We all know a guy like this. He spends his day on the internet telling and re-telling stories about how his martial ancestors were the toughest fighters in the world. We hear a bunch of stories about the ancestors and they all seem to imply or outright assert that their awesomeness gives the lineage snob the right to talk trash about other arts. These guys are universally despised and, as a general rule, suck at martial arts. Too much time on the keyboard and not enough training. But what if we understood that, while those guys suck, the need for lineage is real and can provide fantastic yardstick to gauge a school or martial artist?
There are going to be 2 basic responses to that statement. The first usually comes from people who have created their own arts or know that their teachers weren't totally legit. Their response goes something like, "All you do is talk about lineage! Why are you judging me?? Bruce Lee said to follow your own path!!" Etc. The other response is "I told you so!!!" and is almost as obnoxious as the first. This response usually comes from the lineage snobs I mentioned before and, remember, we all hate those guys. But both of those people are wrong and both know it deep down inside.
Lineage in martial arts has existed for a thousand years for very good reasons. It's a solid gauge of the effectiveness of the art itself and also proof that there is a complete method for teaching and transmitting the art. Effectiveness in usage and proof that the method can produce a strong next generation are vital, obviously and those are two really powerful reasons to care about lineage and they are also more laid back than a lot of people realize. Let's use medical care as a simile here. If you had a terrible disease and you had to pick a doctor for treatment, would you care where that doctor's education came from? If your options were a Harvard graduate who has done extensive post-grad education in an effort to be on the forefront of medicine, or someone who took some courses at the community college and then spent some time surfing WebMD, which would you pick? More than likely, you would pick the doctor most prepared and able to save your life. He would know the latest treatments and the best medicines to use. A doctor that provides a cure for disease is in some ways similar to a martial arts teacher who provides a way for you to protect yourself and your family - you want to choose the best, either way (well, if you have any common sense that is).