The Academy of Health and Martial Arts in New Hampshire
I first started training at the Academy of Health and Martial Arts about 4 years ago. I came to the Kenpo program there after having achieved advanced ranking in Parker System American Kenpo. I had also studied Aikido for about a year, and wrestled for 4 years in High School and 2 in College. I also kickboxed in College. I have attended many seminars over the years with teachers in many different arts.
Looking for a dojo to come back to after a long time away from the Martial Arts, I tried this shoool and several others. I was training in BJJ and a small circle style JJ self defense system based upon the PPCT Law Enforcement systems, while training in their Kenpo program as well. During my time there, I had a very negative experience.
First off, I noticed tha people who attained black belts there generally weren't very good. You literally have adult black belts (who were given their belts more because of the number of checks that have cleared over the years than by their abilities) who can't do a proper horse stance or tell you what the applications of the kata are. It became obvious that they had a program where you "test" every six months and they promote you, regardless of where you are or whether or not you're ready. The other thing that I noticed was that a lot of the black belts left and didn't come back.
In general, I found that the owners are very rigid, ignorant, old fashioned people who refuse to listen to anything modern. If it didn't come from Japan 1000 years ago, they don't even want to talk about it. I even listened one day as the "Master" of the dojo, James Rath, tried to tell me in a private conversation that Jeet Kune Do is a Wing Chun based system. Having trained with seveal JKD teachers in seminar over the years, and having read Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto, and Terri Tom's work, I tried to tell him that actually, Bruce Lee had pretty much jetisoned Wing Chun, and actually founded JKD much more on the principles of boxing and fencing than the classical martial arts. He actually created JKD as a response to many of the problems that he felt were endemic to the TMA world. Well, upon that, he got angry and refused to discuss the issue any further. Then, his wife, the "Head Instructor" of the school, tried to tell me that even Western Boxing and Fencing are "based upon Kung Fu." At that point, I just shut up, because I realized that I was not dealing with reasonable people.
For a while, they wanted to start a grappling program because a lot of students were asking for one. They found a teacher, brought him in to do some seminars, and then sat him down and said that if he wanted to bring a program to their school, that he'd have to pay them to be in their "Certified Instructor Program" and teach te BJJ curriculum the way hat they wanted. Now, this guy was a highly trained BJJ teacher who has trained at Boston BJJ with guys like Kenny Florian being told by a Kenpo and Kung Fu instructor with no experience grappling, let alone in formal BJJ, that he'd have to belt and promote according to their rules, and that he'd have to change the training to reflect their ideas of how they thought grappling should be taught, all the while paying them to be on a "Certified Instructor Program." I bet you can guess what happened then......no grappling program.
There is NO self-defense application of the art that is taught there at all. This is probably my biggst complaint with the school. There is no randoori or any parallel or equivalent training method. They teach the old fashioned "punch combinations" and "punch techniques" that include throat strikes, eye gouges, neck breaks, elbows to the spine, kicking the head of a downed opponent over and over, etc. However, they always practice these techniques from a horse stance, always against a step-through punch, and no resistance to or counters to the techniques are ever allowed. If your partner doesn't have the takedown correct, you are supposed to "fall down for them." Additionally, you learn all of these potentially lethal or permanently damaging techniques in a vacuum......No discussion of the laws of the state in regards to what constitutes "self defense", no discussion of what levels of force are allowed in accord with what types of threats, no discussion about what legal level of force is considered appropriate to a given threat, and no discussion of what level of force the law would consider a move like an eye gouge or throat strike or groin rip to be.
Practicing this way is either going to get one of their students killed one of these days, or have one of their students end up in jail for killing someone with a throat strike. Legally and morally, what they are doing there is totally wrong, and I could no longer be a part of it.
During the march up to black belt, I was constantly told that from 1st to 2nd Dan was where we would be working on the practical self defense portions. Well, Basically, I found out that was a lie.....even as several other advanced belts left the school (there always seemed to be a constant exodus of black belts going out the door). Basically, they don't know anything about self defense or about interpreting their art to be useful in practical application...and they've made it very clear that they are not interested in listening to or bringing any other teachers in to educate their students as to that dimension.
There was only so long of listening to ignorant teaching that I could take. I would repeatedly listen to the Head Instructor talk about one of her senior black belts (who would later leave, angry) as her "prodigy"......when I (in private) tried to tell her that a prodigy is an uber-talented genius child, and that what she meant was "protege", I was ignored and she just kept calling her the incorrect term. I would listen to them constantly call the "filtrum" area under the nose the "fulcrum"....or listen to them say "trajectrarary" when they meant "trajectory". I even listened to a 20 minute screed one day against grappling and MMA were she constantly referred to BJJ not as "SUBMISSION grappling" but "Submissive grappling".
This is the same instructor who fancies herself a "life coach" and loves giving seminars telling people how to live their lives. It seems that every week there are new "seminars" that they're trying to sell, more interested in trying to make money than maybe going and learning something themselves. I'm sure that everyone has known someone at some point in your life that is not that bright, not that well educated, but loves to tell other people what to think and how to live, but that can't take criticism themselves and who get really touchy and bitchy if people disagree with them or present ideas that differ from their own. Well, that is exactly who these people are.
Additionally, there is only so much of the nonsense of "with the internal ki that you build up, you can send energy into a person's body and liquify their internal organs" bull**it that Master Rath loves to talk about. This guy is really, really stuck in the superstitious, supernatural mentality of 1000 years ago....and it gets really tiring, really fast.
After 1 instructor left the school disgruntled, another former student pointed out to me that when he left (to go fight in the war in Iraq), they kept billing him for a whole year....even though he reqested that they cancel his program as was his right under the contract.
For a while, I was on their Instructor Program, which they wanted to charge 10,000 dollars for. Now, if you were getting top notch instruction in a big, modern facility that allowed you the freedom to develop in a way that works for you, and that nurtures your own growth, I could see paying that much. However, I'll give you an example of the kind f thing that the 10K they charge gets you:
An Instructor's manual that is 80% about marketing tools and a cheesy "DEVELOP A BLACK BELT ATTIDUDE!!!" promo, and 20% about actual teaching techniques and strategies.
During 1 class, we were handed out papers with "Mind" "Body" and "Spirit" in a pyramid structure with terms underneath each such as "focus", "discipline", "energy", "self-control", "awareness", etc. We proceeded to go down the list and define all of these different terms (about 15-20). What became immediately apparent was that for a number of these terms, Master Rath didn't even know the definitions.....he literally sat there and gave out incomplete or wrong defintions to half of the terms...and for focus and discipline, he essentially gave the same definition.
How, here's a guy teaching a class to his instructors and charging 10K for it, and he literally sits down with a list of terms that he wants them to know, and he hasn't even bothered to check to make sure that he is clear on the definitions of the words, what they mean, and how they're related to each other. This is the kind of stuff that both he and his wife who is the "head instructor" are doing constantly......teaching and talking about things in incorrect ways that to anyone who already knows anything about them is immediately apparent that they don't know what they're talking about.
Another example is that they advertised and marketed a seminar (for a good amount of money too....not cheap) with Master Rath's teacher. The seminar was on "Zen Meditation".....and was slated for 2 hours. I have been a FORMAL Zen practitioner for over 10 years and have traveled and trained with some of the greatest and most prominent teachers in this country in both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, so this is a subject that I know a bit about, not just academically, but in terms of actual practice.
Now, you'd think that such a seminar would maybe give some historical background on Buddhism, an overview of HOW to meditate, an then move on to well...actual meditation. Nope. This guy literally made a fool of himself by talking for an hour and forty five minutes about Buddhism in a way that made it painfully obvious to anyone who has trained in or studied buddhism that he didn't really know what he was talking about. Then, he gave minor instructions on physical sitting posture, NO INSTRUCTION ON THE ACTUAL PRACTICE OF WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR MIND DURING MEDITATION, and then everyne sat for 5 minutes.
After the seminar, I spoke with the teacher, and when he learned that I am a legitimate Zen practitioner under a noted teacher, all he wanted to do was pump me for information on what Samadhi was like......Seriously, like a 13 year old begging a College kid to tell him about sex, this great "teacher" and "Master" who I had just paid a lot of cash to NOT deliver what the seminar was about, was here practically pumping me for info to tell him something that anyone who practices knows cannot be explained in words. Sheesh.
All in all, these are people who stopped learning anything new or relevant about the martial arts years ago, and who are adamant that they will not listen to any constructive criticism from anyone.....but especially their students and customers.
The environment is about 75% fitness, 25% martial arts, and of that, 95% is forms and drills. There is light sparring with full gear (no head contact) ONCE A MONTH FOR 50 MINUTES. In class, there is no real contact and no self defense.
Further, there are as of this writing and for the entire time that I was there, no mats on the floor. The floor is a nasty, disgusting green carpet worn down and sitting right on concrete.
All in all, this is the stereotypical strip mall "Mcdojo" with a weak, cookie-cutter TMA curriculum that never gets much beyond the basics, and with weak, insecure teachers who are more concerned with keeping 200 students on the paying roles than they are about keeping their martial arts alive and fresh and real. They are the stereotypical example of a school that "sells belts" and lacks integrity or standards to their students performance. I am a disgruntled student who has found a new school to train at and who is much, much, happier as a result. I would not reccommend the Academy of Health and Martial Arts to anyone.