Monthly Archives: May 2015

Poor Sensei.

Empty-PocketsBy Garry Parker

In the (traditional) martial arts community, there seems to be a disturbing trend; that is, for some unexplained reason, a large segment of people actually believe that martial arts teachers that make a living by teaching martial arts, or  break even, have ‘sold out’ or have been consumed by greed. In fact, the general consensus seems to be that it is expected that a traditional martial arts teacher must surely take a vow of poverty in order to be focused and passionate about training and teaching!  I’m not sure exactly where this lie originated, but I have gut feeling that many folks that feel this way have probably had a free ride in their own martial arts journey.  That is, they have been able to train without paying dojo fees because they ‘worked it out with Sensei’ or they were unable to afford classes, so Sensei had pity on them and taught them for free, or they are mooches with no concept of reality.  Oh yeah, that last one stings a little, doesn’t it? My personal belief is: Those that have never sacrificed, will never appreciate or understand the sacrifice of others.

Before going any further, I want to be crystal clear.  In my career as a karate teacher, I have taught students for free, I’ve discounted those who I felt needed it, and I’ve waived training fees entirely when the student(s) fell on hard times. Even now, I still give scholarships to those who I feel deserve it, both in my dojo, and in the training events that I host. My only condition is that the student(s) continue to train, and when they are able to begin paying for their classes, that they voluntarily do so. And guess what? I’ve been burned a few times; that is, they don’t always follow through with their end of the agreement, but it’s no surprise really, after all, people are people. The majority of people will do the right thing, but there are always a few that have a sense of entitlement that forms in them whether they admit it or not; that is, when someone receives something for nothing, they will begin to appreciate it less and expect it more.

Does that stop me from helping those who need it?  Not at all.  I will always help those who I feel deserve it; if they don’t show appreciation through commitment and dedication to me, the dojo, and our art.. or if they choose to not do the right thing by paying it forward, that is their character flaw, not mine.  As a teacher, I can show my students  the path, and I can even personally guide them, but I will not drag them down that path. The right attitude of obligation and gratefulness (giri) has to come from within and has to be genuinely manifested without coaxing.

So, what about the traditional karate teacher taking a vow of poverty?  Isn’t that the mark of a true Sensei?  NO! That is a misconception that has been propagated and passed down with no sense of origin. Why then do we have to pay training fees? Even when the teacher claims that he/she doesn’t teach for the money, but for the love of the art?

Ah-ha! the right question!  We can never pay our teachers for the knowledge and experience that they impart to us; it is priceless!  We pay training fees to support our dojo and our Sensei; that is it. The training fees go toward the dojo expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, and equipment. If anything is left over, the balance may go to further the training and martial education of your teacher through seminars, workshops, or even training trips. Your teacher has likely spent most of his/her life and 10’s of thousands of dollars honing his/her skills, especially if their teacher resides in Okinawa or Japan..those tickets can get pricey!  You can’t buy favor or special instruction, or advanced training skills from a LEGITIMATE TEACHER, but you can do your part to lessen the burden and help to ensure that you will always have a place to train by supporting your dojo.

WARNING:  If you are still reading, thank you; but be warned, this next part is full-contact; the gloves are off.  If you are easily offended, I encourage you to stop reading right here.

Still here? Good.

If you are one of those students that feel that you deserve free instruction because you’ve ‘already paid your dues’ or because you ‘help Sensei out around the dojo’ then you are part of the problem, and should re-evaluate exactly why you think you are so very special that you feel it’s perfectly acceptable for others to carry your weight financially. If you are not one of those, fantastic!  You know the type, and there is usually at least one in every dojo; Late on their training fees, or don’t attend training events unless someone else pays the fee, or they simply stop training to ‘save money’ at certain times during the year, such as summer vacation, or the winter holidays.

If you are the type of student that allows or even expects Sensei or your Senpai to pay your way or waive training fees for you to attend training events in order to expand your knowledge, then you are part of the problem.

Does this mean that everyone who accepts help, scholarships, or discounted fees are unappreciative cheapskates and moochers? Of course not!  It only applies to those who develop a false sense of entitlement..those who feel they deserve a free ride.

Does this mean that everyone should always pay to train?  That depends on the teacher. In fact, I know several highly skilled teachers that refuse to accept payment, and that is perfectly fine, because these teachers have extremely high standards, and they require their students to contribute in other ways.  Whether you pay in cash, trade, barter, or sweat…you pay, I pay, everyone pays.  There is no free ride in the dojo, and the sooner we all get the image of our dirt poor Sensei out of our collective heads, the better.

That’s it. Pay your dues, literally and figuratively.  If you are one of those that are fortunate enough to receive recognition of your dedication through reduced or waived training fees, say thank you once in a while and let your teacher know that you don’t take him/her for granted; let your teacher know that you appreciate what they do, and above all..don’t forget that you still have dues to pay. If you aren’t sure how, then ask your Sensei, I’m sure they will guide you in the right direction, after all, that’s what we do.

G. Parker

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Don’t drink the Kool-aid.


By Garry Parker

The Guyana tragedy. November 15, 1978.  Cult leader and self-proclaimed prophet Jim Jones mesmerized his followers with tales of an unbelievably perfect afterlife, a paradise of perfection and happiness to all that would prove their faith by following him to the other side. He brainwashed his followers, confined them to his colony (Jonestown) and forbade anyone to leave. As his facade deteriorated during a visit to the colony by U.S. political leaders and members of the media, Jones lashed out against them, ordering their murder at the airstrip in Guyana. Later that day, he told his followers that they would be invaded, captured and tortured, and that the only solution was mass suicide.  To prove their loyalty, 909 men, women, and children willingly and drank a beverage laced with cyanide, knowing that it would lead to their death.

The martial arts community is diseased with people like Jim Jones, that is, they teach that their methods are the only way, and everyone else is wrong.  Their students/followers become brainwashed over time to believe that their teachers are indeed the ‘only true way’ in martial arts, and that everyone else is a fraud.  How do these teachers continue to get away with their legacy of lies? In our generation of advanced electronic technology, one only needs to spend a few minutes of research online to find verifiable facts, history, and lineage on almost anyone. Yet, these cult-like martial arts ‘teachers’ still manage to attract a loyal base of followers. Again, how do they do it?  Like any cult leader, they are charismatic, controlling, and secretive, with just enough charm to pull it off.  Their followers are almost always isolated from the rest of the martial arts community for fear that they (the teachers) will be exposed for who they truly are.

You have probably met or heard of someone like this in your town, I know that I have.  How do you identify them?

Here are a few ‘red flags’ that should get your attention, and lead you to research the teacher further (or run away!)

  • Old in years – Young in experience.

These are the older generation of practitioners that have been quietly training or teaching the same way for decades; sometimes 30-40 years, or more.  They may have spent a year or two training at a legitimate dojo, and perhaps they were even promoted to a legitimate dan ranking 30 years ago.  I’ve met a couple of these.  When a martial artist has a few years of legitimate training experience, and doesn’t continue to develop their skill, they are stagnate. That is, a 60 year old that was promoted to 2-dan thirty years ago, and hasn’t sought instruction just a 2-dan that has stagnated. The growth has been stunted, and he/she has very little to offer his/her students after a few years. The most recent photo of the teacher and his/her Sensei is a old as the 2-dan certificate hanging on the wall.  When asked why they didn’t continue to train with their teacher, the answers will vary, but the question will usually be dodged, and parried with a nod to their many years of experience.

  • No verifiable proof of claims.

These types are disturbingly common. The instructor has dabbled in a few martial arts since childhood, and has ‘taken the best of everything, while discarding the unusable.’ Of course this explains why there are 4 different sho-dan certificates from 4 different styles next to the soke-ship certificate hanging on the wall behind this 30 year old ‘master’ and creator of a ‘new style’.  These types will often claim lineage to a master of a secret art that ‘was only taught to me’ or the master has died, and the name is unrecognized because ‘he was very secretive.’

Three terms to remember:  Shu. Ha. Ri.  Too many people get their ‘SHU’ stuck, and attempt to hop right into ‘RI’.  Fortunately, these types are exposed quickly enough when they are cornered by the average brown belt and asked to demonstrate real self-defense skill.

  • Abnormal gaps in between promotions.

This can be from both ends of spectrum, that is, small gaps and large gaps. The small gaps are a flag especially when dan ranks/teaching titles are from several different teachers and organizations.  You know the type, the rank chaser, paper tiger, kami-bushi, etc. These are the types that just can’t get enough paper on their wall or stripes on their belt, and they don’t care where they get it…as long as they get it.  They have no loyalty to their teacher or to any one organization, yet they require/demand loyalty from their own students.

NOTE: This does not refer to promotion timelines; that is a separate topic altogether, and one that is best addressed between student and teacher.

  • Cross-training is discouraged or forbidden.

This one is fairly simple.  These types are hiding the truth, that is, they know that what they have to offer is limited, but they don’t want their students to find out for fear of losing them to more qualified teachers. The excuses will include: ‘Our style/school/association has all you need; if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.’   ‘You aren’t ready yet; when the time comes, I’ll let you know.’  ‘I don’t want you to get distracted/I don’t want your karate to be contaminated.’  The truth:  Their skills are rudimentary at best. Basic kyu level kick-punch-block karate with a limited or non-existent understanding of bunkai, oyo, concepts such as gamaku, chinkuchi, kyusho, and tuite. What they lack in actual karate based knowledge, they tend to make up for with physical fitness centered classes, and not much more.

Over the years, I have invited scores of teachers and their students to train with me at our events, camps, and gasshuku, and I have been disappointed to find out many years later that former students of those invited to train were denied when they expressed interest in cross-training.

  • The black belt is unattainable.

In Okinawa the black belt is no big deal. Yes, it is an accomplishment, and no-one can take away the feeling of earning that first black belt. In the grand scheme, sho-dan is simply the rank that comes between 1-kyu and 2-dan. That’s it. Sho=beginning. Congratulations, you’ve proven that you have a firm grasp on the basics, and now you’re ready to begin learning karate.  There are no brutal, marathon, two day black belt tests, at least not in Okinawa – the birthplace of karate! There are no superfluous movements or actions that have nothing to do with your karate. Think 500 pushups, running 10 miles, fighting for 3 hours every person in the dojo from white belt to sensei. This is a western invention, and usually comes with bragadocious claims such as, “Hardly anyone passes their black belt exam on the first attempt”  or  “In our dojo, it takes at least TEN years to reach shodan” as if these claims serve to add legitimacy to their art/school. In reality, they are either suggesting that their students are extremely slow learners, or they are confirming that their teaching skills are severely lacking quality!

On the rare occasion that one ‘passes’ their black belt examination, they are celebrated as a rarity, and reminded that ‘unlike other karate schools, you will always know that you earned your black belt here.’  Ironically, these are the same schools that rarely have senior dan ranks (because it’s too tough for mere mortals).  Often these teachers and students are arrogant, obnoxious, and unwilling to receive logical information. They will publicly question or condemn anyone with a high rank that is not Asian, simply because they (or their teacher) hasn’t attained a high rank, and of course, because their teacher told them so.

These ‘red flags’ are by no-means absolute. They are simply common indicators that invite the student to research more diligently their school and their teachers.   As human nature will always be rife with those that are less than honest and sincere, these types of teachers will not go away, and we – the karate community – can help by educating the next generation of karate practitioners through open dialogue, constant research, self-improvement, and cross-training.

G. Parker