This guy who wrote this article runs Team Bison. Team Bison is a group of MMA and CSW fighters who train only to fight. If I get back in the scene I would most likely head here to train as training is free as long as you train to fight. WARNING: LONG ARTICLE BELOW (But it is a great read!) Traditional Martial Arts: Belts, Bowing and BSSometimes the term Martial Arts makes me want to laugh. It should summon up pride and images of tough men of high moral character. But most often it summons to my mind weak willed, unhealthy bodies inadequate men playing at being warriors. To be specific I’m talking about the majority (not all) but the majority of martial arts dojos out there and the BS they teach. From the above I can guess you will divine that I do not like most martial arts instructors. In fact I hold most of them in contempt. I did not always feel this way. However after working with or trying to work with hundreds of schools over the last few years I have come away with some generalizations that apply pretty well. There is an overwhelming number of arrogant, sheltered and selfish schools out there. I believe it steams from the basic martial arts trappings. Lets start with bowing. For many martial arts schools bowing is an key part of the package. Bowing is generally dressed up as a way to show respect. For me personally I have no problem of bowing to others on the mat when local custom demands it. I have heard it said that bowing is just an Asian handshake; but this is in no way true. To say that bowing is like a handshake is to ignore the cultural significance of the bow. Bowing is demonstration of hierarchy, of obedience and submission. Many people’s religious beliefs demand they bow before no one but God. Can you say to these folks a bow is nothing more then a handshake? Look I’m a big fan of America. I think all kids should have to say the pledge of Allegiance. Hey; it’s no big deal right; just a salute right, just a bow, nothing more then shaking hands with the flag; right? However for many taking such a pledge would violate fundamentally held beliefs. Thus making make that pledge mandatory would violate the principles that make that pledge worth making. If forced it would lose it’s meaning. Apply this to bowing. Bowing is meant to be a show of respect. But if I have to give up my beliefs, if I have to first show disrespect to my beliefs, culture, upbringing; then how could this really be showing respect to you? More then bowing to a teacher or fellow students many arts also demand bowing to the mat, pictures or flags. Bowing to the mat is standard in judo and I feel is rather offensive. I don’t think at this point anyone can deny the significance of bowing to the mat is beyond a handshake. It is most definitely an act fraught with religious connotations. The same is true about bowing to pictures and so on. Many Judeo-Christian religions would say this is idolatry. Then there is bowing to the flag of another nation. I was at a TKD school and they lined up all the kids and had them bow to a Korean flag. I look at the parents in the gallery; expecting some sharp objections. There were none. I remain to this day shocked and outraged. Do you think if you opened an American Martial Arts school in Korea they would bow to an American flag? Of course not, nor should they. Likewise it is just sick and wrong to bow your head before the flag of another nation. It is damn near treason. But it goes beyond the bowing. The structure of Martial arts is hierarchical in nature and at the top is the Sensei, Sufi, or Master. Now some people are very cool about that title and understand what it really means is coach. It means you are there for your players, that you are their servant. But many martial artist take that title to mean they are not just better at martial art X but are in fact a better person then their student. They demand their students stand at attention, call them by their title, and punish them for infractions of Dojo rules. I have been to many schools where students needed to bow, then ask permission to speak or ask a question. That is just sick. Just an obvious need on the part of small men who feel the need to elevate themselves over their paying customers. The path to greater abuses is laid. I have been to many schools where the teacher is having inappropriate relations with their students. Now when people say inappropriate relations they are generally talking about a sexual relationship. I can not put it strongly enough that having a sexual relationship with a student is wrong. Yes even when both consenting adults. The nature or the relationship is unequal. The very structure of the dojo world precludes the possibility of a mutual relationship. It is rape via deceit, intimidation or manipulation. If you are having sex with your students your are not worthy to get spit on. But sex is not the only form of exploitation. I love Karate kid where Mr. Miagui tricks young Daniel son into believing that doing home repairs was teaching him how to fight. Paint the house, sand the floor, re-grout the tub, build a deck, cook the steaks. To a lesser degree we see this in dojos all the time. The most common chore however seems to be "stroke the ego." For me I don’t want bows or any contrived show of respect. For me you show respect for your art and fellow martial artists by getting on the mat. By giving effort. By learning and by teaching. To strive for success not only in yourself but in others as well. This kind of respect is the product of a lot of work. Many deeds rather then a single decreed act or any amount of words. Tell me how a bow compares with that? As an instructor a bow doesn’t show me a damn thing. Some clown walking in off the street has seen enough Kung Fu episodes to bow. That is not a show of respect; it shows me they can mimic. Respect is revealed in work and effort over time. That is real. With out that all the bowing in the world will do nothing but help find loose change on the ground. This is also why I believe the dojo is no place to learn self defense. How, in this environment of arrogance and acquiescence, are women meant to learn to stand up for themselves? How through their submission to their master do they learn to not bow to others. Is the notion here that if you elevate me I will elevate you? This is no place to learn self defense or self respect. Keep your back straight and your head up. The proud need not bow nor expect a bow from others. Belts Martial Arts schools further reinforce their hierarchy through the use of belts. Now I’m no fool; I understand that the belts are needed to draw in customers and to make ends meet. I mean that is the point right. Each month or every few months you encourage your students to shell out a few extra bucks to test for their new yellow, gold, tawny, saffron, tan belt with a black, green, red stripe or what have you. The longer they are with you the more they want to achieve the dream of a black belt. With each step along the way they pay more and more. There is a TKD school near my house that has 15 different belts. Testing for your first colored belt is $25. To test for your black belt is $1,000. Why does it cost more to test for your last then your first? I mean the belts are made out of the same material right? Well the reason young Grass Hopper is that you are already a proven mark. You shelled out $25 for a $4.50 green belt, then $50 for a green belt with a black stripe. So the longer you pay a con man the deeper the sting. Professional con Men will often seek out people who file class action suits against other scam artists. You’d think these people would be once bitten twice shy; but the truth of the matter is they are certifiable suckers. So are all those folks with $1,000.00 black belts. Even when Belts are not so priced they still serve a less then noble purpose. Belts establish a hierarchy with in a school; sorry dojo. So it established some order and rewards your long term students; nothing wrong with that right? Well here is a little story to consider. I have a friend who joined a judo dojo. They gave him a white gi and white belt. They told him where to stand, how to bow, how to fall. They made it very clear he was the student and that he was not there to teach; but rather to learn. He was cool with that. Problem is he was a Division One wrestler and could beat every single person in the room (Sensei included) without breaking a sweat. He walked in the door with 20 years of martial arts experience. All silenced by that white belt. I have also seen the color of a belt change peoples behavior. I had a Judo Brown belt come train with us. He has 3 years of experience, was strong and in good shape. His second night there he trained with a student who had 2 months experience. The student however was wearing a black belt. The experienced brown belt was whipped pillar to post. The next time they rolled the student was wearing a green belt and the brown belt more then held his own. Same two people, two days apart; very different outcomes. The reason was the belt. This guy saw the black belt and got scared. I have seen this happen time and time again. The hierarchy implied by belts silences voices, installs false confidence or erroneous weakness. I have examined using belts or a ranking system time and time again but keep coming back to the same conclusion; the damage they do is not worth the good they deliver. How does that old expression go – a black belt cover 2 inches of your ass; the rest you have to cover on your own. There is a new scam…oh I mean program to help martial artists get recognition and that is through degrees. Yep you can now get a B.S. or PH.D in martial arts. We all know what the BS stands for; the PHD must stand for Piled Higher and Deeper. There are several "Universities" out there selling degrees. Again I do not fault the folks selling them. The ones I fault are the jackasses who buy them. There is nothing wrong with selling a little snake oil. But if you are buying this crap and then trying to use it; well that is where the harm comes. There is no such thing as the tooth fairy, no Santa, no Easter Bunny and no professor of the martial arts. This is just one more step away from reality; away from an honest measuring system. To me there is only one ranking system that matter. It is the measure of you against the man across the mat. When you are too old to go it is the measure of your students on the mat. I don’t give a rats furry butt what color your belt is if you can not get out on the mat and prove it. That is the Alpha and the Omega in my book. I’m sure in some arts belts have some meaning. Brazilian Jujitsu for example; but that entire system is based on what you can do against the man across from you. But for the most part the martial arts world is awash with Black Belts who couldn’t get out of a cancer ward with their lunch money intact. They know nothing about fighting, physical training and certainly nothing about self defense. They are jokes and it would be fitting if along with their black belts they also wore large clown shoes. Beyond the belts and bowing there is the Kata. Some people I have debated the Kata issue with make some very good points. I can’t remember them because they where wrong; but I do remember they claimed it has some value that didn’t sound completely stupid. In fact I like Kata contests. The Kata contests at most martial arts "point" tournaments are often far more exciting then the "tag fights." Like dancers really good Kata folks are athletes. Note they should in no way be confused with fighters or should dream that their kata’s make them any more prepared to defend themselves then say Salsa dancing or the Tango. In fact I will take a solid Swing Dancer over a Wushu student in a fight any day of the week; provided Jumpin Jivein is playing. But I can forgive Kata. The weapon Kata’s are of course equally worthless if not more so, however there is little pretense of their value. Look if you are training with Chinese Warhammers or a 15 foot halberd it is pretty safe to assume that your not training for self defense. I mean does anyone really believe their Tri Iron or Man Catcher will come in handy during a car jacking? Really any traditional weapon is silly. Throwing stars? Dumbchucks? Flail? Katana? Who would use these to defend themselves? How are you going to explain your self in court that you nailed the attacker 27 feet away with a throwing star? Not that I’m against weapons. I like sticks and a baseball bat; but really prefer an ASP because I can carry it everywhere. Same with OC; best deterrent weapon there is. But if push comes to shove and we are really talking self defense anyone who doesn’t think gun is a damn fool. (Click here to learn about why Knifes belong in the Kitchen) But there are worse then the knife fighters, high kickers and Belt Mongering Kata Masters; there are the Mystics. You know the folks I’m talking about; the Chi Masters and their Chia Pet students. These are the guys who believe in Din Mak, nerve pinches and blind folded spear fighting. I had a guy show me a nerve touch once. He did it to all his students and their arms became instantly weak. It of course had no such effect on anyone besides his students. This same guy did the Iron Body thing with someone bending a pole on his belly. He went so far as to tell me any of my hold downs that crush weight on my opponent would not effect him because of his Iron Body. 30 seconds on the mat disproved that little notion. The best thing about these clowns is the names of their schools – sorry dojos. They always have some sort of dangerous or mythical animal in the name like Dragon or Green Tiger or a series of Asian names that translate into a poor Hiku. I knew of one place called Six Winds. Six Winds? Would that be North, South, East, West, Updraft, Down Draft? Their martial arts are always wrapped in deep mystery and generally; though not always, of Asian descent. Their true masters are always way to old to actually fight; but they assure you that even that frail old man is extremely dangerous. These folks like to reference scrolls and secret societies. The arts almost always have their roots in some long forgotten war that oddly enough the practitioners of this deadly art lost. (See Ninjas, Okinawa Karate and most Kung Fu variations). Beyond the mystery and the hoopla when you stripe these arts to their basics you will find a heavy focus on eye poking, groin grabbing and throat strikes. I've always imagined the scene of the ancient master pulling out a dusty scroll and on it is a stick figure punting another stick figure in the crotch. But they do dress things up nicely. My favorite guys are the only who practice specific animal styles. You have got to love that. One guy told me he did Monkey Style kung fu. I thought of what I had seen Money do when they are pissed and I have to admit I was scared. I thought typical practice at their school – sorry Dojo - would consists of shrill screams, biting and flinging feces at each other. Come to think of it; that would be pretty effective self defense. But they love all sorts of animals. Crane style? Yea a Crane is a pretty scary Bird. Dragon style? OK look that is not even a real animal. They do have Tiger style and yea Tigers are pretty scary. Lets see how a Tiger fights: They change their elevation, spring, take down their prey and clamp on to it’s neck.. Hey they shoot, establish top position and choke. OK Tiger style is pretty cool. In fact this is the same fighting method used by every predator on the planet; grab, bring to the ground, establish a grip and then choke, crush or other wise exhaust their prey. That is what works for Lions, Tigers Bears and Oh my; every UFC Champion ever crowned. What predators do not do: stand on one leg and lash out, do nerve pinches or Dim Mak. Predators grapple; prey strikes. Why dress things up in mystery? Why dress obvious physical skills into a bunch of mumbo jumbo hyperbole? It is simple; because in an environment of secrets styles and mystic power even the most hopeless, worthless, shameless sack of shit can be a martial arts master. The best part it is not a tough sell to make. I knew a school where the "Master" was a chain smoking old man with droopy shoulders and a big belly. He was slow, physically weak and had never been in a real fight. However each and everyone of his students believed he was the single most dangerous SOB on God’s green earth. There classes where strictly repetition movements that he continually changed and yelled at his slack jawed followers for not performing correctly. Even when presented with real fighters and sparring that revealed the pathetic uselessness of what they had been taught they still clutched to the erroneous believe that while they were hopeless; Master was invincible. Why would they believe this? Well the easy answer and most likely the correct one is they are idiots. However I have seen this same situation played out time and time again; dojo after dojo. Are they all idiots? Why or better yet how do people believe this BS? The answer is simple; they want to. Who wants to go some place and be told that no matter what you are only going to go so far with this art. Who wants to be told the truth; that martial arts is hard work, blood sweat and tears and that you will never be good enough to take out 5 armed attackers with nothing but your bare hands and your ancestor’s spirit. Who wants to find out there is no magic? That enlightenment has nothing to do with breaking boards or burning candles. We want to believe that those who hang up a martial arts shingle are indeed qualified to do so. What is better is why shouldn’t students believe it; the Master does. I taught for a short time at a school where the Master was without a doubt the worst, I mean the worst fighter I have ever seen. I wrestle with my 40 pound dog and feel more challenged. If there was some 8 year old girl; dying from a wasting disease who told the Make a Wish Foundation she wanted to fight and win a straight up match in the UFC; this is who they would match her with. But each night after class he would tell me stories about how he took on that guy or this guy. How one of his large students was getting out of line; so he "donned the gloves and beat some respect into him." Now look I knew the only way this guy could hurt someone is if he fell from a 40 story building on top of them; but he believed he was a complete and utter bad ass. And so did his students; at least for a while. Myth is a powerful thing. People want to believe the unbelievable; just so long as it is simple and makes them feel better about themselves. OK the above is a little harsh and perhaps a little unfair. It is really directed at the McDojo schools that infests so many strip malls. But give the Devil his due. These guys have found a way to do Martial arts after a fashion and still make a living off it, after a fashion. So good for them. And really while I would not allow my child or even my dog to sign up at USA Karate or National TKD it still is a damn site better then sitting home and watching TV. And if putting on your Gi and tying that belt, bowing to a foreign flag and rehearsing your katas makes you happy then to hell with what I say. I just don’t think people should confuse it with fighting, self defense or a sport. To be honest it is not really a martial art; more of a martial craft. But that is OK; real martial arts, real fight training is hard; it hurts and require more time then most are willing to spend. However as long as you couple your make believe art with a philosophy of pacifism that will keep you out of fights your sure to be safe.