-child relationship is also considered a master-disciple relationship as the Confucian master-disciple relationship is modeled after the father-son familiar relationship already. In some cases, even if the child in actuality principally learned from others (not the parent), they are still considered disciples of the parent.
Some examples of this kind of disciple include Cheng Youxin, who was the second son of Cheng Tinghua (Cheng Tinghua died when Cheng Youxin was but a child) and Yin Yuzhang, who was the fourth son of Yin Fu (Yin Fu died when Yin Yuzhang was young as well).
In some cases, a parent gives his child to another lineage member of the same generation to become the master of his child. This is one of the few cases in which a person may thus in a way hold more than one lineage.
An examples of this kind of disciple include Liu Xinghan (劉興漢), who was the son of Liu Zhenzong, but Liu Zhenzong asked Liu Bin to be his son's master, after teaching him as a child.
Although the special types of disciples are detailed above, it is in general silently acknowledged that the latter types of discipleship are inferior to the "standard" type of discipleship (of which the best would be the first disciple), as disciples of the latter types are often not well-known or not mentioned. In addition, much confusion occurs as certain disciples are said to be lineaged to a certain master, or another (for example, Zhang Zhaodong may be said to be Dong Haichuan's disciple or Cheng Tinghua's disciple). It is thus important to realize that lineage is not a simple question of "who taught who."