This topic is, and is always, a hard pill to swallow when I talk about it with long-time martial arts instructors, heads-of-style, masters, experts, and title-hunters. While many of these types in the industry think on future remembrance, perpetuating style or system and building lineage, creating a name that will last the ages, and finding heirs to hand their vaunted method down to….the rest of the world ignores.
Whether we like to admit it or not, in the grand scheme of things, as the world turns….we’re pretty irrelevant. This is still a micro-industry in comparison to so many others. A very small piece of the pie. Yet many have a self-importance that borders on delusional. Comparing themselves in title to long-time academics and intellectuals and industry-leaders, fields of far superior importance world-wide, and a lineage that you’d think was comparative to Roman dynasties. The reality is that, in the big, big world, we are generally unimportant and maybe it’s time we started accepting that uncomfortable fact.
Part of the truth, as well, is that we think personal safety is so utterly important in the big picture…and it is, to a great extent. But most people, truthfully, have long tuned-out the martial arts master, indomitable systems, and even the increasingly-cloudy “self-defense” world. We don’t like to admit or acknowledge it, but I’ve talked to many, many people who’d never find themselves in the stereotypical martial arts dojo or MMA gym…clubs either dripping with machismo and elitism, or traditional/cultural martial arts that often recreate a specific historical incarnation of culture that has zero to do with modern personal-protection. We are generally only hugely-important by those who suckle at our teet of own-importance….or in our small corner mouse-hole of a global mansion. It’s a hard truth, but a reality-based one.
Most normal citizens tend to think we’re grown men re-enacting our little-boy youth, playing fantasy, and indulging in ego-centric back-patting. (Is it often far from the truth?) Ridiculous self-important exotic titles, quick certificates, 2-day instruction courses, camo pants, outlandish claims, gimmick-advertising…all contribute to this image. I was once told by a jiujitsu instructor I called that if I was training at a secondary location and showed them any of their techniques, he’d break my arm. Watched an aikido instructor intimidate his wife during class to the point she admitted to us that was a teddy-bear when “out-of-character” but was actually scared of him while teaching. Talked to witnesses that have seen first-hand, multiple instructors engage in sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior with students, and drinking during class hours. One of my old training partners is in jail on rape charges. Clubs scurrying to give themselves greater importance by changing their name to combatives, or reality-based self-defense, or combat martial arts or whatever latest fad is selling tickets these days – a “get-them-in-the-door-at-all-costs” mentality. These are a handful of the things I’ve seen over the years.
This allll is absorbed by the public, even if it’s the exception and not the rule (it’s not), and, coupled with all the misinformation, false claims, and disconnect from reality, drives the majority of people away, if we’re being truly honest. And the common belief that we just need to try different marketing, convince “them” more definitively, or explain how important “martial training” is for their personal well-being, is most often untrue and mis-diagnosed. (Most martial arts instructors struggle mightily to find students unless they have a gimmick, and a tweak in approach or marketing is often only temporary and fleeting) They, the public, do, indeed, know how important safety is…they just don’t believe that they’ll glean that knowledge from the neighborhood/corner traditional martial arts club. They often believe they’ll be just fine on their own. Which makes all this jockeying for position, ensuring enduring legacy, stepping on those on the way up the ladder to industry-importance, ego-trips….moot in the real-world (where it actually matters). So then, we must ask ourselves, if a martial arts instructor calls himself a supreme grand-master or final-expert-on-all-things-fighting in the woods, and nobody’s there to believe it….or even care if he actually is…does it actually matter….