It is this ability to endure through the generations that makes bodies of technique so important within the traditional martial arts. As I have argued elsewhere, at their heart the martial arts are essentially social institutions. One cannot understand their origins, social function or individual meaning if you divorce them from the larger cultural, economic, legal, philosophical or aesthetic institutions that tolerate and reinforce them. That is one of the reasons why interdisciplinary approaches to martial arts studies have such great utility.
Society allows the martial arts to exist because they do work that is collective usefully. Individuals support these institutions because they desire the social and personal transformation that they promise. Yet none of these goals can be accomplished if the hand combat community does not first find a way to spread and perpetuate its identity through space and time.
A shared body of technique represents the physical embodiment of a new collective identity. As I have argued in previous papers, the martial arts can be understood as liminal structures that seek to transform their members through an extended initiatory experience. Learning new techniques is almost always at the heart of this progression. It is the mastery of technique that is put to the test in public spectacles designed to confirm one’s advancement in the system. Nor can one go on to teach new members of the group without having first mastered this shared body of technique. Both those inside and outside the community are likely to identify your place within the larger martial world by the range of techniques that you can display.