The martial arts are an excellent activity that all people can enjoy, assuming that they find both a training system or style and instructor that they can associate with. The fact that these activities can be enjoyed by countless people worldwide is evidenced by the large number of schools, tournaments, systems, styles, and practitioners. However, there is something to be said about the lifestyle of martial arts versus the business side of martial arts.
We have all seen them – the black belt programs. Many hardcore martial artists do not believe in them, myself and my own peers, instructors, and cohorts included. In fact, I have had students roll their eyes when I go on yet ANOTHER tirade about the black belt programs promoted by some martial arts academies.
For the uninitiated, the black belt program looks something like this:
“Well, Mr. X, here we have an excellent reputation of producing black belts in record time – you (your son/your daughter, etc.) can join the hundreds of black belt students that this school has produced in just the last 3 years, and I know that this can be done in three years (sometimes four, depending on the school).”
Because we are a society of instant gratification, Mr. X thinks that he has found a gold mine, a school that can train him to be a black belt in short time, and then he will have bragging rights for the rest of his life!
“Classes are twice a week, and each class is 45 minutes long, so it’s not a big commitment. The cost to enroll in this program is $3,000, and the monthly fees are $125 for membership. Of course, you will be under contract for the full three years, but if you don’t buy in and commit to this contract then your monthly fees will be higher, and you probably won’t get your black belt as fast as with the program.”
Mr. X nods, ready to sign, as he now believes he will save money and learn faster with this program.
“Also important to note, you will be testing for a rank upgrade every other month, and each test costs $25.00. It is also important to know that you will be expected to compete in closed circuit tournaments to ensure that you test your skills against other systems. Each tournament will cost you about $100, and you are expected to do at least 2 per year. HOWEVER, this is the path to black belt, and don’t you want this black belt?”
Mr. X signs on the dotted line and writes a check.
NOW… there are so many red flags with this conversation that I cannot even begin to list all of them, and there are also possible body language red flags that are present that cannot be described herein.
NO ONE can dictate how long you will need to train to be a black belt, everyone is different!
If you think about a total of 90 minutes a week for 3 years, this is less than 235 hours of class. Do you really expect to be a true expert in something after only 235 hours?
HUNDREDS of black belts? A black belt is supposed to be a true achievement, not making you a part of a club. If a school promotes that many black belts, how can you take them seriously?
You must test every other month? Wait… if this is during class time does that mean that you are giving up one class a month… and paying to do so?
You must attend “closed” tournaments… these types of tournaments are only associated with specific schools that have agreed on certain practices ahead of time to ensure everyone feels that the used system is the ONLY method available.
Now, let’s consider the cost: if the down payment is $3,000, and $125 a month is paid, plus $25 six times per year, and $100 @ 2 times per year…
You have spent $8,550. That is before “needed” gear, private lessons, any associated taxes, travel…
Let’s just call is $9,000, or $3,000 per year.
If you think about the hundreds of blackbelts (call it 300) produced in the last 3 years, that means that the school has earned an average of $300,000 per year by selling black belts. This is no longer a martial arts school, this is a marketing system.
I will not ever knock someone for making a buck if it is done ethically; after all, I am a business man, I hold an MBA, and I am a digital marketer. However, this business model is weakening the martial arts as a whole, which is completely unethical.
These black belts (maybe “black belts”?, (with heavy quotations)) are unable to stand their own in real situations and are getting brutally beaten by untrained thugs.
These “black belts” have no respect or understanding of the art in which they are training – the belt is nothing more than another boost to their ego.
These “black belts” sometimes go on to open schools of their own and train the “next generation” when they do not full understand the principles that they should have learned. This further degrades the martial arts into something meaningless.
This method of teaching is encouraging slews of 10 year old “black belts” that will all be 5th Dans by the time that they reach the age of 20-25, further making it look as if the martial arts requires no real commitment.
To put it simply, how can you honestly condense what is supposed to be a longstanding goal by training for 235 hours over a 3 year period and produce quality black belts?
The simple answer..
YOU CAN’T. Plain and simple.
That is why these “black belts” from these “schools” are not producing quality students, not winning outside of closed tournaments, not standing on their own in real self-defense situations, and are often demonstrating little in the way of respect to others.
The lesson in all of this is simple; understand the martial arts school that you are selecting. The school does not need to have a six-tone sunset mural, a fancy weapons display, and a huge display of trophies as soon as you walk in. In fact, many of these are distractions to the training that is about to take place.
Instead of considering the superficial, consider the lineage of the system that is being studied and taught. Consider the quality of the black belts. Also, consider the number of the black belts that the school has produced – a school that has been in business 10 years and has produced 1,000 black belts leaves the black belt rank as meaningless.
A school that has been operating for 40 years that has produced less than 10 black belts? This is a school where the rank truly means something.
Consider the school, consider the lineage, and consider its TRUE VALUE.
Train hard, and become what you were meant to become!