Another ATA sucks thread, from former 4th degree instructor
I also posted this in the "Your Martial Art Sucks" forum because it just seemed like the right place. I don't mean to post the same info too many times, but I want someone to SEE what I have to say!
After reading some of the articles and experiences here, I joined this site just to offer up my disgust with an organization I have been a part of for 16 years. The ATA is the model for all other McDojos to follow. Perhaps it goes without saying and that's why I don't see nearly enough articles about it? Perhaps ATA has settled into its image as being nothing more than Taekwondo for Toddlers and Trainee-Instructors, and completely forgetting everyone in between.
I joined the American Taekwondo Association in 1990. It became a part of my life. It actually did for me all those things we are told to tell kids today it will do for them. I actually DID gain self-confidence -- not just from screaming loud enough, getting 10 stripes on a belt with 3 colors, or collecting High Five awards -- but because it actually TAUGHT me something. And I had instructors who had what I wanted, and it motivated me to work harder to get to that point.
When I first enrolled, having a black belt used to mean more than the simple fact that you survived your 2 or 3 year contract and sliced through plastic rebreakables like butter. When I first enrolled, the black collar of a certified instructor meant you had endured grueling and intense training with the style's top masters. When I first enrolled, the red custom letters of the World Champion meant more than the fact that no one else showed up to compete in your division.
I used to be motivated by the friendly competition environment of ATA tournaments. It used to be a unique environment in which your accomplishments used to mean something. Today, success in the tournament circuit is based mostly around how little a life your parents have on the weekends and how close to Florida you live.
There used to be great pride in Grand Master H.U. Lee's mission. Through the years that he lived to see his style take shape, my hairs would all stand on end every time I would get the PRIVILEGE to bow to him.
That vision sadly died with Grand Master Lee. Today, a coucil of businessmen and usurpers pull the strings like puppets. When the new Grand Master was inaugurated, the ceremony also included the elevation of many of the organization's seniors to Eighth Degree Chief Masters (none of whom continue to practice or even teach the art themselves) in an APPOINTED promotion, rather than testing for the rank.
Grand Master H.U. Lee had the dignity to impose strict requirements upon himself when he was promoted to 9th Degree in 1990. He performed his forms, sparring, breaks, everything before an audience and panel of Masters. Grand Master H.U. Lee upheld that dignity when 7th Degree Senior Master Robert Allemier did not successfully complete his breaks at testing in front of the audience at World Championships, and was required to TEST AGAIN at the next Nationals.
And here we are today just handing out Chief Masterships like generals at wartime for the simple fact that they though their juniors have half a million students (half of which are ill-gotten, I can guarantee you).
William Clark (MA Success' "Chain School Superman" and co-partners with XMA, Krav Maga, and some out-of-organizational interests involving Atlanta's Joe Corley) has transformed the ATA into a bona fide McDojo. Green trainees come into the instructor program with the mindset that all they have to do is follow the manual and the questions will answer themselves. Today, you see the Songahm forms -- the centerpiece of Grand Master Lee's creation -- made obsolete by block teaching. While I am NOT a fan of "promotion by memorization," I do believe that the forms were a powerful tool for the basic ranks. There is no other place that the white, orange, and yellow belts are going to learn hand/foot timing, balance, reaction force, etc. other than through repetitive and unapplied aerobic exercises (laid out for you in the official pre-packaged class plans).
Today, the collar (the yoke of responsibility that an instructor accepts) means nothing more than the fact that you or your parents have money. They put a red, white, and blue collar on a 4-year old camouflage belt who can hardly tie her shoes because her brother was in the Master Club and the family discount makes it more affordable. This toddler gets the opportunity to attend pressure point control clinics while the police officer who enrolls for self defense learns that all he needs to do to become and orange belt is to demonstrate 3 blocks and a kick.
And there is nothing more entertaining (or demeaning) than watching a school owner have to saw off half a combat cane because no one in their right mind believed anyone that small would ever need to hold one.
Rather than motivating its students through its curriculum, the ATA can only motivate the students it HAS through its merchandise. Every month, a newsletter is published highlighting the leaders organization-wde in numbers such as number of new students, number of students tested, number of new leaders, number of new black belts. When you measure these things, people will find ways to inflate these numbers. Bill Clark (and schools run by his juniors but still bearing his name) constantly tops the list of new members. If there were a way to measure retention, his name would be nowhere to be found.
You wonder why the ATA just hands belts and instructorships out like they're nothing? Because high-ranking black belts have to sustain those numbers in order to promote. That's right. You cannot be a 5th Degree (supposedly) if you and your juniors combined are not regularly testing 100 students a month. That's why testings are rushed too. And a "no-change" (fail) does not count as a successful test, so that's why they are practically obsolete as well.
Now I cringe to think of what is taught. The quality of instructors is so poor today because there is more energy put into teaching how to hold bags and "be a helper" (i.e., leadership) than into how to actually perform the material. Some people are taught the method of HOW to teach before they even have a clue WHAT to teach. It's a disgrace. And now that these money-hungry men are calling the shots, there is no hope for an ATA Instructor to make it on his own any more. Masters are becoming exponentially territorial. Pretty soon you will run out of space on the map unless you buy into partnerships with other Masters. Yes, it's ridiculous, there's actually acquisition in the ATA.
I came from a school that got way too big for its britches. The school itself has been in the same area for 25 years, and still only ONE school. A couple of juniors were lucky enough to embark out on their own and start their own school before the days of territories and operating radius and "paying up" a portion of your testing fees to your Senior. But basically, still ONE school.
When we instituted the "block system" -- a ploy designed to benefit the instructor at the expense of the student -- we lost most of our students. The idea was that the "quality" students will stay and find a way to afford it. All of a sudden, everything that they had worked so hard to earn was meaningless. Under the block system, the curriculum for "blocks" of 3 or sometimes 4 ranks were grouped into one class and rotated each testing cycle. This is to help cram more people into one class, and also to add urgency to the need to test on a regular basis. By this point, everyone with half a brain had left, and today classes there are taught by a one-legged man and a "fifth-degree" that weighs a sizeable fraction of a ton.
The focus has already gone from the student to the instructor. Now it's leaving the instructor as well. Masters are not willing to let their juniors open their own schools. They demand "partnerships" so that they retain Chief Instructorship over them, whether they have any say in the instruction of the students or not. So now, there's no hope for you in the ATA unless you want to be a wage slave. And here I thought I was on my way to a school of my own.
I could go on and on about the organization. The style that I love has been perverted into a franchising opportunity for anyone with enough money. Whether or not I have the confidence in my own ability is moot; I cannot with integrity continue to support an organization that bases ALL of its decisions around how much money is getting piped up to the top.
So... Basically every out-of-the-trunk ATA operation today does the following:
1. Enticingly delude you into the Free 30 Day offer;
2. Begin throwing buzzwords at you like "goals," then "orange belt," then "black belt," then "leadership;" the idea is to see how early in your progress you can be inundated with this taboo;
3. Be more adamant about where you are in the testing cycle and when rank testing will be, than how to pivot your foot on a side kick, or how not to lose your balance when punching;
4. "Graduate" unceremoniously to orange belt and become ELIGIBLE TO UPGRADE to the all-illustrious BLACK BELT CLUB, giving you access to the copywritten Songahm forms, the opportunity to take home a baby blue toy-foam escrima, and a suit of armor full of gear for sparring in which you will never touch the other person;
5. Continue to haphazardly herd you through the ranks, by which time your name will continue to be added to candidate lists for MASTERS CLUB, SWAT, DELTA, LEADERSHIP PROGRAMS, and whatever other scheme is concocted at the time;
6. Throw a black belt at you like an honorary degree;
7. Have nothing left to teach you, since curriculum formerly reserved for black belts only was given away to upgrade prospects as incentive to be a black belt.
I feel like I've become a hardened apologist against the ATA. The organization has betrayed everything I and everyone before me have worked hard to earn.