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!