Ultimately, certification exists to verify what is being claimed. Should these be displayed publicly? That is up to the individual. Some organizations do not allow their certificates to be posted online, especially in the age where everyone has basic photoshop skills and can easily replicate or forge documents, signatures and seals. But if the documents can not be made public themselves, how can we verify if they are legitimate? Most governing bodies and issuing authorities can be easily contacted. It is easy enough to call someone, ask if they awarded John Smith a particular document, and them to say either yes or no. Therefore, generally speaking as long as a path to contact them is available, I do not think the actual certificate must be made visible to the public.
Now, one common method of "proving" someone is a fraud even when they have a verifiable credential is to say they "bought it" or otherwise insinuate that it was not earned. The idea of selling rank is a tricky one. On one hand, simply handing out certificates in exchange for money is absolute garbage but on the other, nearly every legitimate organization charges something for testing or promotion. Is that selling rank? I don't think so. Ironically, when you do receive certification for free (like all of my certifications from Hatfield sensei who never charged me a dime), people turn around and say "so then you know what it's worth" in a negative capacity.
To me, it all comes down to the method that was used to qualify the individual to receive said rank, and there is no universal standard for such. There are widely accepted norms, but there is not a single regulation that is used by every single organization across every single art in the world. That is why rank is not transferable and otherwise meaningless outside of the group it was awarded in. It's also why you shouldn't concern yourself with what someone wears and why the only thing that should matter is what they do (both on and off the mat) and what they teach. Are they honest with their students about what it is they are teaching, whether it's for sport, self defense, health, et cetera? Are they helping their communities? Things like that are what truly matters.
Recently, I was called a martial arts fraud. Considering I am very open about who I train and have trained with, and the source of my credentials, this idea is rather amusing. Now, just to be clear about exactly what is I claim, here is a complete list of the ranks I hold and who the issuing authority was:
- Founder – San Budo Sogo Bugei
- Inheritor – American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu (inherited from Steven Hatfield)
- Inheritor – Satori Ryu Kokusai Goju Kai (inherited from Steven Hatfield)
- 5th Dan – Jidokwan Taekwondo (from the HQ in Korea)
- 5th Dan – Kojido Jutsu (from Dell Sharpe)
- 4th Dan – Goju Ryu Kudokan (from William Valdes)
- 4th Dan – Ryukyu Te (from Leon Major)
- 2nd Dan – Kempo Jiu Jitsu (from Silvio Crino)
- 2nd Dan – Kontei Judo (from Steven Hatfield)
- 1st Dan – Nihon Tetsuken Ryu Karate (from Chad Love)
You'll also notice none of my certificates from Hatfield sensei are shown above. Remember the statement I made about people recreating documents? What I have received from Hatfield sensei are some of my most prized possessions. They are sacred and dear to me. They are also proprietary to our system and not simple or generic documents as what has been shown above. Therefore, I do not want to risk they are recreated and used without our permission. I won't even let my students show their kyu rank certificates online for the same reason.
My detractors can say what they want about why I won't post the certificates themselves, but Hatfield sensei is still alive and active. He is a simple email (click here) or phone call away to verify that he did in fact award these ranks and positions to me. As long as that can be done, the actual piece of paper is irrelevant. But as you can see, everything I claim regarding my credentials can be verified, the very opposite of a fraudulent claim.
Now we come to the subject of the authority of the issuer to present such documents in the first place. Realistically, a person cannot award a certification they are not qualified to give and have it be considered legitimate. A Goju Ryu instructor cannot award rank in Shotokan, for example. So just because you have a piece of paper does not mean the rank is legitimate. You may not be lying about it, but you may be the victim of fraud yourself. It happens all the time.
That is one of the things that has been suggested regarding my status as a "fraud," that I may not be lying about the paperwork I hold but that those who awarded it to me were. However, as no one has ever questioned my credentials except the ones issued by Hatfield sensei, that is what I will focus on. His Judo credentials were addressed in my recent article "Licensed in Kodokan Judo" (click here), so let's discuss American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu that I have since inherited from him.
As the art has come under scrutiny, the question arises as to why I won't simply supply his birth name for others to verify as well, considering the only thing you will find when you search for "Hasaka Yutashi" is information provided by myself and Hatfield sensei. I do provide such information to my students so they may feel confident in what they are learning amid the sea of misinformation being perpetuated, and I maintain that I will share this information with anyone who visits my school respectfully and wants to know the truth. There is nothing to hide. However as Hasaka sensei was adamant about maintaining his privacy for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss, as the keeper of his legacy I must respect his wishes and feel that sharing information in-person while limiting what is publicly accessible is a fair compromise. Otherwise, I will respond the same way the Kodokai first responded to me when I inquired about Hasaka sensei: "What does this information mean to you and why do you need it?"
I joined the WBBB when I was 15 years old, immediately after beginning to teach martial arts out of my garage. My father, who helped me organize the business since I was a minor, felt that I needed to be under someone (rightfully so) and signed me up for an instructor's certification and later rank certification. I displayed these certificates in my school until mid-2010 when I finally tossed them and ended my affiliation with the WBBB, knowing what they were. I'm not proud of being a member, but I also maintain that we all make mistakes and if we could be judged on our actions as a teenager, none of us would come out looking clean.
Hatfield sensei's story is a little simpler. A friend of his joined the WBBB and he signed up simply to support his friend. He never claimed it was a source of his credentials, just a piece of paper on his wall. Now, Hatfield sensei was also listed on the Black Dragon Fighting Society website for several years, another highly questionable organization. We have both met Frank Dux on occasion, and while there are no ill feelings towards him specifically, we are not affiliated with him or BDFS. Frank listed Hatfield sensei as a member without his knowledge, I guess to honor him in his own way, compiling information for a "bio" from a faulty website put up by a third party designer (where many honorary certifications were erroneously portrayed as actual credentials), and it took years for Hatfield sensei to finally get removed after countless inquiries and demands to Frank. To say we are connected to the Black Dragon Fighting Society or support them and their members is absolutely false.
As the founder of San Budo Sogo Bugei, I often come under such scrutiny. When I first began teaching on my own, I was 15 years old and held Dan ranking in three arts. What I was teaching was largely a mix of these and nothing unique. I will concede that back then, I was not truly the creator of anything although I claimed to be. In 2012, I traveled to Ohio to meet Hatfield sensei for the first time and take a physical exam in front of a board for the right to call myself a founder. After what can only be described as the most grueling experience of my life, I walked away with a temporary certificate and the instruction to continue my education to actually develop something. Over the next several years, the art I taught evolved alongside my personal experiences and began to take on an identity of itself. San Budo Sogo Bugei is not a mix of other arts, but rather an expression of my personal philosophies, beliefs and training methods. After all, that's what any style is at its core. There's only so many ways to cause physical damage to another human being, so what separates styles from each other are the principles behind them.
Only then did I receive my full foundership certification from Hatfield sensei, a distinction that I should detail. While many organizations offer "style recognition" and I will admit that prior to meeting Hatfield sensei I bought a lot of them, none of them are legitimate because the issuing authority does not have the proper qualifications and mine are in the trash where they belong. What made the certification from Hatfield sensei different are his personal credentials as the inheritor of an existing martial arts system, a requirement in traditional Japanese martial arts for those recognizing a new style. Therefore, San Budo Sogo Bugei has been officially recognized according to Japanese tradition. You can make a comment about my age, but my immediate response is: Kano Jigoro. No, I am not comparing myself to the founder of Judo, but simply offering a historical precedent (among countless others) of a young martial arts founder who was 22 at the time with only 4 years of prior training.
The problem, however, is when they fixate on a target and are relentless despite the mountains of verification proving them wrong because they believe they are providing a public service and can never admit they were wrong about someone. They will find some fault in you, whether it is something "serious" like they do not agree with the validity of your credentials or something like getting detention in the 2nd grade. They will make their case that they are justified to tear you down because you are dangerous and the public must be warned. Some will even go so far as to say that even if you specifically are not dangerous, people like you are (or maybe someone you're connected to is) and if you go down too, it's all for the greater good. My detractors even circulated a copy of my mugshot, insinuating I was a criminal, when a simple search would find that my only charge was driving with an expired license plate (click here). I am such a hardened felon, right?
One such target in our circle was Patrick Justice, the former president of the American Jidokwan Association before me. Justice and Hatfield sensei were lifelong friends, so a background check was never done on him as is customary for those who bring into our organizations. One day as Hatfield sensei and I were talking, we realized this oversight and ran one. When we got the results, we confronted Justice who was upfront about having a criminal record, and we offered him the choice of either stepping down or being removed due to actions unbecoming of a martial artist. Justice chose to step down and turn in his documents, and is no longer recognized by the American Jidokwan Association in any capacity (for more infomation, click here).
However, our detractors will still say we are guilty by association by being affiliated with him in the first place or by being affiliated to "Papasan" Jack Stern, whose stolen valor conviction is public record which I have already said we denounce. Justice remained listed in the history section of the American Jidokwan website as the former president until recently because that is our history, just as all previous Kukkiwon presidents are still claimed, and we continue claiming Stern because that is who trained Hatfield sensei in Judo/Yudo for better or worse (and we've since joined the US Traditional Kodokan Judo Association for further validation due to Stern's controversy).
As I've said before, we've all made mistakes and all have skeletons in our closet. We've all done things we are not proud of. That is part of the journey of life. What matters is what you are doing now, and what progress you are making. This behavior is nothing more than an extension of the "cancel culture" we see perpetuated in modern society, with the removal of statues or the cancellation of decades-old movies because they are "offensive." Comedians are even coming out an apologizing for skits they did 20 years ago. In all honesty, people need to get over themselves.
There will always be people who lie. There will always be "frauds" in the martial arts. Hopefully through this and my other writings, you see that we are not some of them. However, this is not something I need to justify as those who respect us were never in doubt and those who troll us will never be convinced. Our students are not phased, our friends laugh along with us. Many have suggested that we simply ignore the detractors, and at some point I will stop responding entirely, but I do feel some information needs to be made public and that is what I'm doing. At the end of the day, we will keep moving forward no matter what is said. No one is going to stop us from training, teaching and sharing our arts. So to the trolls out there, I simply say "happy hunting."