The Facebook Samurai – Challenging belt credentials online

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There is a phenomenon that I have been seeing online that I find disturbing. Martial artists are publicly challenging other martial artists on their black belt credentials through social media. Going online and disparaging another instructor hurts the martial arts community by portraying the community as a negative environment to potential martial artists. Martial arts should be a positive community that displays discipline and humility. If a person does not believe in any particular instructor they should not train with that instructor.

These martial arts inquisitors claim that they want to clean up the martial arts community but many times they end up coming across as a bunch of old ladies arguing about whose church is better. To be clear it is wrong to be dishonest about one’s rank. Belts should be earned. Presenting oneself as having a rank never achieved not only hurts that instructor’s students but the martial arts community as a whole. That does not mean that it is right to seek out and publicly shame people who are thought to be “fake”. The one exception is a person who is falsely claiming to have been awarded rank by you, but even that should be handled in an appropriate manner as to not reduce the credibility of your school. Facebook is not an extension of the Hollywood stylized feudal Japan where one school would war against another. Infighting about rank reduces the credibility of the martial arts community.

I have trained in traditional and non-traditional styles. I have visited and trained at a lot of schools. I have my home styles where I have earned my black belts but I like to visit other schools. I have seen everything from no-contact schools to full contact schools; traditional schools that have opening ceremonies for every class and others that don’t even bow in. There is a place for all of these styles in the martial arts community. Not everyone is going to be a full contact fighter, or dedicate their life to the study of the intricacies of Kata, or gain the flexibility to kick the ceiling. Everyone has their own path and if their path includes some kind of martial arts, it is positive for the person and the martial arts community. Exposure to the discipline of martial arts can have a positive effect on a person’s life.

The theory that someone being awarded a black belt in a less intense school cheapens the black belt of students from other schools doesn’t fly for me. A black belt is a personal journey, a test of the individual. Everyone’s martial arts experience is different, so comparing one’s black belt to another is only an exercise of ego. A black belt is the culmination of years of training and testing and is really only the beginning of the personal journey of the martial artist. As black belts we should concentrate on the continuation of our personal journeys and the journeys of our students.

There is something to be said for tradition but there is also something to be said for exposing kids to martial arts in a less demanding environment. My kids started martial arts in an after school program. With the school’s strict rules for preventing injury, the after school program only scratched the surface of martial arts, but my kids benefited from the discipline and the physical activity. My kids moved on to a more traditional dojo, but the after school program had a good influence on my kids as well as the kids that did not move on to a more traditional program. I believe that kids benefit from these programs and it is wrong to write them off or disparage them. Even if the style is not as intense as other styles, it has a positive effect. Kids that go to the less traditional schools still benefit from the discipline and structure offered by martial arts. They may never become grand masters but they will be better students and more respectful citizens.

There is a fixation on rank and awards that is prevalent these days. People are more concerned with other people’s view of their rank rather than the personal journey of the martial artist. We need to remember that martial arts is a personal journey and is not all about what other people think. Choosing a teacher is an important part of one’s personal journey. If you do not think an instructor is competent, don’t train under them or if someone asks you for a recommendation, give one honestly but respectfully. The quality of a belt is between a student and their teacher. To help the martial arts community, offer a good program, encourage all levels of involvement and present yourself honestly and with humility.

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