The US Association of Martial Arts would like to officially endorse the Kokusai Nihon Bugei Rengokai as one of the premier organizations today dedicated to the preservation and continuation of classical as well as modern Japanese warrior arts. The KNBR is comprised of the following divisions: Judo, Jujutsu, Aiki-Budo, Karate-Do, Iaijutsu, Nihon Kobudo, Nihon Kempo, Goshinjutsu, Gendai Ninjutsu and Taihojutsu, and they're open to all respectable practitioners of Japanese oriented martial arts, regardless of system or previous & current affiliations. The KNBR offers membership, and provide its members with many services including; access to training, seminars, opportunity for rank grading and recognition, school charters and listing on the World Head Quarters site. For more information about this fast-growing, prestigious organization, please click here.
Author: Bret Gordon
For the better part of human history, martial arts prowess and authority has been determined by one's skill and knowledge. I mean, how else can you judge someone's legitimacy in skills of war except by their execution of those skills? It is only in the relative peace of the modern world that people began to even care about certifications, because we're so civilized.
Over the last few years, I have been blessed with numerous opportunities to travel the country and share my art. I've been able to network with some of the biggest names in the martial arts community, and have been asked to share my reviews and critiques as a "subject matter expert" on several projects by published authors. I'm truly grateful for every opportunity afforded to me, and I'd like to think the respect that I've earned is due to how I carry myself both on and off the mat.
It's been awhile since someone even insinuated that I or my instructor may be less than legitimate, so I'll admit the recent charade mentioned in my previous article (read here) caught me off guard. What's even more shocking is this "determination" was based solely on my age! In the martial arts community, there is a common sentiment regarding age and time restrictions when it comes to issuing rank and licensing, but as I've said before, there simply is no universal standard. Issuance of credentials are at the discretion of the headmaster or the governing body of that particular style, and their authority in such cannot be disputed simply because you disagree with their requirements.
But here's the kicker. Those same people wouldn't blink an eye at an Asian instructor with half of the experience claiming the same or even more. If my last name was Nakamura, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. For whatever reason, Westerners have this self-inflicted inferiority complex towards our Asian counterparts in what is considered possible and legitimate. We have a mystique about the Asian culture that clouds our judgement and leads us to revere those who really aren't that different from us.
Author: Bret Gordon
As many of you are aware, a few days ago I wrote an article detailing my experience with the AMAA and their "Who's Who" book after nominating my instructor, Kaiso Steven Hatfield, for inclusion. In that article, I addressed several issues that we had and implored Hanshi Bowen to correct them. I am pleased to report that within hours of us publishing said article, Hanshi Bowen reached out and all corrections necessary have been made to Kaiso Hatfield's section in the book and several copies of this corrected edition have already been shipped out.
Therefore, I would like to thank Hanshi Bowen for honorably addressing and handling this issue, and I look forward to a continued relationship between the USAMA and the AMAA.
I would also like to thank the martial arts community, our membership here at the USAMA and our followers. Because of your support, we were able to get this issue addressed and have happily put it behind us. As I am a man of my word, because everything has been corrected the previous article has been removed. May we all continue to work together for the betterment of the martial arts community as a whole.
Author: Bret Gordon
I probably shouldn't write this, because the more information you put out, the better people can lie. However, if just one person can avoid making the mistakes that so many of us have made when we were first starting on our own, then it's worth it. Let's be clear right from the start. If you are the founder of your own system, you are not a soke! But before I can clarify why, we must explore the most misunderstood title in the martial arts today. Keep in mind that everything I am about to write is done so from a Japanese perspective, based on tradition and historical precedent.
There are two types of titles in the martial arts, administrative titles and teaching titles (shogo). Administrative titles are technically positions, rather than titles to be addressed by, and establish your authority of overseeing the system and your level of responsibility. Teaching titles exist as an extension of the Menkyo (license) system. The various shogo titles indicate hierarchy between the instructors of a system, as they follow a preset order of progression, and establish your authority of transmitting the system. The most common shogo titles are Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi. Shihan sometimes get thrown in there as a teaching title, while other organizations/styles use it administratively, so that will specifically depend on the style we're discussing.
Soke 宗家 is an administrative title. It designates the holder as the inheriting headmaster of the art they represent, much as the CEO is the head of a corporation. It is never meant to be used to address the person, just as you would never say, "Good morning CEO Smith," and it's most certainly never to be used by the holder in referring to themselves. Rather, it is most appropriately used in writing of official documents or when talking about someone. Then, like all other Japanese titles, it is to follow the person's name (i.e. John Smith, soke). So now that we've clarified the proper use of the title, what exactly does it mean to be Soke?
Author: Bret Gordon
I really should just get off social media, because nearly every time I see something posted by the martial arts "community" I start to twitch. One of the latest posts was a question asking school owners, "What separates you from your competition? What sets you apart in the market?" To even ask such a question shows the complete and total disregard for the values we all claim to teach: Respect, Integrity, Humility.
Here's the thing. No other martial arts school is my competition. I primarily teach teens and adults, so fitness classes are my competition. Extended work hours are my competition. Mountains of homework and college prep are my competition. If you teach kids, then little league is your competition. Soccer, football, dance, gymnastics, even video games. That is your competition.
Here's a great example. For those who don't know, I currently rent space from a Taekwondo school to teach my classes. I don't have anything to do with their program, but I do try to support them (considering if they close, I'm out of a space). Yesterday they attended a "Meet the Teacher" event at the local elementary school, as did three other local schools. While you can definitely sense the tension in the room between the school owners, everyone got their fair share of leads and sign ups. It's a school with 1,400 students currently enrolled. There's enough for everyone, without the need to belittle or bash the other schools.
Author: Bret Gordon
The most popular martial art in the world today is Taekwondo. I've written numerous articles about its origins, and the politics that are rampant among some of the leading Taekwondo organizations, but never about what it was supposed to be. For those who may not be familiar with the history, or think that Taekwondo is an ancient Korean martial art resurrected from cave drawings, let me give you a quick breakdown. Following the Japanese occupation of Korea, numerous martial arts schools sprang up. Since indigenous Korean arts were banned, these instructors began teaching what they learned during the occupation and in Japan: Karate.
Karate is a Japanese word, and depending on which kanji you use to write it can mean either "China Hand" or "Empty Hand." The suffix do, meaning "The Way," was added by Funakoshi Gichin (the founder of Shotokan). When the Koreans opened their schools, they naturally spoke Korean. Therefore, they simply translated the word Karatedo into their native language. "The Way of the Chinese Hand" became Tang Soo Do, and "The Way of the Empty Hand" became Kong Soo Do. Some schools also used the term Kwon Bup, the Korean translation of Kempo and a reference to the Chinese art of Ch'uan Fa or "Fist Law." The individual schools themselves were known as Kwans, so therefore you had schools such as Chung Do Kwan Tang Soo Do, or the "Blue Wave School of the Way of the Chinese Hand." Five original Kwans sprang up prior to the Korean War, and an additional four were created before the Korean government forced the Kwans to unify and the term Taekwondo was coined.
Now that I got that out of the way, let's talk about what Korean Karate truly is.
Author: Bret Gordon
Do you ever get the feeling that you don't belong? Lately, this has become not just a passing thought but an all-encompassing, gut wrenching emotion that has driven this article. What I'm about to talk about will ring true for some, but I'm sure will offend most. And let me apologize now, because this will be long.
Everyone talks about the martial arts community. They throw around marketing words like brotherhood, family and integrity. They say they teach martial arts in order to make a difference in someone's life. To inspire them. To give them confidence. To teach them real world skills. They say all of their students are like family, that no one is just a number on the mat. However, after being involved with other school owners for the last decade, I can only say one thing. They're all lying.
I belong to several martial arts groups on social media, some of which are only for instructors and school owners. The ones that are open to everyone of all experience levels are frustrating for someone looking to have a deep discussion about Budo, yet understandable. But no matter how understandable it is, there's only so many "Which style is better?" posts that I can take before I start removing myself from those groups. However, in a group that is solely comprised of instructors, you would think there would be some great discussions. Yet the more I observe, the more it becomes apparent that these groups are run by mega-school owners talking about the next marketing scheme or hustle to attempt to satisfy their ever-growing greed while looking down on anyone who doesn't have enrollment in the triple digits. After careful observation and numerous interactions, I can only come to one conclusion. The martial arts community as we know it is dead, and what we're left with is the martial arts industry.
Author: Bret Gordon
Before the pitchforks and torches come out, let me explain that this article has absolutely no bearing on the quality of instruction across the board at Kukkiwon member schools. There are some very good quality Kukkiwon schools, and some low quality schools just like every other martial art. This article is merely meant to shed light to the propaganda spread by the Kukkiwon and World Taekwondo Federation since their inception in 1972 and 1973 respectively. Let me warn you though, you might want to take a seat. This is going to be a long one.
Following the unification of the Kwans and the political in-fighting of the Korea Taekwondo Association, the Kukkiwon was established as the headquarters for the martial art of Taekwondo. It was intended to be the international governing body providing a standard for Dan certification (the Kwans were still in charge of the training). The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was established to oversee the sport aspect of Taekwondo and its inclusion into the Olympics. On paper and in theory, this was an excellent system and a great way for practitioners to get the best of all worlds: training through the Kwans, standardized ranking by the Kukkiwon and international competition through the WTF. Unfortunately, they didn't factor in the human element.
When the Kukkiwon was established, each of the nine Kwans were given an office there to give the appearance of unity. However for many of the Kwans, this simply meant a receptionist sitting behind a desk and a Master representative who comes in whenever they feel like. The second problem, is that the WTF was also given an office at the Kukkiwon. Not to mention that Dr. Un Yong Kim, the first President of the Kukkiwon, also simultaneously served as President of the WTF, which is why the WTF only recognizes Kukkiwon certification in international competition. However, this is the only the beginning.
Author: Bret Gordon
One of the most frustrating things I've encountered is when I try to help someone, yet they are stuck in their ways and are too close-minded to try anything new. I find this most often when they belong to an organization that their instructor has told them is the "best" and "highest level" of their art. We're going to examine that statement but first we must agree upon what an organization is and what purpose does it serve.
There are a few different types of martial arts organizations out there. Some, like ours, are multi-style organizations that seek to offer a home for independent martial artists, or those who have been separated for whatever reason from their previous instructor/organization. More often than not, these organizations are paper mills whose sole intention is to sell you documentation and boost your ego, while lining their pockets. What separates the US Association of Martial Arts, along with our affiliates such as the World Organization of Mixed Martial Arts (WOMA) and the Ryu-Sakura-Do Karate Federation (RSDKF), from the others is that while we do offer various levels of certification, paper is just a cool side effect of membership. Our main purpose and mission is to offer our members additional training, and provide avenues for them to network with other members to expand their circle with like-minded practitioners. No, I am not trying to sell you on the USAMA. I'm simply trying to make a point.
The most popular type of organizations are the system-specific governing bodies. These are organizations usually established by the founder or directors of a particular system, and their purpose is to oversee that particular art (or branch of said art). For my system this organization is the International San Budo Federation, and it is in my by-laws that anyone claiming rank or license in the art of San Budo Sogo Bugei that is not affiliated with the ISBF is fraudulent. However, with an art that has been around for multiple generations and has seen numerous splinters before such an organization was established, the same authoritarian statement can't be made. Since 60% of all martial artists in the world practice Taekwondo, let's look at the Kukkiwon.
Author: Bret Gordon
About three months ago, I wrote an article entitled "'I Do Taekwondo!' Yea, That Doesn't Tell Me Anything..." which briefly discussed the history of Taekwondo from the development of the 9 original kwans to the unification of the art under the Kukkiwon. However, even in the Taekwondo community there seems to be some confusion about the relationship between the Kukkiwon and the World Taekwondo Federation, and ultimately about the very grey line between the martial art of Taekwondo and the Olympic sport of the same name.
Let me say that in my personal opinion, the Kukkiwon is the sole source for legitimate Taekwondo and if you are not affiliated with the Kukkiwon, you cannot claim to teach Taekwondo. Why do I say that? Well, Taekwondo is unique in the martial arts community because it's the only art essentially created by a national government rather than by martial artists. In the mid-1950s, the Korean government did not want multiple schools (kwans) teaching their own systems. Rather in this period of rejuvenance following the end of Japanese occupation, the Koreans wanted something that the Korean people could unify around, and numerous martial arts schools scattered across the country teaching what was essentially Japanese Karatedo would not suffice. So on April 11, 1955, there was a meeting among the leaders of the various kwans where the name Taekwondo was officially selected at the suggestion of General Choi Hong Hi, and that's where the simplicity of Taekwondo politics ends.
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