Taekwondo is a dynamic martial art that derived from ancient fighting styles. Taekwondo itself is a relatively new martial art, as it was formed in the 1950’s. In development, elements of Taekwondo were drawn from Karate, Taekkyon, Tangsoodo as well as hundreds of years of Korean fighting heritage. As Taekwondo progressed, instructors broke away from the source and created their own version of Taekwondo. The most well-known separation is with Grandmaster General Choi who broke off from the main structure of Taekwondo to begin the International Taekwondo Federation. Others formed their own interpretations and schools of thought known as the Kwans.
There are 10 Kwans and they are: Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Jido Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Jung Do Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Han Moo Kwan and Kwan li Kwan. Each Kwan holds its sovereignty today while honoring and respecting the leadership of Kukkiwon. Kukkiwon is World Taekwondo Headquarters. Kukkiwon holds the international poom/dan ranking (black belt certificate) accreditation for Taekwondo. Kukkiwon is the forefront for the development, education, and promotion of the highest standard of Taekwondo. Currently there are 7,005 legitimate dojangs (Taekwondo Schools/programs) around the world, with 3,076 right here in the United States.
Here in Pennsylvania, there are 41. In order to be a legitimate Taekwondo School, the owner must be at least a 4th Dan or higher Kukkiwon certificate holder with their 3rd class or higher Kukkiwon master/test examiner. This esteemed program provides the availability for students to obtain International black belt recognition and access to international competition. At the time of this article, there are currently 10,790,509 black belts world wide, with 412,727 in the United States. It has been addressed in other articles what Taekwondo is not. Feel free to read through these on what to watch out for and avoid when considering a martial arts school.
Previously mentioned, is the break off of instructors from the source. As mentioned, the ITF is by far the largest shoot off of Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters). A serious and worth mentioning break off is the ATA, (American Taekwondo Association). Unlike the ITF which form and style resembles Karate and is rigid and structured, the ATA is a watered-down off shoot from the ITF. The ATA claims competitions, state, national and even internationally. These are solely within the ATA and hold no value accept to the false achievement of the practitioner.
For a true sense of competition, World Taekwondo (WT), formerly World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), is the governing body of international Taekwondo Competition, including the Olympics. That’s right! Taekwondo is an Olympic sport! It was first introduced in the olympics in 1988, in Seoul, Korea, and became an official medaling event in 2000, at the Sydney Summer Olympics. Here in the United States, USATKD (United States of America Taekwondo) is the only pipeline to international and Olympic competition. Each year, USATKD has state, National, Team Trials, and other events for competitors. States can see anywhere from a couple hundred to 500 some competitors while nationals there can be well over 4,000 competitors. It is worth mentioning the standard of competition. WT sets the standard of competition and holds its officials, IR’s (International Referees) to the highest standard. These same standards continue with USATKD with yearly seminars and training along with excellent competitions. Surely, with all of these standards there are still students who slide by and individuals who monopolize on this system to make a profit. However, Kukkiwon and World Taekwondo, along with USATKD, remain the highest standard of Taekwondo.
Master Reilly’s Family Martial Arts, LLC, is one of only three Kukkiwon Dojangs in Western Pennsylvania. In 2020, we had seven students achieve international black belt. Competition was difficult for 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic caused all competition to be canceled, including the summer Olympics.
However, last year three of our students qualified for nationals along with Master Reilly, through USATKD. Master Reilly also achieved the highest level of national poomsae (form/pattern) judge. Master Reilly is also a National sparring referee and is Vice-president of Pennsylvania Taekwondo; the official governing council for PATKD competition for USATKD.
Taekwondo is about standard. Yes, there is sparring, kicking, punching, striking, and flying awesomeness. Yes, there is confidence and character building. There is the form of Taekwondo. Taekwondo form is full encompassing of all things Taekwondo, but so much more. It incorporates Korean culture, language, virtue, and tradition. To interpret Taekwondo form separate from the source is to lose all guidelines and standard, all understanding and method of Taekwondo. Kukkiwon is Taekwondo and anything outside of this is a counterfeit. To claim Taekwondo without standard, governance, education, development, competition and achievement is absurd. Watch out for the imitations, the frauds. Those that over compensate and use “filler”. Kukkiwon is Taekwondo, and Taekwondo is Kukkiwon. If your program is not Kukkiwon and offering you a real chance, or taking you to legitimate competitions, you are being lied to. It’s not about opinions, there are plenty of opinions across the vast internet. The history and legitimacy of competition in Taekwondo stands with Kukkiwon, WT, and USATKD.
If you would like to know more about Kukkiwon, feel free to click here. If you want to know more about World Taekwondo, click here. If you want to know more about USATKD click here. If you want to know more about PATKD click here. Feel free to also read through our other articles in our education blog.
In the martial arts it is imperative that balance is exercised throughout training. Too much and the practitioner will strain and overexert themselves. Too little, and no improvement is made and training is rather useless. Centuries of martial arts have produced time tested well balanced training regiments, curriculums, theories and teachings. In contrast, modern mixed styles and students who disregard physiology and the research put into hundreds of years of martial arts training take one side or another. The following will be a discourse of the leanings by which many skew.
The lack of balance is not only in physical training, but also in mental training as well. The balance of mind must be present for the martial art practitioner for their success and well-being. Many are drawn to the martial arts for the competition, and many who join the martial arts already have strong personalities. The so-called type-A personalities who are goal crushers excel in the martial arts and often are the ones seen at the front of every tournament argument. If these individuals do not have respect, honor, courtesy, integrity, and morals drilled into them, chaos would ensue, and it has. Thirty, forty years ago, it would not be startling to see a chair flying at a tournament because a coach lost their temper or a parent wasn’t happy. Things have become much more balanced as the Taekwondo way has been accepted as the standard etiquette. There is a set of morals and to breach these morals would mean expulsion. The tenants of Taekwondo along with the character taught in class has done much to balance what could be an aggressive martial art.
Martial arts are after all quite aggressive. The martial artist is trying to defend themselves or another, to attack, or to compete. All of this training is aggressive and must be matched with a gentle spirit. When a need should arise for a heightened state, the martial artist can utilize at ease. In the realm of Jiu-jitsu and MMA, many of the practitioners know nothing of tradition and the character or morals to balance out the aggressive nature of martial arts. They are in a heightened state from the onslaught. Several arrive to their class from a pre-workout already teaming with adrenaline, ready to fight. This is not the spirit of training, it is the spirit to get hurt and to hurt. The lifespan of such training is lessened. There is no balance or wisdom in a skewed mindset.
In contrast, if one claims to be a martial art but then states, “No Contact”, it is not a real martial art. For one, there is no such thing. You cannot be a martial art and be no contact. You certainly cannot be Taekwondo and be no contact… This mindset goes for all Americanized, franchise, garbage programs. Whatever these programs allege to call themselves, they produce the weakest fantasy instructors and students in martial arts. Whether it is kung fu, taekwondo, karate or the like, passing a student to the next rank based on attendance in irresponsible. You don’t give points for trying and missing! Ranking in cardio kick boxing, having a color belt or less than master, rank students is also irresponsible! Tangent subsides… The unbalance here is, these programs have no application whatsoever. There is no aggression, no testing, no pressure of skill, and frankly, no skill at that!
Therefore, what must the balance be? In the martial arts, there must be a balance between a moral character and aggressive training that is tested and pressured for its skill. The practitioner must train these equally, always growing, learning, ever striving to be better. Remember, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
Know what you are paying for before signing up. Martial arts are not merely a hobby, a sport, or an exercise routine. Do your research before choosing the program you join.
Are the Instructors certified in their respective field? This does not mean that someone knows someone else, or that someone passed gave a certificate to someone else. Would you trust a doctor who claimed their MD/DO came from another individual over an accredited university?
Is the Instructor experienced? For Taekwondo, An instructor would be at least a couple degrees of black belt and have at least five or more years experience to draw from.
Additionally, no instructor, assistant instructor, coach, black belt or lower rank should have the disrespect of promoting a student. This should only be done by a certified master instructor.
Does this program align with its respective style, competition, theory? Taekwondo is an olympic sport along with being a dynamic martial art. Its certification must be in the Kukkiwon foremost, and/or if not in the respective Kwans. To be certified in a program is to only exist within that entity and holds no external ranking.
The facility should be safe, clean and in professional condition. Equipment should be up to date with all regulation to the martial art and cleaned and sanitized regularly.
All staff, must be CPR FIRST AID certified, along with all black belts having accreditation.
Experience is hugely important as long as it is peer and seeking from a continued education. Many claim years of experience and yet stopped studying only a few years in. They get settled in their ways and are often full of errors in their understanding of martial arts. They spend years solidifying their position, instead of growing and learning. This is not the martial art way, and yet it is often the condition of the martial arts, to be prideful, boastful and exaggerate. In full integrity and humility, we must tell you the truth. There are irresponsible, selfish and dangerous so called “instructors” out there.
Here at Master Reilly’s Family Martial Arts, LLC, we have the only accredited martial arts program in the surrounding counties! Our Master Instructor is a Kukkiwon Certified Master and test examiner! He has 25 years of continued education along with being a national referee/ form judge with USATKD, vice president of PA Taekwondo and training under the best Taekwondo Grandmasters worldwide! Not only does our program align, our students excel in competition at local, states, and even nationals! Our facility is top of the line with two full size olympic sparring rings, clean, updated equipment and it is kept clean and sanitized regularly. All of our staff is CPR AED FIRST AID certified and are black belts are are fully accredited through Kukkiwon. Each of our Instructors meet regular requirements of continued education and assessment to the highest standard. Our Instructors meet the requirements and go beyond, because we believe in having the highest standard.
Here at Master Reilly’s Family Martial Arts, LLC we meet the criteria for a safe, experienced, accredited, family friendly, fun, excellent martial school.
Let’s begin with sovereignty. To be sovereign, one stands on their own. This is autonomy, ultimate authority and supremacy. In contrast, accreditation is collaborated documentation of an assessment by experienced peers. To sum this up, one is self qualified, the other is officially qualified through the recognized experienced authorities.
This relates in many facets of life of course, but we are going to focus on only a few. I am sure you can relate your own personal experiences to this discussion.
To start, there is the correspondence college or college that is set up by do gooders who’s intention is to spread their impression and ideal on others. However, for one reason or another, they refuse to, or are refused accreditation by a reputable qualifying committee. What is the result for this decision of sovereignty? Those recognized will likely not accept the education, efforts and time put in because it was not done so through the proper channels.
What is the mentality for autonomy? Is it: ignorance, selfishness, laziness, incompetence, or pride? I spoke to a couple of attenders to an unaccredited college. One dropped out after a few years and none of his credits would transfer to Liberty University. The other graduated and the “diploma” printed by the college was not accept by any establishment, except for the specific denomination this college was established in. Likewise, a couple others began comprehensive courses. One graduated, the other realized that the program she paid for was a complete sham. The one who graduated spent thousands of dollars and her degree was completely worthless. She had to go back to school and start over to earn a reputable degree in an accredited university.
In a very relatable way, martial arts has those who are accredited and those who claim sovereignty. Again, first for sovereign practitioners. To speak plainly, unless you are an originator, you cannot be the authority, ultimate, or be in autonomy in a style. To claim or use a martial arts style name without being united to the root of that style is the same as stealing. There are plenty of self-ranking phonies who create their own federations, organizations and programs to establish themselves sovereign. I have communicated with several of these individuals and it is a mix of pride, laziness, and selfishness that keeps them from taking the proper steps to becoming accredited. I had one individual come to my school who said he was very near black belt from an unaccredited program asking me to help him get his black belt. His concern was in starting over.
Currently, I am helping out a whole school and a gentleman get accredited who earned his black belt twelve years ago. I offer this accreditation because I believe in doing things the right way. I believe a true instructor tries their very best to give their students the best. The ones who don’t are liars, selfish and low-lifes. They do not deserve to be called a teacher, much less master/grand-master.
What about those that have accreditation and don’t teach or train to that standard? I can only speak for me and my program. It is a requirement that I and my instructors participate in yearly seminars to keep our skills sharp. Continued education and comparing skills and practice at tournaments at state and national levels aid in this as well. It is not enough to merely tell your student to kick and punch, but to understand the anatomy, the physiology and psychology of processing as you teach. We train in natural movements taught through the accredited authority. This is in contrast to the contortionist movements found in the fringe programs who lie and risk injuring, and worse, the unknowing participants.
I cannot stress enough to the participants that you research the establishment and instructor. Their rank should be registered and their program should be up to legal code. The instructors must have their clearances and CPR certifications. They should have teaching experience and a legitimate ranking/experience in what they are teaching. They must be connected to the root of the art, or it is just a stolen term. Too many programs steal Taekwondo. There is no such thing as “No-contact Taekwondo”. Most of the programs are a watered down version of ITF, or even worse, American Karate… It looks like something, but it doesn’t measure up.
Do your research, because if you are serious, you will be training for years, possibly spending thousands at this program, and I would hate to see you waste your money, and get injured because of the selfishness and negligence of these so called instructors.
“How can you spot a fake? By comparing it with the real thing.” - Pastor Mike
In life we must trust the reality that we perceive, we must take many things at face value. Surely we approach life with some level of skepticism, then we begin accepting and applying because the negativity is too difficult and we refuse to dedicate ourselves to search out truth.
What is Cubic Zirconia? In laymen's terms, cubic zirconia is a synthesized crystal. It is meant to look like diamond. To the naked eye, many jewelers have difficulty distinguishing the difference. That’s the point. They can create a diamond looking material that is less expensive and few enough can tell that they are fake. There is a popularity in cubic zirconia as it is cheap and looks like the real thing. How can you spot the difference between cubic zirconia and diamond? By comparing them. You must start with diamond and compare each to it.
When sudo diamonds can be manufactured, what other realities are fraudulent? When we accept these things and refuse to stand up against fake schemes. As stated earlier, we refuse to dedicate ourselves to search out the truth.
There are some things that we should be more skeptical about. Consider your teachers and leaders. The position is to be respected and held in honor. However, is the individual holding this position respectable and honorable? Are they leading you where you should be lead, doing what is best for you.
Personally, I work in the church and martial arts. I will be speaking from these two perspectives. Let’s reflect on that quote. How can you spot a fake? Which is the real thing? For Taekwondo, that’s easy. There are families of Taekwondo, though each formed to create the headquarters of Kukkiwon. If it is not Kukkiwon, it is not Taekwondo. This is to say there are of course the true families of Taekwondo, these are the Kwons. They remain as the governing bodies and yet recognize and respect Kukkiwon’s position. Wanting to go their own way, some have broken away from Kukkiwon, some are not affiliated at all and have no right to call themselves Taekwondo. How can you spot a fake? They look more like a watered down American Karate, than Taekwondo. There is a cross over in the martial arts, elements in the style that we share, and then there are distinct aspects that set each style apart. Those that are not connected are easily spited because they look nothing like real Taekwondo. Even if they try, they lack adhesion and over time will return to a ridged form. No matter how synthetic, sudo Taekwondo is not real Taekwondo.
This reminds me of something Jesus said, “4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:4-7) We must stay connected to the truth, or be lost in complete darkness. The difficulty is in our own laziness. What is more convenient, what is cheaper, what entertains, what is more comfortable and so on.
Are there fake churches? Are we not all praising the same God? Are we not all Christians? The simple answer is no. Let’s all get on the defensive from the start. Well folks, there we have it. This is where many stopped reading. For those who continue with me for a little while longer, let me explain. “How can you spot a fake? By comparing it to the real thing.” The diamond is the original church, it is the marker by which we must compare every other church. How about the pastors, the evangelism, the governance the teaching and so on. Do these line up with scripture? How can one be a Christian if they do not truly know the Christ they are following? Have only heard and now like the concept of Christ? Do you support some of His teachings and ignore some of the less popular ones? Are there controversies and dogmas in your life and church that conflict with scripture that cause you to make exceptions? Have you made the excuse that this select portion alone is only for this time or old, culture, historic, and so forth without any true understanding? Does your church jump right to the super natural without any concept of Theology and Doctrine? Can you say a simple prayer and count yourself a saint? Do we just praise a God far off or does He come and fellowship with us and participate in His own worship?
The truth is, there are so many questions and we have a procedure for our church service. It is orderly symbolic and depending on the church, very traditional. What good is this service if we are just maintaining and if it is professionally done. We utterly destroy our worship trying to put on a performance every week to make it appealing to the congregation. Our worship should be genuine and joyful, not as if we could control, move or conform Him. As organized as we wish to be, we must be ready to be spontaneous to His Spirit. This is not an excuse to invoke ones own adrenaline or try to provoke God. This is just an openness to His movings.
The church is fake however, in playing service every week. Plan the ritual, the organized emotions through song, lights and words. Who is the service for? If Church service was worship, the focus was missed. If it is for teaching, then many pastors are missing the point. Too many are focused on self through speech, worrying about who they will offend, not feeding meat and misleading their flock altogether. If church is about witnessing, why is it about numbers and how many we can bring in and not how many we can send out? Why are we not organizing groups to go to the streets to share the good news. Do we not believe? If so, we must not really love others, because we must know that they will die, and if they die without knowing; they will go to hell. I hate to state this cold. But there is no beating around the bush. I know for my brothers. I have talked to each of them, at least I talked to them and it pains me. That some may not be in heaven because they refuse to submit their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If you do not love your family, your friends, your neighbors, strangers, you are not fulfilling the law. Jesus said that every law rested on these two, Love God, Love others. It’s that simple. I ask you again. Do you think that there are fake churches? I’m not talking about those that openly oppose. I’m talking about those synthetic ones.
It has been an eventful week. Keeping with Korean tradition, faith, and my own decision, I do not have functions or martial arts classes at my school on Sundays. This became a bit of a public debate and issue which I had to end quickly between myself and some in my jiu-jitsu program. The instructor who I had teaching my program was at odds with me and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. There had been an increasing disrespect of those that came for this program. I told him I did not want to have division in my school. I gave him a chance, but he responded with insults. This is what some Jiu-jitsu and certainly MMA has become. The saying is that BJJ, MMA is rough around the edges.
I had the pleasure of meeting a seventy-one year old black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu this weekend who respectfully took my seminar. It was an honor to meet him and learn from him. He has been training in the martial arts for many years and his perspective is rooted in respect and honor. He spoke against the direction of the masses and competition. He said that they have lost their way, that they do not do real Jiu-jitsu anymore. It is not pure. Even worse for MMA. MMA is not a real martial art, it is a combination of martial arts, if that, for the purpose of bludgeoning one’s opponent in the cage. This system does not teach discipline, respect, vital points, or anything matching a respectable martial art. Let’s return to BJJ. This group prides them selves in that their black belt takes much longer to reach, typically the time span that other arts would reach master level. This is understandable. In psychology, we learn that one does not gain mastery over a skill for at least ten years and yet in Taekwondo, for instance, one could earn their black belt in three to four years. In Korea, it only takes one and a half years. This begs the question, what does black belt mean? We will answer that later. For now, Lets continue on the BJJ issue. As I said, BJJ prides them selves in their drawn out black belt. It is as if their blue belt is more representative of a traditional Jiu-jitsu black belt and, purple is second degree, brown third degree, and black, 4th degree. This would be more consistent with the timeline of their training. So where is the pride? They have lost their way from the roots of Japanese and even Brazilian. Honor and respect are thrown by the wayside when pride is forefront.
What is black belt? Black belt in my program is a cumulative knowledge of the basics and preparedness to apply them to practice. For black belt, my students must be physically ready, they must have my curriculum memorized and be able to demonstrate it proficiently. They must be able to apply their understanding of martial arts and training. They must be the best they can be at that time with what they can be, with no excuses. They are required to meet all the demands of my specifications and Kukkiwon before they can be considered a black belt. Before this, they must put time in, they must be dedicated, they must show me their honor and respect. Their character must be that of a black belt. I tell them if they want to be a black belt, they must carry themselves like a black belt. They must help their classmates and the school. There must be dignity in the martial arts and in the black belt.
Martial arts must be balanced. It is a form of war tactics, how to fight, how to defend and how to attack. If you teach this with only an aggressive nature, then you will be unbalanced. If your style is rough, harsh, abusive and arrogant, it is unbalanced and it will not flow. A fighter who has no compassion for his enemy has lost his way.
You must balance the martial art out with peace, with kindness, with humility, compassion, with respect and honor. In contrast to the prideful and tough persona that often accompanies BJJ/MMA, true Taekwondo matches its form with honor, respect, and humility. There is a pride to our style, practice and training, however this must be kept in check. Power must be under control. You may say, this is just a list of of virtues, but these qualities must be considered and adhered in training.
I have been practicing martial arts for over 20 years now, 24 years to be exact. Though my main interest has been Taekwondo, I have also trained in Hapkido, Haidong-gumdo, Maui tai, Judo, Jiu-jitsu, Tai chi, and other such stolen words and names. The truth of the matter is, all forms of martial arts share with the other, while still maintaining their unique characteristics. Each one ranges in intensity and focus. Each should be considered and respected for it’s practicality and formation in the martial arts realms. There are of course the deceivers, those who give each style a poor reputation, but we look to the true practitioners, those who lay the foundations of the style. Reject those who break off from the source and claim their own path. You must be rooted in the headquarters and purest form of the style. Consider my previous arguments for this. Referring to Taekwondo, it receives much ridicule as not being a good self defense, as not being practical. This can be for a couple reasons.
The first can be attributed to many false claims to Taekwondo by programs that do not actually practice real Taekwondo. They practice what is referred to as, “Traditional”. Another way of thinking of this is simply, “American Karate”. This style resembles Karate more than it resembles Taekwondo. Japanese terms are used and more Japanese practices are used, and yet, they call it American Taekwondo. This is very watered down martial arts. As there are a few franchises, this is problematic, but then there are plenty of programs who call themselves Taekwondo, but look nothing like true Taekwondo. This puts a bad view in the public’s sight.
The second is the transformation of Taekwondo in competition in the international and Olympic stage. The international and Olympic stage is high competitive, obviously for the competitors, but also for each country. They push to host the next event in their nation, their city, than the interest for one’s sport. This year, Karate will be in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Japan is hosting the Olympics and has the vote to introduce Karate as a competing event. Even though Karate will be debuting this year, it will not be in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The interest in the sport and air time cost money, the competition is high. The World Taekwondo officials continue to find ways to cut down on slow periods in sparring, in order to, as they have said, “Razzle, dazzle”. This has on the surface and in transition made our sport and martial art look a bit weak.
It is the honor, however, the respect, that is seldom found in any other form that I appreciate in Taekwondo. Taekwondo is clean, pure, and true to its nature. The sport is meant to be safe, fair, and fun, which means I can keep doing it for a long time. There is an established discipline that sets it apart. The instructors do not need to be harsh, or aggressive. The students and instructors interact in humility and kindness. Surely there are prideful individuals. I am merely speaking of the teaching. I know personally that if I were to flex my abilities and ego, I wouldn’t have many students.
And yet, it baffles me, I have been in several other programs where the instructor is aggressive, capable or not, with a bad attitude and they may have more students. They demean their students in these other programs, there is a lack of discipline, or it can be over militaristic. The students and instructors show no humility or honor and the over all tone is aggressive.
I can’t help but ask, what is being taught? What are the instructors and students gaining? If you get beat up constantly, will you get stronger? Will your body heal, will your mind heal?
At some point in our training, we must realize that there is no mystery to the art. We must understand that there are consequences to our actions. We must know that everything must work together, move together. This is the basics of martial arts. For those that mistreat their student, they do not understand this. You must be authoritative with your students. But you must first be in proper health, both mentally and physically. The same goes for how each art treats the other. My concern is not for the phonies. But for the true forms, we need to start respecting each other and helping each other understand. As I mentioned at the beginning, each should be considered and respected for it’s practicality and formation in the martial arts realms.
To follow up on the Integrity In The Martial Arts post, I want to discuss deeper the trend of instructors who are diluted either by a simplistic mind, or a combination of the misleadings of an instructor before. These instructors will self promote, identify with the best, but look nothing like the best and will avoid competitions with the best because they cannot compare to the best. As the adage goes, “How can you spot a fake? Hold it next to the real thing.” They stay clear from the real thing. Yet they will tell you over and over again that they are legitimate, that somehow they are better. They will claim certification, yet have no proof. If supplying proof, it is fake. Then to perpetuate these lies to their students who trust them and only know as much as they are taught. Did you know you can look up your instructor’s record? You can see if your instructor is really the rank they claim? You can also look up the rank they claim you are paying such a hefty price for…
For over twenty years now, I have come to the understanding and have taught my students to know more than you are taught. Yes, I want them to trust me and follow my instructions. However, I want them to take responsibility for what they apply to their lives, to their knowledge and to their path. I do not want them to be dependent on me for everything, I want them to be leaders and, trusting that they can make decisions and come to me for advice and support. As their instructor, it is not my job to control them, to micromanage them and run their training where they wait for every word and move. No, I lead in step, as a guide, sometimes walking beside them, sometimes hand over hand, sometimes in demonstration, mirroring. But you have to let them try on their own, give them direction and let them try again. Always in humility. Likewise, if you cannot be humble about your rank, then what are you to your students?
Perhaps though, you are not lying, you are testing, and you are going to high level competitions, performing well and your students rank high in their divisions. But, for some reason or another, when you search your black belt, it doesn’t come up? How strange is this? The certificate you were given and that you give your students somehow are forgeries? How upsetting this could be, and all you can offer your students is, well, at least we know our worth. Do you start over and find a program to help you out, or do you continue the facade? Do you face the music, or continue the lie? Pride or humility? This is what it comes down to. The strong will and personalities of the martial arts often side with continuing the lie rather than facing the truth and rather difficult road of working hard and catching their rank up. There has to be a quick and easy way, right? While so many are searching for this easy way to catch up, beginners are getting their first, second and third degree black belts, even fourth degree black belts legitimately. And those who were lied to, are left with no accreditation at all. Martial arts is hard work, sometimes this work repeats itself. Life isn’t fair, sometimes you lose and we, as instructors need to demonstrate to our students how to conduct ourselves when life isn’t fair and when we lose. For those lied to, get up, work hard and earn it again! For those lying, stop, teach your students integrity, teach your students that it’s worth giving it your all, that a job worth doing, is worth do well! Don’t be lazy! Don’t be selfish! Give your students everything, even if they choose not to go for it, at least you gave them the chance! Open the doors of success for your students!
I recently spoke with a grand master I befriended in Chicago about promoting and day to day business of our programs. He often messages me to ask how my program is doing and offers advice on how I can improve my school.
Something he said, really stood out to me. He said, in Korea, You cannot open a dojang (martial arts school) until you are 5th, or 6th degree black belt. This is with an accredited degree. Not some random, so and so hands you a certificate, but a Kukkiwon, and or Kwon certificate.
Here in the states and in other parts of the world, it is not so well regulated. Anyone, trained or not can open a gym and deceive. Thus, when their student goes to another gym, they must re-start, re-learn as their instructor has lied to them because of their selfishness and ignorance. My questions are, why is there no state inspection for the safety of instructors who open their doors? Who is questioning their credentials? Did you research the instructor before paying for class? There is a common phrase used in the martial arts community to describe programs that are not legitimate. These are called Mcdojo’s. These programs will be elaborated on below, along with their instructors. Please understand that I do not mean to demonize these instructors. It has been my effort to help these programs become accredited and do things the proper way. It is a disservice to the students to not give them our very best, to not offer them the very best and then charge them the most…
I put together a list of programs to avoid in considering a martial arts school.
5. You wear more than 5 patches on your uniform.
6. Average students are awarded black belt in 1-2 years.
7. No option to try free class.
8. Master before 18 and Grand master before 40.
9. The master will not spar with the students.
10. The master will not let the students spar with a visiting challenger/black belt.
11. No cross-training/outsider participation.
12. No spectators.
13. Instructor does not know applications to moves.
14.If taught application they never work except when your master does them.
15. Program has students who went to “States” “Nationals” in their own program… and are awarded for having the best kiyap (yell).
16. There is a sign that says “Guaranteed Black Belt”.
17. There are 11th dan, 12th dan, 13th dan or even higher ranks.
18. Your Master has one of those higher ranks.
19. “Your style was created by your sensei, yet it’s still “traditional” – and it has several “special advantages” over all other styles. Oh, and most likely, the name of the style is absurdly long.” ~ Karate by Jesse (Wrong about Taekwondo).
20. There are camouflage belts.
21. There are more than ten color belts.
22. Testings are fifteen minutes long.
23. Nobody ever fails at testings.
24. The school sign has the words ‘traditional’, ‘commando’, ‘classical’, ‘effective’, ‘100%’, ‘original’, ‘Okinawan’, ‘dragon’, ‘Japanese’, ‘secret’ and ‘elite’ in the same sentence.
25. You can promote online.
26. The program does not compete.
27. Competition is mandatory.
28. You are often/always doing forms/pattens to music.
29. If you use weapons, they glow in the dark and weigh a maximum of 3 oz.
30. The instructor uses students as punching bags.
31. The instructor refuses to teach you certain techniques, because they are “too deadly”.
32. Kids’ classes are more games and chaos than actual instruction.
33. Your schools website doesn’t say anything about the actual style of martial arts, nor the instructor’s credentials.
34. There is no proof of the instructor’s rank/credentials, nothing to back it up, but their word and their aggressive attitude.
35. Weapons are taught with instructor having no formal training.
36. Disarming of weapons is taught with a lack of understanding.
37. Self defense is completely impractical.
38. Self defense requires that you step into the attack to defend yourself.
39. Take downs are not effective.
40. Attitude of martial arts is present, but spirit is missing <-
^What does that last one mean? It means that for a good number of programs, they know how to act like a martial arts school. They can put on a face, be tough, and carry a heavy fist. However, this is not the way of the pure martial art. Martial arts is grounded, flowing and confident. It strives to work as one, not to be a force in aggression, but in unity. How these fake misleading instructors carry themselves is top heavy. They lack the foundation to stand on. They are too puffed up in the chest and proud in the attitude that the gentle unifying spirit of the martial art cannot work in them. They rarely dare to be exposed to pure martial arts for fear of starting over, that their training, or lack there of would be in vain. But, this would be the path of a true martial artist. This is integrity. It doesn’t matter where we start, or where we fall. Get up and keep going. Just don’t pull others down with you. Don’t lie to others, don’t charge others for something that isn’t your best. Give them this courtesy. Persevere and do your best. This is your integrity on the line. It will take self-control and indomitable spirit. You can do it! We are leaders! Be a leader worth following!