Thursday, September 24, 2015

Self-Defense? Or Just a Trophy?

After training in Okinawa/Japanese karate, kobudo, self-defense, samurai arts, and jujutsu for a half of a century, it never ceases to amaze me that there are martial arts schools handing out black belts to people who have little idea of how to defend themselves. I don't know if this is just a mis-understanding by their instructors, or if there are that many martial arts schools teaching bad curriculum. Anyway, after stopping for breakfast at a cafe near Home Depot in Mesa just west of Country Club and north of Baseline this past September (2015), my wife and I dropped into a nearby store. The owner noticed I was wearing a martial arts shirt and told me about her kids. She and her husband sent them to a martial arts school where then learned sport karate, won trophies and earned 2nd degree black belts before being bullied in school and finding they had no idea how to defend themselves. I was shocked to hear this, but I've heard similar stories. In fact, I was just talking to a member at Lifetime Fitness. This person had signed up with her two kids to take Taekwondo and paid fees for 2nd degree black belts, and she indicated she too, had little idea of how to defend herself. She said they were never taught what to do if a mugger walks up and grabs them, puts a knife to their throat, or a gun to their head. This is not unusual in the sport martial arts.

Gun defense training at the Arizona Hombu Dojo in Mesa
I grew up in martial arts, and never heard of such thing as paying in advanced for a martial arts rank - this is a new marketing ploy by many martial arts schools. Most never reach the yudansha (black belt) level: it's not that they can't attain a black belt, its just that few people have the necessary commitment. When people start in martial arts, they need to understand it is a lifelong endeavor and they need to train for the rest of their lives, teach martial arts, and be active. Possibly, this whole problem with a lack of ability to defend oneself, or having a doubts, goes back to the Japanization of Okinawa karate.

Several years ago, I taught an all-day self-defense clinic to a group of Taekwondo martial arts instructors and school owners from western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho who ranked from 1st degree black belt to 5th degree black belt and it was the first time any of them had been introduced to self-defense! Yes, they could all compete for trophies, had great kicks, but they were unsure of themselves when it came to someone grabbing them, etc. Over the years, I've had many black belts come in to learn karate after being in other systems. Most do not come with an open mind and it takes time to change their sport karate bias (if they last long enough). But I've had students from taekwondo and kempo karate stay in our system and become successful and positive martial artists: one is now writing books about martial arts and another received a shihan license from me a few years ago.

About 3 to 4 years ago, I had two 1st degree black belts from a Mesa taekwondo school sign up for our traditional karate classes because they wanted to learn how to use their hands, even though they had great kicks. I never studied taekwondo, so, I honestly do not know that much about the martial art, but this was one of the more unusual requests I had received.

We also heard from another from Dallas who indicated he was frustrated at the schools in the area. They all required contracts (none were cheap) and each guaranteed their kids would earn a certain black belt within a specific time frame. In my experience, each person is different and takes a different amount of time to reach certain levels that cannot be guaranteed, but so much for that.

We often hear stories like this and its because some people teaching do not have credentials, others have a diploma from the Kick, Punch and Block karate association or something similar, and many others have little experience, but are good as selling used cars and contracts for martial arts students. About 80 to 90% of the instructors teaching karate, MMA, etc., have few of any qualifications. So beware!

So, when you are looking to start classes at any school, ask to see the instructors diplomas and find out if they have really trained in martial arts and whether they either purchased a diploma or self-promoted themselves. 

And for a very simple method to check out the instructor and school - just do a 'BING' and a 'GOOGLE' search on the instructor, the school, the type of martial art and the martial arts association. If it still sounds good to you, sign up.

Otherwise, you may be the next 2nd degree black belt who can't defend themselves on campus or on the street.

Here are some videos I recommend watching - particularly women who are looking for self-defense training:

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