Let's talk about systems for a moment.
Martial Arts are a collection of styles, and styles are closed systems just by their creation; it's a necessary element of their design or they would be chaotic. Closing them off isn't a bad thing--closed systems have a beginning and an end, and the content contained therein is what makes for an effective art (or not) based on how tied to reality it is and, equally important, how often it gets tested.
Techniques are open source, meaning that anyone can access, tweak, modify or otherwise alter them based on personal need. The great thing about this approach is that it leads to untold creativity in the application of a technique without altering the system that it exists within.
BJJ is a closed system, for instance, that contains arm-bars. Where arm-bars appear in the system is up to the people who are instructing their particular style of BJJ and that will be based on the branch they have adopted as their framework for instruction.
The content matters less than the process, though, and the process is built into the system that the respective "family" has developed over several generations of end-users. For example, Gracie Humaita, Gracie Barra, Carlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and Alliance Jiu Jitsu all have systems; they all get categorized as such because they satisfy the criteria for systems creation and development.
The keys to understanding a systems approach to a martial art are as follows:
So we understand systems and open source in proportion to martial arts now. What does it mean to you, the martial artist, in larger sense? It's a matter of identity within the context of your art.
There are five broad categories of martial artist, each with inherent advantages and disadvantages; but there is a balance to each, so none of those perceived benefits or deficits will ultimately influence your success, only your learning; success is a topic all its own. It simply comes down to understanding, which is how generalities can assist in achieving mastery. To that end, martial artists often can be categorized as one of the following:
These are labels, to be sure, but they are labels that you can use to understand your learning style. Each one has a role to play in the sustainability of an art ("closed system"), but it comes with an understanding of how you play that role in your chosen style. This is why having an art is better than having a hobby. Intimacy allows understanding to flourish.
Creators create the path.
It's important to respect what has been created and the onus is on all the others that come after to understand the intent behind the creation. Without that understanding, you are playing at the system and not truly representing it.
Credit the Creators--what they have shared was deeply personal.
Imitators are the purveyors of the system.
We need imitators to build the following and share the path. Some see "imitator" as a derogatory or pejorative term--I assure you, it is not. Without the Imitators, a closed system will never succeed. The Imitators are essential to the human element that allows a closed system to flourish; they attract others to the fold.
Gratitude to the Imitators--they show leadership by following.
Regulators keep the system pure.
They look to the Creators as leaders, enforcing a level of adherence in the system on the part of those who choose to join. Regulators can be fiercely protective of not only Creators, but the system itself; on occasion, Regulators can even choose the system over the Creator. This isn't always a betrayal, though--sometimes it can be in the best interest of the Creator to have a Regulator remind them of why they created the system in the first place.
Respect to the Regulators--they safeguard the intention.
These are the ones who challenge at all levels. The Innovators bring with them a curiosity that can border on destructive, threatening the very system they seemingly embraced; but it's not destructive so much as it is deconstructive. Innovators bring robustness to a system by unraveling the process to roots and terminal points, then rebuild it within the context of its original meaning. This so-called rebuild might not look any different to others, but to the Innovator, it's essential for belief--they want to understand before they can follow, but they will be fiercely loyal once they grasp the meaning.
Patience to the Innovators--they will question always, but it is truly without malice.
Competitors are the users.
The Competitors don't need to delve deep into the creation or design of a system--they want what is immediately practicable so they can apply it. This doesn't mean for sport, necessarily; it applies to field operators or facilitators as much as to athletes. These are the ones who believe, but do so without question because of trust in those who came before them. They are often last, but also most practical.
That is why we give credit, gratitude, respect, and patience to the Competitors--their pragmatism fosters efficiency, a benefit to all the others.
Knowing your role will inform your learning, and informed learning fosters a deeper process. It's impossible to know where you're going or how to get there if you don't who you are in the beginning or where you want be when you arrive.