Martial Arts Organizations’ Agendas

December 28, 2011

We know that commercial martial arts schools are in business to provide income to the teachers and owners, but do we know the purpose of non-commercial dojos? Some dojos operate for the purpose of providing an alternative for children who would otherwise have no after school place to go. They provide a valuable community leisure activity. Then there are those organized as physical education facilities. Some non-profit dojos specialize in self defense training. How is a prospective member to know the agenda of the dojo? There are dojos where the highest priority is the preservation of traditions that come from the country of the founder of the martial arts practiced. We keep a Japanese format in Kendo, Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu and Karate classes, a Chinese format in Gung-fu and French in foil Fencing. In the United States we like to know all the rules and policies pertaining to a class before making a time and/or money commitment. We want to know that we will not be passed over in promotions due to our lack of ethnic ties to a foreign country. We expect those with the most experience and maturity to hold the highest ranks regardless of ethnicity or gender. Many organizations and dojos can’t support themselves without admitting members of all ethnic backgrounds. Of course anti-discrimination laws must be followed by non-profits as well. To inform the public and members of all the rules; the bylaws, rank requirements, and organization documents should be available for scrutiny. Some dojos don’t like this openness policy because they want the option of inserting or changing the rules on a case by case basis. Publishing rules forms a contract between the writer and the reader, and either party may contest inconsistencies when they may occur. They don’t like being held to the written word. We have practiced many martial arts in the U. S. and have produced many champions, but how many of those have risen to head the organization they have supported for years with their dollars? I think every martial arts organization and dojo should plainly state their agendas. There is no objection to the highest priority being the preservation of ancient traditions, but when the membership is not informed that such is the case; an air of deception exists. It behooves every martial arts practitioner to ask for a copy of the rules and rank requirements prior to joining an organization that may, or may not, have the best interests of every individual in mind. We might ask ourselves why Judo has been an Olympic sport for more than 40 years and yet there are so few 10th degrees in the U. S., as an example. One may practice and pay dues for many years only to find that there is a hidden agenda in an organization that will disqualify them from attaining the highest ranks or holding an executive position. If lack of openness exists then someone is keeping something hidden. If the true agenda is not seen in writing, then you need to know why not! I’ve practiced what are known as Japanese Martial Arts for over sixty years and have identified at least three distinct cultures in American training halls. There is the Traditional Japanese, the Japanese American, and what I call "Multi Cultural American” dojo. I have experienced training in all of them. The traditional Japanese Dojo in the U. S. will expect the student to maintain perfect attendance, punctuality, and hygiene. The teacher is never contradicted and students are grateful for the teaching. In contests winners never boast and losers never pout, contest performance is not an important part of the art. The Japanese American Dojo is not as strict and will accept the excuse that a student’s absence is due to a scheduling conflict with another activity. Lack of punctuality does not seem like a serious violation. Winning in contests is an important part of the practice. In the Multi Ethnic American Dojo, as long as a student does not intentionally quit he remains in good standing, attendance is only expected of adults and older teens able to get themselves there without parental help, and tardiness is routinely excused or ignored. Victory over others in contests is the main goal of training. In all cases proper respect, discipline, regular attendance and practice are still part of the rank requirements. When it comes to national organizations, and even at local and regional levels, there may be a political agenda! Some politically motivated organizers feel that an effort must be made to control a particular martial art or sport and vie for the title of "officially recognized organization". They want the prospective student to think that there is some need for association with the recruiter’s group and fees for membership or promotion in rank must be paid. Another way an organization will act to control who is the “officially recognized champion” of a martial art is to bill a contest as an “open event” and yet require contestants to be or become members. Proof of insurance with a waiver of liability is not enough. This might mean that the best competitor could be a non-member! They don't want that. We need to remember that "recognized" means there is a recognizer and the recognizer is he who determines who or what is recognized. Any dojo may claim recognition as the "official representative" of a martial art. These organizations don't spring up spontaneously; they are created by individuals and groups with the hope of spreading their beliefs and practice, and to prepare the next generation to perpetually do the same. It should not be considered a challenge to ask; who is the official and how did that official come to be so. Because of disagreements between leaders about the various agenda items some organizations have split into two or more new organizations. The true reasons for these splits may never be known. The true agenda of martial arts training and practice is to improve the body, mind and spirit of the individual. When money and other benefits are at stake organizations, even well meaning ones, will try to move to the front of local, regional and national positions of management in martial arts. This gives them some assurance that their agenda for the future of martial arts can be carried out. Each of us in this practice feel that we know the best teaching and management system that will lead to individual and group improvement, but none of us truly believe there is no room for growth in our knowledge. Non profit martial arts organizers are constantly torn between keeping the doors open to all and maintaining the organizational agenda. In the training of the body; regular practice of new and previously learned material should be the agenda. The agenda for training the mind is reflection, concentration and meditation. The sprit or that part of the self not seen by the body and not visualized by the mind makes progress as it approaches the state of no agenda.

Joe Sensei