The “Black Eye” of Martial Arts…

Like many martial arts school owners I am subscribed to all sorts of email lists to get information that can make me a better instructor, business person and run a better martial arts school. Today I got an email entitled “The Black Eye of Karate”. This email was a sales push to get people to buy a program called “retention based sparring”. Typically I would have just deleted it and sent the sender to junk mail since I have never subscribed to his list but I decided to read it. Needless to say I was not impressed with the content at all…nor the links to the product he was pushing.

It wasn’t the idea that the guy had that bothered me because I completely agree that we must be proactive to our approach at teaching Kumite in the dojo with safety a major concern but rather that he referred to it as the “Black Eye” in martial arts. Sparring, when taught correctly, is a great retention tool and improvement tool. I don’t see it as a black eye of any sorts with what we do in the dojo but I can understand it a bit because some schools have no concept on teaching Kumite and use it as a platform to just beat on people…which is wrong.

No, it wasn’t any of that which bothered me. It was the “black eye” comment, or title of message. You see, to me, the “black eye” in martial arts has very little to do with teaching sparring and more to do with the following negative things going on in our industry. Check them out…

  1. Schools that are mass producing low skilled black belts just because they can pay a fee. No matter if they are any good at all they will put a black belt on them just to keep them a happy and paying customer.
  2. Schools that, for whatever reason they can think, of teach “made up” martial arts. Yes there are a lot of them out there. The instructor got a black belt, wasn’t good enough to promote up under their teacher, ran out and bought a “Master” rank then all of the sudden they are teaching their own system of “martial arts”. This happens a lot more than people would know…even in schools that claim to teach “Okinawan” styles.
  3. Schools that are teaching only sport martial arts and calling it traditional. There is nothing traditional about sport martial arts. Backflips, jump spinning kicks with gymnastics, screaming during a Kata and modifying a Kata are in no way traditional. The students train thinking they are learning “real” martial arts but they are only learning what will win a trophy, not what will protect you when it is needed.
  4. Consultants…our industry is full of them and most of them are full of s**t. When I looked into some of these martial arts idea gurus backgrounds they had a history of failed schools, don’t even run a school now and yet we are suppose to pay them big bucks for their advice? Come on. Someone got this idea back in the 1990’s that they can make money off of school owners who have no business background or marketing skills and ran with it. From that has exploded into associations that you pay a huge monthly fee to and you get pre-packaged ideas, yet when they don’t work for you then you better forget about a refund…it won’t happen.
  5. High ranking black belts who are self promoted…they are every where today! This has been going on for many years as I discovered in my research but that still doesn’t make it alright. An instructor who has no affiliation with their own Sensei (which, in all theory is the only one that can actually promote a student) gets all of their students together and has them “peer” promote them to 9th or 10th degree. Or a group of people who run schools (often frauds to begin with) get together and promote each other making it look legitimate on the certificates because they all have their new ranks listed on them under the myriad of instructors. Or the guy who pays some association that has never heard of him, met him, seen him train or teach, for a high ranking black belt and they send it to him…WBBB is a prime example of this happening.
  6. Bad MMA schools…let’s face it anyone can open a martial arts school and that goes double for MMA gyms. They are popping up in basements, backyards, civic centers and strip malls because MMA is the new fad and people want to cash on it. Nothing wrong with that right? Wrong. The majority of people running these MMA gyms have no actual rank in any of the martial arts they promote or they have never achieved rank high enough to understand how to teach others in them. Sure they may have done some “MMA” and fought in a few cage fights but that in now way qualifies them to open a gym nor teach it at all. Don’t even get me started on the morons who are black belts in MMA either…there is no such thing period.
  7. The Hall of Fame honors out there. Every time I log onto Facebook I see something from someone who just got “inducted” into some Hall of Fame. Sounds great right? Well coming from someone who was dumb enough to think those mattered once in their career I can tell you that anyone can get inducted into these if they pay for that honor. Two examples come to mind. One time I knew a guy who sent in for a hall of fame honor for his dog, yes his dog. He made up a resume, never listed anything about it being a canine, sent in the form, paid the fee and they inducted his dog as “Grand Master of the Year”! Then, while I was perusing a list of certain inductees into one of these Hall of Fame places, I came across 39 people that are known frauds (made up lies about rank and experience), 11 people from my own area that were given honors as teachers but they have never once taught anyone, and the worse part is I found 17 people who are serving time in jail for everything from tax evasion to sexual crimes! As you can see these places are just in it for the money.
  8. People teaching certain authentic martial arts but they are anything but said claim. There was a school in my area quite awhile ago that claimed to teach Tae Kwon Do. Since I have earned Master rank in two systems of Tae Kwon Do I can tell you they were not teaching it at all but rather some made up sport system with self created forms. Nothing they taught was even closely related to TKD at all. Upon investigation of the instructor it was seen he came from a kempo background, went to a certain TKD guy and was promoted to his 8th and 9th degree even though he didn’t nor had ever trained TKD. So he labeled what he does as TKD as if that made it legitimate…sorry but you are still a fraud regardless of who promoted you.
  9. The guy that keeps failing because he lies about his training background and ranks yet he runs from community to community to open a new school each time. There is one of them in a community about an hour from me. He has claimed to teach everything from “American Freestyle” (which isn’t a martial art style at all) all the way to Shotokan Karate which has never learned (as is evident by his Youtube videos of him perform even the most basic Katas). I have met and seen many people just like this guy. While most of them did earn a black belt at one time I guess that wasn’t good enough for them so they make up Frank Dux like backstories (See Bloodsport the movie) where they were trained by someone no one has ever heard of, or their own father who they claim was some sort of super spy or martial artist…yet no one has ever heard of them either. Then they buy rank from association, or make one up and promote themselves, all while lying to their students and teaching them incorrectly. These guys are always found out by their own students so in time they lose them, close up shop, move, wait a year and open another dojo claiming to teach some other martial art they have never actually learned. This happens quite often sadly.
  10. They guy who earned a black belt as a kid, or teenager, quit the arts and all of the sudden they open a school proclaiming 25 years of experience, but they only have 4 to 6! This one is so common it makes people who have trained for real sick. These people can’t even remember the basic principles of how to make a fist correctly yet they are going to teach students? Really? Needless to say the one who suffers the most is the student who is paying them for their lied experience.
  11. Self Defense experts who are anything but such! I have seen some of the absolute worst self defense advice ever on Youtube in the last few years. I have also witnessed people teaching self defense classes in my area who have no clue what actually happens when someone is attacked…heck I doubt the majority of them have ever even been in fight to be honest with you. Back in the 1990’s someone came up with an idea to build a “self defense” program that you could go to a weekend seminar for, pay a high fee and get “licensed” to teach. This program has spawned into all sorts of out dated, ineffective programs that just will not work…yet people pay thinking they are learning from an expert but in reality you are learning from someone who paid to get a certificate that says they took a weekend class. That is not an expert at all…oh and don’t even get me started on all the Krav Maga gurus out there who have no concept what Krav Maga actually is.

There are many more that I can list out here but I think you get the idea of what the real “BLACK EYE” on our industry is. How do we combat this type of thing? Well, honestly, there is nothing we can do because we live in a society where everyone runs to lawyers and make threats and sues. At one time this was less prevalent because, if you were a fraud and opened a school, you were guaranteed that someone was going to come and “test” you out. Today, if we did this, we would be arrested and in trouble. So the only solution is to ignore it and do our best to promote our own dojos, the legitimate arts and produce top quality students and black belts. That’s all one can do…but, if you are like me, and have been effected in your training by frauds you will not be shy to call BS when you see it and call out people for teaching it.

Steven Franz, Shihan
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan Rokudan

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2 thoughts on “The “Black Eye” of Martial Arts…

  1. I fully agree with your points. However, the person who used ‘black-eye’ in their e-mail to you got your attention with savvy marketing. Good on you to repeat and respond to the same article as it gave me a reason to read your article. I am currently enrolled in Douvris Karate in Ottawa, Canada which focuses on Chito Ryu style and point sparring. What are your thoughts on a dojo that focuses on sport vice traditional karate?

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    1. Honestly there is nothing wrong when a traditional school has a sport aspect to it as long as it is not the entire focus of the training (to win tournaments). There is so much more depth to traditional Karate that goes way beyond the sport side to it. Chito Ryu is a great style. Point sparring is all good but that is not self defense training and shouldn’t be confused with such. In my dojo we do several version of Kumite training which include Yakusoku (pre-arranged), Point Style, no gear with sweeps and throws but we do separate them from our self defense training (however the no gear sparring is very close to self defense). This being said I have witnessed some schools that are only about the sport. Trophies are everything to them, winning tournaments are what matters and that isn’t how traditional Karate is meant to be. Fumio Demura Sensei said “There is nothing wrong with Sport Karate but it should be only 10% of one’s training”. I agree with his statement.

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