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How To Identify Problematic Martial Arts Instruction

Discussion in 'The Martial Arts Forum' started by Roundeyesamurai, Oct 24, 2005.

  1. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    Hi all, this is a small project I have been working on for awhile. Feel free to repost/email this article, as long as it remains unaltered.

    Hope it's helpful!

    ----------

    Warning Signs For Identifying Problematic Martial Arts Instruction

    Developed by 'Roundeyesamurai'

    Feel free to contact me:

    Roundeyesamurai (roundeyesamurai AT gmail.com)

    Glock Talk Martial Arts Forum (My Cyber-Home!):
    http://glocktalk.com/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=150

    This article may be distributed freely, so long as it remains unaltered from its original form (including header information).

    General:

    1) Identify the instructor's reputation in the community. A number of former students who have had bad experiences with the instructor is a good indication that he is potentially problematic;

    2) "If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Usually Is";

    3) "Trust Your Gut" with regards to impressions of an instructor upon meeting them. The meeting should not sound like a sales pitch, a recruitment speech, etc.

    4) Take a trial class. Make particular note of whether the instructor (or an assistant) pays special attention to you. As a beginner, you require special attention. Avoid any school which refuses to allow you (or charges a fee for) a trial class.

    Incompetent Instructors:

    1) Does not actively discourage horseplay in the school;

    2) Students and instructor demonstrate poor discipline and/or lack professional conduct, or instructor does not appear to demonstrate a high level of capability with his method. This high level should be readily apparent, even to a novice;

    3) Demonstrates difficulty in communicating information and concepts to students. This is especially apparent if the instructor blames a student for an inability to understand the material, since this indicates that the instructor is incapable of teaching it appropriately;

    4) Allows students to wear jewelry in class, keep beverages or food in or near the training area, or allows gym bags or other clutter to remain on the training floor where they may pose an injury hazard;

    5) Attempts to demonstrate techniques or concepts and makes mistakes obvious to novices (falling over, hitting himself with a weapon, etc.);

    6) Obviously lacks teaching ability;

    7) Screams at and/or berates students;

    8) Sounds as though he is "making up" information that he communicates to the students.

    Fraudulent Credentials/ Illegitimately Held Rank:

    1) Refuses to provide, or demurs from providing, proof of credentials. Refuses to give verifiable specifics of his training (dates, locations, styles, instructors, etc.). Take accurate notes and verify the notes. Google search is a good way to verify credentials, as are martial arts discussion boards;

    2) Refers to self and/or requires/requests students to refer to him using honorifics ("Soke", "Hanshi", etc.). The only appropriate title should be an instructor's title, such as "Sensei" in Japanese martial arts, "Sifu" in Chinese martial arts, "Guro" in Filipino martial arts, and so forth. Advanced titles or honorifics MUST be supported with verifiable credentials. Instructors titles should not be used in self-reference ("Hello, I'm Sensei John Smith"), or be used as title on letterhead, business cards, etc.;

    3) Makes claims of work as a bodyguard, mercenary, soldier of fortune, or similar prior occupation, or makes claims of military or police service without supplying proof of such service (form DD214 for US military service, etc.);

    4) Makes claims about himself which resemble movie or television scripts. If he sounds like a candidate for a movie-of-the-week or an 80s action movie, he's probably lying (unless he can prove it).

    5) Claims to personally know celebrities, especially martial arts celebrities, without providing proof of such association. Claims to "have beaten" a celebrity. Employs "name-dropping". Displays multiple "glamour shots" type photographs of himself.

    6) Claims championship status in martial arts competition, without providing verification. Titles such as "National Champion" should be viewed as especially suspicious, unless verified. Remember, many competitions are held internally, where a small association of schools will host frequent competitions solely for the purpose of awarding such titles to their instructors. Use of internet search engines such as Google for verification of status is an efficient way to determine the validity of the claim and the veracity of the competition.

    7) Fails the Bullshido check. Bullshido.com is an excellent website devoted to exposing martial arts frauds. If the instructor is listed as fraudulent on Bullshido, he is most likely fraudulent.

    8) Claims to teach multiple martial arts or has created "his own style". This is a difficult concept to express to novices, especially due to the fact that many legitimate schools teach more than one method, especially schools of Mixed martial arts, and some very competent instructors have "their own style", as well. Persons with extensive experience in the martial arts community are often able to easily discern whether claims of teaching multiple styles are fraudulent or not, and it would be prudent to seek their advice. Bullshido.com is an excellent resource for this, as well, as are martial arts discussion boards.

    9) Instructor shows off his "prowess" by physically abusing students during training; conversely, instructor refuses to exercise with students because he is "too deadly" and may injure them;

    10) Instructor claims to have "secret" material, knowledge, techniques, etc. that he keeps closely-guarded.

    Excessively Business-Oriented Instructors/Schools:

    1) Maintains an abundance of ranks/grades and/or an elaborate heirarchal system (multiple stripes on belts, etc.), especially if the instructor hosts frequent promotion examinations (monthly "testing day", etc.);

    2) Requires additional fees for participation in certain types of training (fees for sparring sessions, or additional tuition for weapons classes, etc.). Fees should consist solely of a single tuition paid regularly, and a (minimal) one-time Association membership fee. Tuition should not increase with increases in one's rank. Ensure that the "association" is not a construct of the owner, i.e. "association dues" go directly into his pocket. This is a common scam. Likewise, having "clubs" or sub-classes which require additional dues, or services rendered (such as promotion of the school), should be avoided;

    3) School offers incentives for promoting the school, such as discounted tuition in exchange for referring friends to the school, or a "club" membership in exchange for assisting in distributing flyers, etc.;

    4) Children or adolescents hold instructor ranks/grades, regardless of whether or not they are actually instructing;

    5) School places advertisements in local media. This includes leaving business cards, flyers, advertisements in local circulars, telemarketing, TV advertisements, etc. As a rule, the only acceptable "advertisement" is listing in the telephone book;

    6) School has excessive embellishments, such as ethnic ("Oriental") exterior features, mock gardens, elaborate interior decorations, etc.;

    7) School pays a tithe to an association or to instructor's superior(s);

    8) Individual students' Association membership requires regular renewal (with a fee paid). This is commonly found when the "association" is, in reality, an additional fee placed by the school owner, and the "association" consists solely of his own students.

    9) Owner regularly delegates instruction duties to subordinates;

    10) Owner requires participation in outside activities as a condition of membership or advancement (this includes tournaments).

    Sexually Predatory Instructors:

    1) Instructor is overly familiar with the students, especially if the overfamiliarity includes humor deprecatory of students. Example: Instructor has pet names for students, especially if pet names are vaguely derogatory (i.e. "Doofus").

    2) Instructor acts in an overly sexual/suggestive manner with students. Examples are excessive physical contact, massages, pats on the buttocks, etc.

    3) Instructor frequently encourages extramural socialization of the students, especially on the school premises. Examples include regular late-night parties.

    4) Instructor insists on frequent travel, requiring overnight stays out-of-town or travel with an individual student. This includes frequent travel to tournaments.

    5) Instructor has living accommodations at or very near the school-

    A few instructors actually do maintain living accommodations in or near their school, usually for reason of traditionalism (historically, teachers in Japan made their schools in their homes) or convenience. However, this living space should remain private- invitations into this living space should be viewed skeptically.

    6) Instructor offers "special classes" which are private, especially if said classes are taught behind curtains, or late at night, etc.

    7) Instructor offers unusual amenities, especially if amenities require or encourage nudity or provocative situations (such as saunas, or massage tables, or napping areas).

    8) Instructor maintains alcohol or controlled substances on premises.

    9) Instructor demonstrates unprofessional behavior, such as "ogling".

    10) Instructor spends more training time correcting or "adjusting" students of the opposite sex than students of the same sex.
     
  2. SmartOne

    SmartOne GoingIn CoverMe

    122
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    Nov 17, 2003
    ;Q You forgot one: 'Instructor requires all female judoka to remove their gi and practice kata - naked! ;f

    Seriously, though, 'back in the day' I used to ask about cost; then, I'd watch a class; if I still had a question I ask to go a few rounds with the instructor(s) who taught the class I was interested in. I'll never know why; but, some of the best instructors had rather confusing backgrounds and somewhat screwed up personal lives, too - BUT you, sure as Hell, wouldn't want to mix it up with any of them!

    (I always thought this was because the best of them simply loved violence too much. I know; I know. It's not supposed to be that way; but, in the real world ... )

    I, also, found that, 'credentials' often don't mean all that much. Especially when it comes to a discipline like Okinawan Gung Fu or Tai Chi Chuan. A lot of these guys have been trained in city parks and parking lots by older oriental immigrants who had little else to offer than their acquired skills. The best Tai Chi instructor I've ever known started training as a boy in Hawaii, back in the 50's. He studied for FREE with that old, Chinese 'professor' (Henry Lee?) who used to park cars at the Hilton for a living.

    The genuine article is the genuine article. You'll know it when it knocks you on your duff, throws you across the room, or repairs a pulled muscle by simply rubbing it for awhile! ;)
     


  3. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    walangkatapat- thanks!

    SmartOne: "The real deal is the real deal, and you'll know him when you see him" is a great statement, and it is true (I was trying to convey this in a efw of my points).

    The difficulty with credentials is this: They really don't matter, if the person is looking for "the toughest guy around", etc. For those who want to study martial arts for historical or cultural understanding, then credentials are extremely important. Likewise, for a person who wants to study as a social exercise, the warnings about sexually predatory instructors are important, but for a male in an all-male boxing club, probably not as important.

    I really want this to be as broadly applicable as possible- whether it is read by the senior citizen getting into Tai Chi, or the young lady getting into a kickboxing class for fitness, or the middle-aged guy getting into Iaido as an intellectual exercise, or the young scrapping male getting into Karate or Judo because he wants to fight.

    My next project will be about identifying excellent instructors, in whatever field someone wants to get into. That will obviously take alot more time, but I wanted to start circulating this first. When in doubt, approach things from a triage perspective- deal with the worst cases first, and then move to the less-critical stuff.

    BTW- I know a few female judoka whose keikogi I would love to remove... ;f
     
  4. mhill

    mhill

    861
    0
    Dec 7, 2001
    St. Louis, MO
    This is a good list. However I would not toss any school out of contention for a few of these issues.
    In a perfect world I would agree with all of your criteria. But this isn't a perfect world and I would submit that the following pieces are not that important.


    I don't have a problem with this if the instructor is truely accomplished at his style. Some instructors get tired of paying all of their testing fees to a higher organization and strike out on their own.

    This is actually pretty normal protocal. It's certainly no reason to discount a school. There are schools who teach many different things and some things may require a seperate fee. I have no problem with this. This shouldn't be something a regular student is expected to participate in.

    All of these things are somewhat normal. While not desirable I would not discount a school just because it's trying to expand and draw students. Almost all schools pay something to their governing body. I don't know how you get around that without opening your own school.

    I will add a couple more red flags. A school where the instructors put on multiple demonstrations a year breaking bricks and boards. Any instructor that cheats in any way in breaking boards and bricks. Not like you will ever know. In fact I would be extremely cautious going to any school that broke bricks regularly.

    Just my opinion.
    mhill
     
  5. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    MHill-

    Thank you for your very considerate reply!

    The multiple martial arts thing was somewhat difficult to word- and, of course, read in a particular way, I'd be disqualifying myself, as well.

    What I am trying to get at, are the schools that advertise as teaching "Karate, Kung Fu, Hapkido, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Gymnastics, Kali, Escrima..." you get the idea. The schools where the instructor spent a few months each at several other schools, and then calls himself an "instructor" (and frequently calls his method "his own style"). There are numerous examples to be found anywhere. Since novices are going to have basically no way to authenticate credentials, the safest course (that I could determine) was to make the statement I did- and tempering it with "you'll know the real deal when you see it".

    As far as the monetary aspect- probably the biggest problem in commercial martial arts today is the money trap scheme. The easiest way to identify the money trap scheme is by the fact that they charge a multitude of fees, and these fees increase over time. On this one, I'm erring on the side of caution.

    This also extends to promotion of the school- advertisements are one thing; however, requiring (or all but requiring) students to help promote the school is part and parcel of the money trap scheme.

    I like the suggestion about breaking- if it's cool with you, may I add it? I'd want to think about how I would word it first.
     
  6. bunkerbuster

    bunkerbuster

    129
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    Mar 22, 2005
    CO/CA
    Most of those dumb as* masters gives bad reputations to martial arts.

    Let's tar em!

    :)
     
  7. mhill

    mhill

    861
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    Dec 7, 2001
    St. Louis, MO
    Agreed. I didn't quite know what you were getting at. Feel free to add my stuff.

    mhill
     
  8. kruger

    kruger

    50
    0
    Dec 28, 2001
    Springfield, OR
    Great idea. A few comments for your consideration...

    Small, occasional errors are understandable... especially in paired practice. Examples: An omote techinque at speed is being demonstrated and the interaction between partners predicates ura. Demonstrating tai-otoshi and nage stumbles at the end.

    Repeated errors and complete screw-ups, yes. Demonstrating ikkyo and insisting that it is shiho-nage would be a good example. Repeated inability to get good sound, and therefore demonstrating good hasuji, while performing shomen cuts with an iaito that has bo-hi would be another example.

    I practice iaido with a local Western Region Aikikai instructor. There is a yearly membership. Should I be suspicious of the instructor and Chiba sensei? Part of my judo fees, at another dojo, go toward my yearly USJA membership. Is the USJA suspect?

    Perhaps this item could be rewritten to indicate that the membership fees go somewhere nebulous or to an obscure organization.

    I see this all the time at big dojos. Now, if the dojo is sensei and a handful of students: yes, there is something odd. If the dojo has scores of students and multiple classes (kids classes, beginners, advanced, weapons, etc.), then delegating some of the duties makes sense.

    Respectfully,
    Mark Kruger
     
  9. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    Mark- thanks, and I may modify some of the wording in a few of my statements-

    With regards to mistakes, I was basically trying to describe a "buffoon". I think I could probably get away with using the term "buffoon", and still maintain a professional demeanor in the text (LOL).

    Re: Association membership- Trying to avoid overcomplicating the matter for novices, I left out terms such as "large national/internation organization", because I can imagine many novices scratching their heads and asking "what constitutes large"? Or, for that matter, "obscure".

    As a personal opinion, yes, I find it contemptable to require continual renewing of "association membership". To me, it's another moneymaking gimmick. If someone has 1,000 members of their "association", and each pays $25 a year, and what they get in exchange is a new 50-cent membership card, then whomever is collecting the funds gets (after the expense of producing the cards and mailing them) like $18,000 a year, on top of whatever other income he generates on his own.

    Re: Delegating instruction duties- You're right, I need to reexamine that. I'm condemning school owners who cease teaching and delegate virtually all of the instruction to others (usually to people who are, themselves, paying tuition to him).

    I think probably the best thing I can do is insert a caveat about the school displaying multiple warning signs from the list- one might be an acceptable thing, but a few of them should be suspicious.

    I appreciate all the feedback I am getting from everyone here, and I'll soon be posting a revised final edition of the text. Thanks!
     
  10. kruger

    kruger

    50
    0
    Dec 28, 2001
    Springfield, OR
    I would give novices a little bit more credit. Hopefully they would be able to tell the difference between "insert-martial-art federation" and "grand soke master sifu council of the known universe" with a little help from google.

    An association can be a money making gimmick. It depends on what the association provides. If it provides a membership card only, then you are absolutely right. The fee could also help underwrite seminars or tournaments, provide some monetary buffer for dojos, provide medical and liability insurance, or similar things. When the association is the doing the latter, something useful is being done with the money (in my opinion).

    Respectfully,
    Mark Kruger
     
  11. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    Adult novices getting into it for themselves, absolutely.

    Then again, soccer moms putting the kids into TKD are a different matter- and I don't know about other areas, but around me scam schools abound.

    In fact, with the money trap scheme, part of what makes it work is the fact that parents will continue to pay increasingly, because they don't want to remove their kids from the school and "break their hearts", so to speak.
     
  12. Cmoosh

    Cmoosh Nothing here :D

    47
    0
    Oct 18, 2005
    Texas
    Good thread Roundeyesamurai, pretty helpful
     
  13. G33

    G33 Frisky! Millennium Member CLM

    28,097
    2,061
    May 29, 1999
    With G29
    Nice, Round One.

    I remember a transfer to one town.
    Did my dojo search.
    This one instructor/owner was clearly American white male.
    He used a Korean accent in front of class!
    When I got him alone I asked.
    He said that it made his students feel good?
    Kid you not.


    On the positive side, I met Jhoon Rhee.
    Nice gentleman.
    Let me work out for just a mat fee.

    I used to use that approach--mat fee.
    It told me alot about the school/instructor.

    FWIW;f <-----squinty eye smilie.
     
  14. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    G, sounds like you had a run-in with BULLSHIDO!

    I've met Rhee too, cool guy (for a TKD dude ;f )
     
  15. Ffolkes

    Ffolkes

    623
    8
    Oct 29, 2002
    Canada
    On the other hand, for some of these kids going to a Taek-your-dough school may be the only exercise they get all week. And it's not like they're learning anything that can be used to hurt anybody. ;)
    __
    ffolkes
     
  16. G33

    G33 Frisky! Millennium Member CLM

    28,097
    2,061
    May 29, 1999
    With G29
  17. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    Note to self: Remember the term "Taek-Your-Dough".
     
  18. Roundeyesamurai

    Roundeyesamurai Sensei Member

    543
    0
    Jul 15, 2004
    Upstate New York
    Ralph Severe's school?

    Go do a Bullshido search!

    EDIT: Without sounding too harsh, Ralph is by all accounts a pretty decent instructor. However, being a heavy-set guy teaching "Ninja Groundfighting" on mail-order video opens him up to alot of criticism.