The short answer is that it depends on the seeker’s intention. For us, our lineage traces back to the founding father of Tongbei Pigua (TBPG) who is Zuo Baomei 左寶梅 back in the mid 18th century. My teacher is Zhu Xiaotian who is known in Hong Kong nowadays primarily for his Bajiquan teaching. What is lesser known is that he is also a prolific Zuo family TBPG artist having studied both Baji & Tongbei Pigua concurrently as a child growing up in Cangzhou. His TBPG teacher, and my Grand Master, was 左徳民 Zuo Demin, the 6th generation descendent. Fortunately, I was still able to meet him in 2012.
Despite our influential heritage Zuo family TBPG is not well known outside Cangzhou. Even in Hong Kong, TBPG as a style itself is seldom heard of, and so our mission with our school and website is to grow awareness of this rare family lineage around the world, and preserve what we know for future generations to come since we have the unique opportunity to do so from Hong Kong.
Over the years TBPG has evolved with different branches and family, the forms have been adopted and adapted by other martial systems. So for us, as a smaller and lesser known traditional school that upholds the valuable knowledge of the root family, lineage is important to us.
However, for someone who is only interested in the practical applications and martial techniques then I would argue that lineage is not the first thing that is on their mind. For someone who wants to learn Kung Fu in order to get fitter or fight better imminently then they won’t need to know the history of a style or school. Knowing history will not help improve a fighter’s stamina or health! Instead, what is important is the proficiency, fitness and personality of their teacher. Good Kung Fu comes from the practitioner themself, even the best teachers of the best style may not produce a spectacular student. So there is a limit to how important lineage is. If you are just starting out in Kung Fu, lineage probably is not that important – moreover knowing the lineage may not even mean much to you since it will all appear as just strings of Chinese characters. The value of understanding lineage is that you may be able to connect what you’ve learnt and been taught to the teachings of other schools, branches or teachers to perhaps try to compare or unravel how a form or technique had developed and evolved.
So is lineage important and does it matter? Yes and No – it depends on the seeker. Not every artist or painter has studied the History of Art, and yet they can be marvelous at making it. Conversely, some of the best Art Historians cannot draw or paint but can certainly teach and hold fascinating lectures. If it matters to you, then it matters.