Master? Grand Master? Sensei?…help!

Today I was working on some Facebook marketing and two posts came up in one of the groups that I belong to. In the “Century Martial Arts School Owners Network” there were two posts about rank, titles and the like. While I am certain the argument of rank in the martial arts, including titles, goes all the way back to when Kano Sensei awarded the first black belts in Judo I am pretty sure it has became worse in the past 10 or 20 years.

There are many titles in the martial arts and quite often they are very misused as well as abused. These days it is not uncommon to find people under the age of 30 running around claiming to be Grand Masters or Masters. It is very confusing to people that aren’t from actual martial arts backgrounds to understand. Before I go on I am going to state that what I will write about is not what people want to hear. Some will get upset at me for saying this while others will proclaim that I am not qualified to speak on it. Even others will get their feelings hurt by what I write but I am not a politically correct person so here goes…

Titles don’t make you a great martial artists. They don’t equate to actual skill nor a person’s ability to teach squat. Your ACTIONS do. That’s right, I said it, your actions are what prove you a great martial artist or teacher, not your title. I have been training for over 38 years now non-stop and my backgrounds ranges from traditional Karate all the way through Jujutsu. I have been a sport competitor as well as a combative instructor. I have even been blessed to travel to Okinawa three times to train and each trip has been incredible. That being said I will state that I have met some of the best martial artists and some of the biggest frauds out there in my travels. I have also trained with instructors that were 100% the real deal as well as some that were controversial all the way to down right morons. Regardless of my own qualifications I am going to state what I think most are afraid to speak of so let’s have some fun with this…

I am not going to go into a historical itinerary on where titles came from. You can research that your own self. What I will state is that most people think once you are a black belt you are an expert and a teacher but the reality is you are not. You have qualified and proven you know the basics of your art. Nothing more, nothing less. I have sat in horror and watched certain martial arts franchises mass produce black belts and then open schools just because they had new black belts. The goal was making money, not teaching the art. I have watched young guys who got a black belt, and some who didn’t, go out and pay organizations to get rank because their instructor wouldn’t promote them. I have seen people think their dabbling and attending seminars qualified them to mix systems together and come up with their martial art and proclaim themselves Grand Master and 10th degree black belt. Quite simply I have seen all sorts of things including people who are video trained, paid for a rank certificate via mail/internet, open schools and act like they are the best thing that ever happened to martial arts. With all this type of activity out there I have also watched very good, top quality, authentic martial artists suffer and fail because people don’t understand the difference and will just sign up with anyone without investigating rank claims or the art being taught.

Most of what I have written about above is ego driven. That’s right. It is all about the ego of these supposed grand masters and has nothing to do with the martial art being taught or developed, nor the students they dupe into thinking they are someone important. During the posts in that group I read each answer and it was clear that many of the people who were posting also came from backgrounds of made up stuff too. One poster named his system so I investigated it. It is another one of those “I made this up because I am awesome” systems but in reality is so far away from being quality it isn’t even funny.

Trophies don’t make you a qualified martial artist. They don’t make you a good teacher. They just mean you did good at a tournament that day. There is a trend in the martial arts where people believe that all those trophies in the window mean an instructor must be really good. Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this because I have an entire room full of trophies, not to mention boxes upon boxes of them, but I definitely tell my students that those trophies don’t mean I am qualified to teach quality Karate…they just mean that I beat someone that day and got one. The truth about trophies, as I explain in my dojo, anyone who has been in martial arts for any length of time will have a nice little collection of them. I have watched a guy post picture after picture of his great trophies in my area. I investigated it and found out that almost all of them he got because no one else was in his division…yet he makes it seem, on Facebook, as if he beat the absolute best in the world that day. When invited to attend a tournament where he would actually have to face real black belts he never shows up, always has some excuse but in reality he is just a fraud.

Years ago I was a tournament and competed in Kumite. I had placed 1st in Kata and Weapons, got grand champion but lost my match to a younger, lower ranked black belt. The host of the event walked up to one of my students and said “Well I guess your instructor isn’t that good”. Sadly he didn’t watch the match. The black belt I was fighting was a friend and I was working with him and coaching him the entire match. I never went after him and, while he did win, I had no intention of beating him that day. A few months later that same tournament host was at another event I attended where I won Grand Champion in Kata, Weapons and Kumite. After it was over I very politely said to him “If you want to talk about someone you should have your gear on and be in there with them”. Needless to say he scoffed at it and walked away. Of course he did because he is afraid to lose. He would rather live in his lie, have his students live in his lie, about how great he is when in reality he has always sucked (and yes I have know him since he was a white belt).

Then you have the guys who got a black belt after four or five years of training, stopped training, then one day open a school and all of the sudden they proclaim to be a master and have rank at 5th or 6th degree black belt. They also run around claiming to have 20 or more years of “experience” but in reality they have trained in the last 15 years. Those people are simply liars and full of shit. If you are one of them then take a hard look in the mirror, grow up and perhaps go find a Sensei to help you train.

Onto the guys who dabble in this and dabble in that. You know who they are…they have trained everything you can name when you talk to them. They claim to be black belts in multiple styles of martial arts and talk about how “great” they art is they have developed. They pick some cool Japanese or Korean sounding name and begin promoting it as being the “best” because it is “mixed”. The reality is, and I don’t care what anyone says, it takes a lifetime to master just one single martial art system. One can get good at a few disciplines with around 5 or so years of study in each one but that is just the surface they have touched. They have no idea of the depth to that art nor do they care to learn. These are people I call “Cup Full” idiots. I hold black belts in five systems of martial arts but I can tell you that I am not an expert in all five…nor even close. Each system was a great learning experience and helped me teach better but there is no way I would ever say I created some new martial art system when I don’t even understand the main system I teach completely. The USA is full of these morons. I watch them open and close schools left and right. I see them at tournaments demanding to be called Grand Master yet they never compete. I watch them get inducted into all these hall of fames out there as if that ads legitimacy to their idiocy. The truth is, if you are one of these guys, you don’t know squat and you need to grow up, humble yourself and go learn from a direct source. It is ok to study several arts but you have to have one core art that is your life blood or you will never master squat. Anyone who disagrees with that can’t see past their own nose.

Then you have the “challengers”. I run into these guys all the time. As soon as they find out I teach Karate they immediately begin talking about how great their MMA and “UFC” is and how they “beat” Karate people all the time. Yawn…this gets so stupid and boring. First of all UFC is not a style nor is MMA. They are sport methods of mixing aspects of martial art and combat arts (such as boxing) together to win a contest. While I am a fan of MMA and do watch the UFC (among others) I would never proclaim to be a black belt in either which these morons often do. When you try and educate them their first reaction is to puff out their chest and get defensive. This just proves they have no actual martial arts background because we, real martial artists, enjoy learning about everything and rarely believe we know it all. Years ago I had one “cage fighter” come into my school. He wanted to train Karate so I signed him up. His ego, the way he belittled others and his general attitude was so pathetic that he just caused problems. The first time he sparred with one of my brown belts he just kept loading up on them. After class that evening he actually came up and said he wanted to “spar” me. My brown belt had thrashed him pretty good so I said when you can beat my brown belt you can spar with me. After a few months of trying and failing he just quit coming to class. Point proven…onto the next…

Recently, in my area, a guy opened a Jeet Kune Do school. We know for a fact he is a Youtube artist. By that I mean he trained via videos and sent in money to get certifications to teach. They posted a video of him “sparring” in his school the other night and I sent it to my friends that are real JKD instructors. They all asked the same thing…”What in the hell is this crap”. First off JKD schools don’t compete in tournaments nor do tournament style sparring. Secondly my green belts had more skill than what I saw in the video. This guy actually came into my school once and told me about his great “video” training. I tried to educate him but to no avail. Flash forward a few years and he now has a school teaching his supposed art. This is called fraud and unfortunately people will never know who train there because he will never compete, never actually show up or take his students to an event where they will have to work hard to win nor will he ever get real training. I am just waiting for him to be the next “Jeet Kune Do” master to appear in this area. By the way real Jeet Kune Do has no rank structure, nor is it a martial art system. It is a method of training that helps the student to adapt aspects of their experience to make them a better equipped martial artist. Even Bruce Lee stated “I didn’t develop a martial art” but you can’t educate stupid.

I have met 100% authentic, true Grand Masters of martial art systems. They are some of the most humble, yet most dangerous people you’d ever meet. They are excited to share what they know with people and very accommodating. The ones that I have met are so nice and such great people that you never feel belittled, challenged or like an idiot when you train with them because they know a universal truth that has escaped a lot of people…that truth is “there does not exist any single ultimate martial art system and each one has its values”. The key is to be open, be willing to learn and be humble. Sadly that last part escapes many today.

We have people teaching sport martial arts as if they are real martial arts. We have people teaching made up crap and trying to pass it off as being some ancient historical martial art. We have people teaching combat sports and trying to pass them off as being the ultimate self defense system. Quite simply we have lost our way in the martial arts and the people that suffer the most are the students out there. Want to know a secret? I will let you in on one…legitimate martial art systems are the main resource that others rip stuff of from so there is no reason to go train with a rip off artist…instead find a legitimate martial art system and instructor so you can learn correctly. That way, one day, no matter what belt level you have learned, you can smile, be humble and know you are authentic. That may seem silly but the reality is that is why all these people make up crap, make up rank and make up lies…because they aren’t legitimate, they want to be important and they want others to think they are the bomb. They aren’t…they are just another ego driven biggot who lies.

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