'Cult of Personality' in Martial Arts

Martial arts instructors have the ability to positively impact the lives of their students in profound ways. They not only teach techniques and forms but also impart valuable life skills such as discipline, self-control, and perseverance. The martial arts journey can be transformative, and a good instructor can help their students develop a sense of confidence and empowerment that carries over into other areas of their lives. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential for a “cult of personality” to develop around some instructors. While black belts may be respected for their mastery of the art, it’s essential to recognize that they are regular people with flaws, and not all instructors have their students’ best interests at heart. This can be dangerous for students and can lead to negative consequences such as control, manipulation, degradation, or abuse.

Controlling Behavior

One of the warning signs of a ‘cult of personality’ in martial arts is when an instructor exhibits controlling behavior. This may manifest in the form of micromanaging a student’s training or dictating who they can and cannot train with. Instructors who are excessively controlling may try to isolate students from other instructors or schools and discourage them from seeking out other sources of knowledge and training.

Manipulative Behavior

Another red flag to watch out for is manipulative behavior. Instructors who have developed a ‘cult of personality’ may use manipulation tactics to exert control over their students. They may use flattery and praise to build up their own importance in a student’s life, or they may use guilt and shame to manipulate students into doing what they want.

Abusive Behavior

Degrading or abusive behavior is another sign that an instructor may be cultivating a ‘cult of personality.’ Instructors who engage in this kind of behavior may belittle, shame, or insult their students in order to maintain control. This kind of behavior is not only emotionally damaging but can also lead to physical harm if an instructor encourages their students to engage in dangerous or unsafe practices.

It’s important to remember that instructors are not infallible and should not be put on a pedestal. While it’s natural to look up to someone who has achieved a high level of skill and knowledge in a particular discipline, it’s important to remember that they are still human and have flaws like everyone else. A good instructor will not only encourage and support their students but will also be okay with them training with other instructors and schools to broaden their knowledge and experience.

While it’s natural to look up to an instructor in martial arts, it’s important to watch out for warning signs of a ‘cult of personality.’ Instructors who exhibit controlling, manipulative, degrading, or abusive behavior should be avoided. A good instructor will encourage and support their students while also being open to the idea of them training with other instructors and schools. By being aware of these warning signs, students can ensure that their martial arts journey is a safe and rewarding one.

Non-Binary Learning in Martial Arts Practice

Martial arts is a demanding and ever-evolving practice that has been around for centuries. It requires dedication, perseverance, and a growth mindset. However, the learning process can be frustrating for students who expect clear and absolute answers to their questions. It’s crucial to understand that the answers in the martial artist’s journey are not binary and can change over time based on their level of understanding and mastery. Unlike traditional subjects where there is a right or wrong answer, the answers in martial arts are not absolute.

In today’s world of instant gratification, we have grown accustomed to getting immediate answers to our questions, thanks to tools like Google. However, in the world of martial arts, the learning process is not as straightforward. This can lead to frustration for students who expect clear and absolute answers to their questions, especially in a world where information is readily available at their fingertips. But as discussed earlier, the answers to questions in the martial artist’s journey are not binary and can change over time based on the level of understanding and mastery developed through practice. This is in stark contrast to the world of instant gratification, where answers are expected to be immediate and unchanging. 

A good teacher in martial arts understands this and instead of providing a static answer, works with their students to help them understand the subject matter and develop their own understanding based on their current level of mastery. This shift from instant gratification to a more meaningful and rewarding learning experience is what sets martial arts apart and makes it such a valuable practice.

Martial arts is a journey, not a destination. The level of understanding and mastery that a student develops through practice is constantly changing. A beginner may struggle with a technique, but with practice, they may eventually develop mastery. At the same time, their understanding of other techniques may deepen, and they may find new challenges to overcome. The martial arts journey is not linear, and the answers to questions will change as the student grows. This non-binary nature of martial arts makes it unique and rewarding, as it is a journey of self-discovery and improvement that leads to mastery and growth as a martial artist.

In conclusion, embracing the non-binary nature of martial arts learning can transform struggles into success and lead to greatness. It is a never-ending journey that requires patience, dedication, and a growth mindset.

The Essential Ingredient for Learning: Struggle

The Essential Ingredient for Learning: Struggle

Martial arts is a demanding discipline that requires dedication and perseverance from its students. However, many people fall short of reaching their full potential due to the challenges that are presented during their training. According to Daniel Coyle, author of “The Talent Code,” the value of struggle and challenge in developing mastery is immense. In his book, Coyle argues that….

Struggle is not just an unpleasant side effect of learning; it’s actually an essential ingredient.

This concept is particularly relevant to martial arts, where students are pushed to their limits both physically and mentally. Learning to control one’s body, master techniques, and face adversity requires tremendous effort and practice. The process can be frustrating and difficult, but it is through this struggle that mastery is developed. In a good martial arts program, the instructor acts as a coach, helping students identify areas for improvement, guiding their training, and providing feedback. The goal is not to protect students from struggle, but to help them develop the skills and resilience to overcome it.

Coyle’s research shows that the key to unlocking our full potential is to engage in deep practice, a highly focused and intentional form of training that requires repeated effort, repetition, and trial-and-error with the aim of overcoming challenges and setbacks. “The Talent Code” also highlights the importance of myelin, a fatty substance that wraps around neural pathways and acts as insulation. With deep practice, myelin in the brain builds up, allowing the neural pathways to fire more quickly and efficiently, leading to improved skills, increased speed, and greater accuracy. This is what transforms a beginner into an expert and is at the heart of martial arts training.

An experienced instructor will understand the value of struggle and will allow students to experience it, rather than doing the work for them. This process of trial and error leads to the development of deep practice and eventually, mastery.

In conclusion, martial arts offers a valuable opportunity for students to embrace the struggle and challenge that come with learning and improvement. Through deep practice and perseverance, students can develop mastery and unlock their full potential. By embracing the value of struggle and challenge, martial arts students can transform their struggles into success and achieve greatness.

Don't Just Make a Resolution, Make a Commitment. And Here Is How...

It’s almost the new year and people will be trying to think of New Year’s resolutions. My tip to you: DON’T!  Don’t waste your time with empty resolutions and false promises to yourself. Instead, make a commitment! Make a commitment to better yourself in some way. That could be healthier eating, starting an exercise routine, taking care…

Is more better? Understanding and Proficiency in the Execution is Key.

Is more better? Understanding and Proficiency in the Execution is Key.

Is knowing more techniques better? Is more complex more advanced? Do I need more kata to be a more advanced Black Belt?

Many people have the misconception that the more techniques you know, the more skilled you become. Are there ‘Black Belt’ techniques? While it’s true that techniques will increase in complexity the further you advance and it is advantageous to have a fuller arsenal, more techniques or more complex techniques will not make you a better martial artist. It is your understanding and proficiency in the execution of techniques that will make you a better practitioner. Take the most basic lock you know, the bent elbow wrist lock (also called center lock or nikiyo). Most everyone learns this as a white belt. However, a Black Belt will have a much greater degree of proficiency with the technique, multiple entries to it, multiple takedowns from it, counters to it, the micro-movements of it, and most importantly the timing of it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has an excellent analogy to draw from in his book Death by Black Hole. He talks about the gravity of Jupiter and the study of how the gravity of this planet affects everything around it. Knowledge is not necessarily the study of a thing, but the study of understanding how that thing affects everything around it. Think of that with a single technique. At a base level, you learn the technique, but as your proficiency expands you learn how everything works around that technique, even at the micro-movement levels.

When we look at evaluations for ranking, it is not necessarily rather someone who knows a technique on a piece of paper, but how well they can execute that technique, especially under stress and/or freestyle fighting. Through practice there are micro-movements, small feelings that come into play that a teacher cannot necessarily teach a student, but the student has to learn to feel through repetition. Often, I use the analogy of shooting a pistol. For anyone that has ever shot a gun, they find out on their first couple of shots that hitting the target is not just simply picking up the gun and firing at the target. There is a feeling one develops of how their grip yields the weapon. Those micro-movements, develop over time to help you hold a weapon to better focus your training in your aim. Thus improving your proficiency, like in any skill.

In summary, though learning more techniques and learning complex techniques can be beneficial, it’s not synonymous with sharpening skills. It is your understanding and proficiency in the execution of techniques that will make you a better practitioner. Proper practice becomes proficiency, proficiency and continued practice eventually becomes mastery.

Let’s train, OSU!

Josh Moree