Martial Arts Organizations
by Jim Barry

Today, there are many Martial Arts Organizations available to perspective Martial Artists. What do they do? What is their purpose?

Recently I've read many negative comments about these organizations being diploma mills - and worse. These people should hope that they never find themselves a situation such as when their own teacher no longer teaches or worse yet, their teacher passes away. Some may be teaching their own unique methods, which can leave the instructor isolated from his own sensei. With that in mind, an instructor may be limited in his ability to rank students for promotions because he himself, cannot be promoted above his current rank because he has no one to promote him.

Dan ranks are often denied because an instructor has refused to be part of the political nonsense that seems to be inherent in Martial Arts today - thereby rendering teachers with 20+ years experience abandoned at very low teacher rankings. Would you be willing to remain part of something you no longer believe in? As an instructor you are responsible to the students you teach - you are their mentor and they look up to you. What will happen after you have had many years of training and you want to change things? What if you want to change techniques and/or requirements for rank? In addition, what if you n longer want to be part of the politics and limitations your current system has forced upon you? What happens to you if the "politicians" in your system are not in agreement with the changes you want to make? For reasons such as these, you may want to become part of an organization that will be open minded with regard to policies and procedures for running your school, while still being able to meet requirements for rank promotions.

No matter what style you teach or study, at some point, if you truly are on the right path, you will be taught things you just do not agree with. In many cases, I have seen students, after only a few years of training, surpass their own instructors, not only in technique, but in theory and moral character as well. Should these individuals forever be stuck passing on the misinformation they have been taught just to be to a part of something they can no longer in good conscience respect? Should you not be able to pass on to your students what you truly believe?

For these reasons, Martial Arts organizations do have a very valid purpose. They (in theory) exist to rank teachers who truly need it. They offer help and advice when an instructor has no one to turn to. Martial Arts organizations are a great way to meet many instructors from other diverse arts. In addition, they provide a venue for training, learning and sharing knowledge with others.

There is no doubt that, sometimes, people do slip through the cracks within these associations and occasionally, ranks are given to people who do not deserve them. What does this mean, exactly? What do such people do with these ranks?

Martial Arts organizations are not the only institutions that create such unwanted situations. In support of this contention I ask you to evaluate the system or school you are a part of now. Do you see higher ranks that lack the experience, knowledge or ability of yourself or others? Have you seen relatively young instructors who hold the rank of 9th or 10th Dan? Have you seen people of high rank who lack any semblance of integrity and moral character? Have you seen people with teacher’s ranks for which they never have been tested?

It appears that all to often, the ability to perform techniques no longer is a requirement for promotion to ranks beyond black belt. Time in grade appears to be the only tangible criteria in many cases - which is flawed at the very least. According to this school of thought, all martial artists (who live long enough) will eventually be promoted to the rank of 10th dan, which is ridiculous. In addition, it seems that even time in grade requirements for rank are not adhered to.

Furthermore, there are systems that have no set requirements for rank after Shodan at all - it is at the whim of the highest-ranking instructors as to who gets what promotion and when. Why do these individuals not realize that not promoting deserving instructors eventually will cause the demise of their own lineage?

Requirements for rank should be stated clearly, strictly adhered to, and apply to everyone who meets the requirements! What about 4th, 5th or even 6th Dan-ranked assistant instructors who never have had their own school? Keep in mind that these are teaching ranks and yet these people have never taught students without being under the watchful eye of their own instructor. At some point, these individuals should be be kicked out of the nest and all future promotions put on hold until the individual has become firmly established as an self sufficient teacher in his own right. This does not mean breaking away from your own instructor, but rather operation your won school should be looked upon as further training after a black belt, and as a requirement for promotion to higher ranks.

Attending class at your sensei’s dojo night after night, waiting to meet your time requirement to pass by so that you become eligible for your next  rank is ridiculous! I believe that ANY instructor who cares about their students, school and system should do whatever is necessary to legitimately promote students the ranks they deserve. What would happen if your student want to open a school of their own someday? Will they be able to legitimately promote their own students? In short, restricting access to fair and legitimate rank is not fair to them. It also does not help you, as a school owner, to retain students who have not been promoted for many years. Sure, we all know that belt ranks should not be the reason for training in the martial arts - but assuming we are speaking about a good student, lets face it… students who have been at the rank of 1st Dan for ten years just is not right. It is fair to say that you will lose at least some students with this scenario, and it also doesn't make students feel as if they are a part of something worthwhile if their own sensei is being grossly neglected by the system. At the worst extreme, this situation can lead to a student doubting the credibility of their own sensei when they see his superiors showing no interest or concern for the needs of subordinates in the system.

Will others in your system accept you at the rank the association has certified you at? Maybe not. However, if your system was took care of its members in the first place, this issue would never be a factor.

The bottom line is this: Martial Arts organizations are necessary.

However, it is not possible to eliminate and weed out every last hacker! How could it be, given that most very legitimate individual systems/styles cannot always weed these people out. Perhaps surprisingly, most legitimate Martial Arts organizations do not hand out undeserved ranks very often and if they do it rarely is intentional. Most organizations investigate reports of fraudulent instructors claiming fictitious ranks and expel the individual if the claims are substantiated.

If in fact, the number of non-legitimate instructors is so wide spread, why is it fairly rare that this is made public? It's not that other martial artists are not willing to report these phonies, it's that, luckily, most Martial Artists are honest people. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? The few who do slip through the cracks eventually come to realize that they lack the knowledge and skill to fool anyone for very long, and just will eventually fade away.

Hackers are out there… no question about that. However, how much time and effort should be spent on exposing these people? Who is going to do it? Maybe it is punishment enough that, every time they look at their certificates, they know they did not earn them. For me, I would rather use my time teaching, practicing and learning. Fraudulent and questionable martial artists have always been with us - and probably always will be. Phil Porter often said: "everyone knows who can dance"… and I agree. Everyone can recognize a good martial artist and instructor regardless of his affiliations! Let us stop bickering over what is legitimate and what is not, and let the individual's character and skill in the dojo tell the story.

So if you are interested in finding a good Martial Arts organization, what should you look for?

Speak with people who are members and ask them how they feel about their association. Ask questions like: What are the requirements and policies? Who are the principals? How many members are there? How does this organization actually rank members? I also recommend that you directly contact the officers of these organizations. Do these individuals seem to have the same beliefs and values as you, since to be a part something that is inconsistent with what you feel doesn't make sense.

All ranks should be awarded only after actual evaluation. Higher ranks are based to a large degree on service to the arts and contribution to the betterment and spread of the arts. All candidates for rank promotion should have met the published time in grade requirements or in the case of a very rare and outstanding martial artist, time in grade may be reduced by one half. Most legitimate organizations rarely (if ever) allow their members to skip ranks, so this can be an important clue that speaks to the legitimacy of that group.

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