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.
In the article, "Understanding Taekwondo Politics," I stated that the Kukkiwon was the sole source of legitimate Taekwondo in my opinion. But that is my opinion, which I can probably attribute to having started my martial arts career in a Kukkiwon school. If you ask a practitioner of ITF, they will tell you that since General Choi is often credited as the founder of Taekwondo, that his organization is the sole source of legitimate Taekwondo and that the Kukkiwon (Korean government) tried to steal it from him. While I disagree, they do have a point.
So in reality, I can't say that the Kukkiwon is the sole source of legitimate Taekwondo. Therefore, I'd like to amend my statement to say that the Kukkiwon is the sole source of legitimacy for Kukki Taekwondo, the art as practiced in South Korea and regulated by the Korean government. But there in fact numerous "styles" of Taekwondo now, and it is unfair and blatantly incorrect to make such a definitive statement that they all should fall under the Kukkiwon when in reality the art they teach is not any similar to Kukki Taekwondo as it is to any other empty-handed striking art.
But my initial reaction, the underlying belief that Kukkiwon certification carries more weight than any other Taekwondo organization, is the result of brain washing. Too often do instructors of a particular organization ram it down the throat of their students that their organization is the most legitimate, in essence creating a cult-like devotion to said organization. The argument for Kukkiwon certification is that anywhere you go in the world, your black belt will be recognized. But what does that even mean?
You've been brain washed. You've been manipulated in believing that piece of paper is worth more than any other piece of paper. It's not your fault, we are all brain washed at some point. No one wants to believe that what they've worked for is meaningless, or at least not as highly coveted as they once thought.
Now, this article has been mostly directed toward the Kukkiwon but they are just one of many examples. When joining an organization you need to ask yourself something. What does that organization do for you? Every organization in the world can print you off a pretty piece of paper that looks really official, but certificates are only as valuable as the respect you have for the person signing it. Otherwise, it's much cheaper to go to Lowe's or Home Depot and pick out wallpaper. How does being a member of that organization help you as a practitioner? As an instructor? As a school owner? If you can't answer that question with something that's not superficial, you're in the wrong group. Sorry.
To make matters worse, the guy on the street trying to rob you doesn't care what organization you belong to. They're not going to shove a gun your face and then change their mind when you say, "But wait! I'm Kukkiwon certified!" They're probably going to pistol whip you. The true benefits of martial arts are not measured in paper and belts. They are measured on the mat, in the amount of blood, sweat and tears you've shed over the years. How hard are you really training? Are you truly prepared to defend yourself and your loved ones? Have you only learned counter attacks, or have you truly studied the intricacies of self defense and survival training? No amount of paper, belts or trophies will save your life. That is up to you.