Thursday, November 23, 2006

Cults and Quackery

In the US, there exists no governing body that specifically oversees the operation of martial arts schools. No certification, teaching license, or documented credentials of any kind are required to become a martial arts teacher. In other words, anyone can open a school and bestow upon themselves any title or rank they wish without intervention. Some instructors have claimed knowledge to secret techniques (okugi) that have roots to ninpo (ninja ways), yamabushi, or other esoteric warrior sects that typically have little to do with real combatics or anything useful. Dim mak (death-touch), hypnosis, or other magic tricks that are hawked are the stuff of snake oil salesmen, not real martial artists. Wackos that try selling this claptrap prey upon the weak and gullible and usually have no difficulty finding them. In my opinion, there's not much of a difference between a charismatic quack sensei and a pseudo-religious cult leader. Both types have an unquenchable desire to control, dominate, and eventually abuse their disciples. Quite often, these students lack so much self-esteem that they have no clue they're being manipulated and project unconditional authority onto a teacher with a distorted purpose and agenda.

"Train here and only here - this is the only art you'll ever need" is a common slogan of the cult school. A few years ago, somebody wisely left a kung fu/aikido "temple" when things got too weird. Dissenting from the Order was not taken lightly, and some of its loyal followers actually broke into this guy's house through his skylights in the middle of the night to illustrate he was still in dire need of self-defense guidance. Fortunately. he was able to fend them off with a sidearm and a call to 911, but he was badly shaken from the ordeal. Pathological cultists, like real martial artists, can be extremely dangerous.

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Blogger Mathieu said...

Wow, freaks!


8:57 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

I remeber in the seventies a guy who studied just long enough to learn three kata then left.

Later in a town not to far from Camp Lejeune/Jacksonville NC I saw a dojo and stopped to visit and lo-n-behold here was that student running a commercial dojo as a Ju-dan; master of such and such style I had never heard of.

Charlatans abound in all types of endeavors.

1:12 PM  
Blogger frotoe said...

that is so creepy. Especially since they will get students who will totally buy into their BS and become just as freaky as their faux-sensei.
I know. I'm stating the obvious...

7:57 AM  
Blogger Colin Wee said...

There is a huge difference between issues of governance and quackery; though sometimes that is debatable.

I think some governance may actually be beneficial to the martial arts industry. Over the last few years I've applied some discipline on my own documentation and training methods, and I have been very happy with the results.

Quackery on the other hand, is rife in the MA industry. Does martial arts breed people who can't think for themselves? Does it breed people who don't follow rational thinking? And why would people fork over money for quackery?

... and yet I'm still slugging away with a small club and no money. Can't be happening!


8:57 AM  
Blogger BWTKD said...

Small Club, no money, and I thought I was the only one! :-)

I think this conversation has swayed away from the Cultist Schools and more towards the “black belt by mail” instructors.

There are many national organizations that will sell you a formula for a financially successful martial arts schools. The question is, “are you willing to apply the formula to your school?” Or will it turn your school into something other then what you want to teach? (Birthday parties, belt factory, over priced contracts etc. This works for some people, but it turns me off.)

I have had my own school for about 6 years now, after the 3 year mark, I realized that unless a new student comes in on referral, that people sign up first on location, second on schedule, and third on price. A small percentage of prospective martial arts students actually shop around and make a choice based on the instructor or even style.

Joe WhiteBelt from the street knows almost nothing, and typically doesn’t even know what to ask to ID a good school. It’s unfortunate most people put more research into buying a digital camera, then they do a martial arts school.


6:42 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

...why would people fork over money for quackery?

I realize your question is tongue-in-cheek. Why indeed? Nobody wants to believe their instructor is less than sincere, or worse, an imposter who has a few screws loose. I mentioned that these hucksters find their victims, but in actuality, they find each other. Such is fate.
I checked out that link. I've never heard of the book Herding the Moo, but I'm familiar with similar accounts. It's both incredible and utterly sad that these things can happen to decent people.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Becky G said...

I was once on an e-group with an 18 year old. He'd been studying martial arts for 6 years, and had trained in some 25 different styles. However, he hadn't stuck with any one style long enough to really learn anything. Suddenly, here he was with his own style "combining the 500,000 techniques he'd learned throughout his 6 years of training" into his own style and calling himself Grandmaster Soke and wearing the rank of Ju-dan. All someone had to do was to ask him who awarded him his rank, and he left the group in a huff, never to be heard from again.

Not long ago, we had a blue belt open a dojo in our town. He couldn't keep any students, though, and had to close it down. He came to our dojo once, not to join the class, but to try to persuade sensei to let him teach. I guess he wanted a ready made dojo, complete with students. Sensei told him he had to be a black belt to teach in his dojo.

As for cultic dojos, I'm familiar with someone who has gone through that very thing only recently.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Colin Wee said...

"Suddenly, here he was with his own style "combining the 500,000 techniques he'd learned throughout his 6 years of training" into his own style and calling himself Grandmaster Soke..."

Actually that's run-of-the-mill. I've seen a group online that uses self defence skills taught to them by ALIENS. You got it ... someone from another planet visited the founder and taught him this complete fighting system.


10:46 AM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

Sounds like a freak show! Cult indeed.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does martial arts breed people who can't think for themselves? Does it breed people who don't follow rational thinking?

I wonder about these things myself. How many of us have seen the same accounts of what Soke did here or there, almost word-for-word in various books, all of them "thoroughly researched" -- repeating the same errors and falsehoods to yet another martial arts generation?


One of my goals is to someday write, or edit together, a compilation of Isshinryu history complete with footnotes and comparisons and contrasts, charting all the rival and cooperative factions....then I take a deep breath.... :-)

In contrast, the study of a martial art should serve as a touchstone to open one's mind to more possibilities, to think more for one's self. Obviously, this is applicable to bunkai, but I think it is also a good habit for thinking about life and experiences. Turn it around in your head, what do you see?


5:18 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Here's a story you'll like: William Chow, the famous grandmaster of Hawaiian kenpo, was asked in an interview years ago for Black Belt magazine what his rank was. 15th degree black belt! Apparently, he promoted himself. He also liked to call himself Professor, but when asked in what field, he would reply with something unintelligible.
Aliens, huh? You know, it's funny, but those Star Wars movies have more martial arts lore and references in them than most martial arts flicks.
Actually, prior to Shimabuku's appointment as karate instructor to US marines in the 50s, accounts of his life seem to be sketchy. With that said, people tend to fill in the blanks with whatever they want. Martial arts history is full of embellishments and it gets bought. Good luck with that research.

1:09 AM  
Blogger Mir said...

I can see how something like martial arts can be warped, and used in a cultish manner. It's sad, but it happens. Let's hope that it doesn't happen often.

4:12 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

It happens. The remedy is awareness and common sense. If you get a chance, check out Gordon's Cultist Schools link above. Scary.

12:21 AM  

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