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rec.martial-arts Newbie Guide
Section - 11 - The Dark Side of Martial Arts

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Though it is touched upon in other portions of this Guide, it's worth spending
some time looking specifically at the dark, seamy underbelly of Martial Arts.

This is the place where people take advantage of you.


First, let's look at the dreaded "McDojo."  These are usually schools who's 
sole goal is to part you from your money without ever imparting any real
Martial Arts knowledge.  These can sometimes be difficult to detect since part
of the successful money-student separation is to convince the student that
useful information is, in fact, being taught while devising ever more ways to
implement the money-student separation.

This separation is often achieved by having fee after fee after fee and 
required expenditures on and on and on.  For instance, schools that require
you to buy only their branded uniforms and gear, require you to sign long 
contracts, have no "move refund" option in their contract, or high-pressure 
sales pitches.  Another common tactic is to have numerous belt test 
requirements and sub-ranks, all with a fee, non-refundable if the student
"flunks" his test.  An example would be a school which has students ranked,
"Second Stripe, Decided, Green Belt" or similar.  These schools may also 
require weekend training trips.

Besides the red flags listed above, a few other's that may indicate a "McDojo"
include: Any school that promises you a Black Belt in under 3 years or
routinely produces Black Belts in 2 years.  Any school which seems to have
overly young or inexperienced experts (usually "Black Belts" or "Dan ranks") -
for example a school recently made the news, noteworthy because they had just
promoted a three year old toddler to "Black Belt" and they had a five year old
child as a 2nd Dan (second degree) "Black Belt."  


Another variation on the McDojo effect are Scams.  The number and variety of
scams are infinite, as any grifter can tell you.  However, the same grifter
will also tell you that the most effective usually seem to be variation on a
few basic themes.  In the Martial Arts world, one of these themes is the "Study
at Home" scam.  One reason this is such an effective scam is that it's very
similar in appearance to legitimate training aids.  The scam usually takes the
guise of an advertisement promising to impart vast knowledge and unbeatable
fighting skills with the purchase of a home study system, usually consisting of
Video Tapes or DVDs.  The home practitioner then "studies" these videos, takes
a test, sometimes written, sometimes by video taping himself and then mails it
back to the originator for "grading" along with a sum of money.  Naturally "rank"
is issued (usually the coveted "Black Belt") as well as a lead in for
additional "training."  Of course, the consumers have become somewhat more savvy
and this exact scam takes in fewer marks then it once did.  Another variation of
the scam is to simply not offer the "rank by mail," which is a dead give away.
Instead, the same "be an unbeatable killer" advertising is used to sell the
video material.  A third variation of this particular scam involves actual "live"
training.  A seminar is offered from which the attendees are guaranteed rank
(often teaching rank) in a new and unbeatable system.  These seminars are usually
short, only a couple of hours, and often attempt to make some tenuous link to
military combatives such as the Marines or the Special Forces (linking to the
"unbeatable" skill of military groups is another common "hook").

Another variation of martial arts scams are questionable training aids.  These 
are devices or machines which, through their use, supposedly will confer 
awesome capabilities to their users.  They frequently take the form of exercise
aids with vastly exaggerated claimed benefits.  Occasionally these devices can 
take the form of a machine or appliance which will "teach" your body to perform
some devastating "secret" technique.

The reason these scams are so successful is that they so closely mirror 
legitimate training aids.  Video's, books, and seminars, exercise devices, even 
weekend training camps, are all tools used by legitimate martial artists to 
enhance their skills and improve their understanding.  The critical difference 
is that the scams typically promise great gains, impressive skills, or rank 
for comparatively little investment of time.


Martial Arts hold a nearly unique place in society.  They are, at most basic
not related to any social, moral, or religious principles.  They are merely 
"martial," or "pertaining to war or combat skills."  Yet, at the same time, 
many are drenched in philosophy and the "mental" benefits cited range from 
improved self esteem all the way through metaphysical abilities.  Simply put,
mysticism in Martial Arts is not only accepted, but often EXPECTED.  Coupled
with the business or organizational structure of many Martial Arts, this 
produces a prime candidate for cult like organizations to spring up.  All of 
the required markers or precepts are easily applied.  For instance, the 
required attitude to "trust without question" a leader or central authority 
is readily accepted behavior in many Martial Arts.  Simply put, the instructor
knows what he's talking about, you should listen to what he says even if you
do not understand why.  Most often this is a safety or training issue.  The
experienced instructor knows that a certain way is safest or most likely to 
produce results.  That alone is no more proof that a certain Martial Art is a
cult than the requirement to follow orders instantly and without question is
evidence that the Army is a cult.  However, it does place an instructor in a 
position of power to abuse emotionally vulnerable people.  Though fortunately 
rare, cult like indicators have been seen including: 1) Complete emotional 
dependence upon a central authority figure  2) Accepting without question 
directives from a central authority figure  3) Isolation of group members and
restriction of their association to other group members exclusively, including 
communal living and breaking ties with family and close friends  4) Single
minded recruitment into the group  5) Relinquishing control of personal assets
to the central authority figure.  Of course, this is a short and perforce 
slightly vague list.  If you suspect someone may be becoming involved in a cult
of any sort, whether Martial Arts or otherwise, research the organization
thoroughly and consult a licensed mental health care professional.

Two examples of Martial Arts organizations that closely match cult profiles 
are: Chung Moo Do, and Kanzen Kenpo

Sexual Predators - Pedophiles and Power Abusers

Another area of concern for many people is that of sexual abusers.  This is 
generally of greatest concern to parents.  How can you know that the Instructor
is not a Pedophile?  The Martial Arts world frequently generate exactly the
recipe needed for a Pedophile to successfully engage in his preferred 
perversion: unsupervised access to children.  In fact, it's gone one better.
The instructor is, by default, placed in a position of authority and trust for
the child.  This danger can be doublely compounded by some standard activities
associated with Martial Arts such as weekend seminars in remote or isolated
areas and out of town, over-night, competitions.  Fortunately the safe-guards
for children in the Martial Arts are the same as for any other activity.  
Check the background of a potential instructor.  You can check with the local
Police Department for complaints or criminal history (a wise idea whatever the
case) as well as consulting databases (many of them "on-line") listing Sexual
Predators.  Ensure that the child is never alone and unsupervised.  Go with
your child to his classes (be sure to sit quietly to the side; take reading
material or a quiet hobby).  Many schools even have a special area where
parents can sit and watch the class.  Whenever your child has an out of town or
over-night function, accompany them or have a trusted adult accompany them.
Go with your child to watch his competitions.  It's an enjoyable spectator
event and will show your child that you support his interests.  Finally, pay
attention to your child.  Observe changes in behavior that might indicate
emotional trauma such as withdrawing from friends and family, hostility, or
depression.  Listen to your child and talk with them about the dangers of the
world and what is and is not acceptable conduct from others.  For further
tips and advice consult your local Police Department.

Sexual Power Abusers are not generally thought of in the context of a Martial
Arts instructor.  While the idea of a Boss at a work place or a Professor at 
a University being a sexual power abuser is fairly well accepted, often the 
idea of applying the same context to other authority figures is overlooked.  
Unfortunately some Martial Arts instructors have used their positions as an 
authority figure to prey sexually on their students.  This is a difficult 
subject.  On the one hand, most would agree that it is unethical for an 
instructor to use his position to influence or compel a student into a 
relationship with him.  On the other hand, if a student is an adult and is 
consenting, what harm?  The Martial Arts world is replete with stories of 
couples who met as Martial Arts instructor and student and then pursued a 
romantic relationship successfully outside of the school.  Further, some
students are actually attracted to the power and authority of a Martial Arts
instructor, much as some are attracted to athletes or politicians.  The best 
advice for adults is to be very careful and use common sense.  Naturally, if
an instructor (or even a fellow student) is making unwanted advances, tell 
them that you are not interested.  Be polite but clear and firm.  You're not
interested in pursuing a relationship beyond mutual adherents of a Martial
Art.  If the unwanted advances continue, your road narrows somewhat.  If the
advances are from a fellow student or Assistant Instructor, go to the Primary
Instructor and explain the situation.  Ask him to help you and to talk to the 
offending person.  Chances are this has happened before and the instructor may
not have known about it.  Regardless, most instructors are wary of law suits.
If, on the other hand, the unwelcome advances are from the Chief Instructor or
Owner then your only recourse may be to simply leave that school and seek
instruction elsewhere.  You may be able to file a complaint if the school is a
member of a larger national or international organization but do not count on
this curing anything.  Some organizations may take steps to chastise or even 
revoke the instructor's membership, other organizations may do nothing.  Unless
a crime, such as rape has occurred, the legal system will probably be little 
help.  Over all, your best option may simply be to seek instruction elsewhere.

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM