Sunday, May 13, 2012

Commercialization Rant

Today, Nick got his copy of MASUCCESS in the mail.

Nick gets these magazines in the mail from time to time, usually flips through them, and then they disappear. [I now assume they wind up in the trash] I ended up reading through this month's issue.

My reaction: WTF!?

Does most of the martial arts community subscribe to this?!? I can honestly say I would never recommend this magazine to anyone or any dojo. EVER.

How could I have been so sheltered!? I mean, I usually joke around and tell people that they may as well assume I live under a rock, because I'm never up to speed on things. But seriously!? I waved the magazine around in Nick's face and threw it down and stomped on it and demanded to know if this was the kind of crap that most dojos are subscribing to. Places like the place I studied Kempo at. Nick nodded. He said sometimes they have good articles, but for the most part it's all the same stuff like what you just read.

I flipped out.

The other day when I posted that I was fortunate enough to have found someone to help me bypass all the bull shit, I didn't realize what I was saying. I had no idea how much bull shit I was by-passing. I had some experience with bad kata applications and dojos that don't focus on proper form and balance and mechanics and all that, but it was a pretty brief stint all in all, maybe 6-9 months across all of them. Now I feel like I have some understanding as to why I felt so dissatisfied.

Has most of the Martial Arts world sold out!? When did everything become so commercialized? It's all MMA, and Belt Promotion 'shows' and ceremonies, and... and... the whole thing was full of bad articles and bad technique. It's ALL COMMERCIAL! There were more pictures of money in the issue than of people. (I'm not saying MMA is a bad thing, but I don't think MMA is what Martial Arts is REALLY about.)

Here are some gems from this month's issue:

Some dude who runs some schools over on the east coast, I'm sure his belt is the one Charles James posted an article about some time back. It's so torn up it hardly looks like it could even be a belt anymore. That's so unbelievably disrespectful. His quote "In our schools is a professional atmosphere with a professional instructor, not one-touch death and fake stuff. It's real and in your face – the way it was meant to be!"

Um... pretty sure the old masters didn't subscribe to the idea of MMA, and I'm willing to bet if someone like Abernethy or Wilder grabbed you by the throat and threw you down, as per the master's version of karate WAS MEANT TO BE, it'd be pretty close to one touch death for you buddy.

Another article details how to make a belt promotion into a great show! Have your students bring friends and family because the focus is not on the student, it's on the potential students. And "how to have a dress rehearsal", so that you can "put on a great show!" Not even joking. That was what they said, WORD FOR WORD. I wish I was making this up.

Another article was an interview with the man who perfected Heroic Musical Kata.  WHAT!?!? Musical Kata??? To quote Bunkai Jutsu, "The primary purpose of kata is to enable us to inflict pain upon our aggressors in response to unprovoked acts of violence." I feel like quoting the whole book! Musical Kata... JEEZ. It's reasons like this that tournaments are being won with back flips and other flashy but utterly useless techniques. This guy needs to be beaten with a copy of Bunkai Jutsu, I am tempted to ask Abernethy if he has a hard back copy somewhere that I could borrow just for this purpose.

10 books every Martial Artist should read...
Tao of Jeet Kune Do
Book of Five Rings
The Art of War
Zen in the Martial Arts
Way of the Peaceful Warrior
The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: A Century of Traditions, History and Pioneers
Living the Martial Way
The Essence of Karate (OMG! Gichin Funakoshi made it on the list... as number 8!?)
The Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do
No Holds Barred: The Complete History of Mixed Martial Arts in America

I think some of those might actually be worth reading... but there are some books I would very much liked to have seen on the list instead. I will be checking some of them out so I can form my own opinions, but I'm not holding my breath.

Finally, one of the last articles in the magazine. A 7 time champion performing Osoto Gari (major outer reap) and showing readers how to do it. Honestly, I'm not even a green belt in Aikijutsu yet, (8th kyu I think... White belt two stripes) and I know how to do a better Osoto Gari then what was pictured. Would I want to fight this guy? No. But STILL. HIS TECHNIQUE HAS GOT SOME MAJOR FLAWS IN IT!!! AAAAAAARGH!!!!! Drop your weight don't bend over!!!! You will get pulled to the ground and you don't ever want to be on the ground! DUH!


In all seriousness it really saddens me that such an attitude of money making and commercialization has swept across what seems to be the majority of the Martial Arts community. The true meaning of what it is to be a karateka, the real techniques, the fact that Martial Arts is self defense and not a sport... don't even get me started on all the articles listed about how to pump more money from your students. Yes, I do understand these places are running a business, and in a perfect world, this wouldn't be a problem. But really, I can't help but feel a little sick at how much of this magazine was focused on increasing profits.

This is precisely why I quite my job at a corporate design firm and refuse to get a job with an advertising agency. I will not subscribe to the idea of convincing people to buy things they don't really need with money they don't really have. I still work as a designer, but on my own terms. I will not do the same thing with my business, Nick and I are adamant, we do not want to fleece our students. Now, for a healthy dose of reality: Are these people rolling in money? Probably so. Am I living paycheck to paycheck with no extra income at all? Yep. Due to those conditions do I fully understand the gravity of that statement and following my moral compass? I'd say probably so. Will I waiver from that decision? Nope. It's not all about money people. Don't get me wrong, Nick and I would love to have a successful school full of students, but we would rather treat our students with respect and give them as close as we can get to what the master's meant karate to be at a good, legitimate price as opposed to rising the prices to make more of a profit and pulling the wool over their eyes by teaching sloppy ineffective technique for fast promotions and using elaborate belt ceremonies as a distraction.

Nick is always telling me to be constructive with my criticism, to write things in such a way as to offer suggestions, to not just complain, but to work to find solutions as well. Normally I agree, but this time I don't know what the answer is. I only know that I feel pretty sorry for all the McDojo's out there and even sorrier for their students. This Quote sums up how I feel. Honestly people, this time, I got nothing. : /


  1. Don't undervalue what you bring to the table though.

    Balance! Extremes on both ends are never good.

    If something is worth the time and effort. I/you should be willing to suport it and invest in it. I have found that those who have to work for something value it more than if it is just given to them.

    Value for value.

  2. You might find helpful the Jeffrey Gitomer books.

    One of the things he talks about is never sale someone something that they don't need and can't afford.

  3. This began long, long ago. I remember some of this type stuff in the eighties then the nineties and later, in my view, got worse. Sigh.

    I attended tournaments for a while in the late seventies and eighties to observe and evaluate for my own practice and found things to be a bit - off -


  4. I can certainly understand how you feel. I can also, to a reasonable extent, understand the need to generate enough income to sustain the dojo and provide the owner with "enough" to live on. After all, if someone has dedicated their life to bringing The Way to the next generation of fighters, then that is something I want to support.

    Of course, I think your point of contention is not that dojo owners earn money, but the unapologetic crassness of the magazine's "strategies" and the owners that use them. The martial arts has a certain...elegance to it that most industries and products abandoned long ago. And to see it so brazenly marketed as little more than a cash cow IS offensive to many people (myself included).

    On a side note, I wonder why we don't feel this way toward doctors, electricians, plumbers, or other highly skilled professionals. On the contrary, we EXPECT them to charge high rates and don't bat an eye if we see one of them driving a Ferrari to the country club.

  5. Right, I'm not saying someone shouldn't be able to run a dojo and make a living off of it, but blatantly exploiting your students to do so is wrong. You're dead on when you say it's crass and offensive. It is. I think my main argument is that these dojos are focused more on turning a profit then really preserving The Way.

    The McDojo I studied at had terrible Bunkai, their students were off balance, had awful stances, and weren't really learning much, if anything, in the way of what I know recognize to be legitimate self defense. That's what Karate and most martial arts are, karate is a way to defend yourself should you be attacked by vagrants on the street, according to the old masters. It's not musical kata and back flips and flashy weapons demonstrations at tournaments. Funakoshi says "A characteristic that distinguishes Karate is that it cannot be commercialized or adapted for competition. Herein lies the essence of Karate-Do, as it cannot be realized with protective equipment or through competitive matches."

    Also, I might be the exception to the rule here, but I don't expect doctors to charge high rates. Well, maybe I EXPECT it, but I don't AGREE with it. I seek out homeopathic doctors with a good practice who are willing to work with people, treat them fairly and charge reasonable rates. Not someone who is rushed, unconcerned, or a pill pusher. I have found a very very FEW amount of medical professionals out there that are like this, but they do exist and I will continue to see them as long as they are in practice.