Are You in A Martial Arts Cult?
by Wayne Muromoto
Are you in a martial arts cult? Before you laugh this notion off, think about it. While the majority of the readers out there are probably not involved in a cult, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are, indeed, several mind-controlling bizarro cultish groups that have abused aspects of martial arts to extend their control over people...
...You know you're in a cult when:
--Your teacher treats you like scum and expects you to adulate and adore him. Then, he raises you up and makes you feel like the group members are the only ones privy to superduper secret knowledge that will make them more powerful than the Terminator. This is a pattern that makes susceptible people feel that they need to be attached to the cult in order to feel good about themselves, and so they will willingly take mental and physical abuse for the crumbs of selfworth that are thrown their way. But there's a difference between strictness and abuse. Once the line is crossed, leave the school.
--Your teacher and group begins to impose their will upon the rest of your life. Like how I was told of one group that harassed a student because he quit training. They began to stalk him and his family, always trying to talk to him about coming back to train (and pay large sums of money for tuition).
--The teacher and the top students make claims that cannot be substantiated in any accepted martial arts resource. And when I say resource, I don't mean the latest issue of Killer Karate/Kung-Fu Gay Pride Chili Cook-Off magazine. I mean texts such as the Bugei Ryuha Daijiten, or Honcho Bugei Shoden and so on. While there may, indeed, be groups (including all non-Japanese martial arts) not included in these texts, they are a good place to start one's research, especially for groups who claim ancestry to hundreds-of-years-old lineages. Get real suspicious when the Big Kahuna says things like, "Oh, nobody in Japan (or China, Korea, etc.) knows much about us because we were a secret society."
Let me tell you, if the group was so secret and special in Japan that nobody heard about 'em, what makes you think that the Japanese members, who are often known for their xenophobic behavior, would go off and teach it to a bunch of stinky cheese-smelling foreigners?
--Your certificates and papers are marked with obscure and mystical-looking Japanese and/or Chinese characters. When you show it to someone who can read Japanese, they start laughing so hard that snot comes out of their noses.
I've seen certificates signed by so-called American "soke" that are truly bizarre. One certificate was stamped with a seal that had the characters: "tree-killing stamp of registration." Another certificate, supposedly for a jujutsu school, read something like, "school of the world-peace restaurant." And that doesn't even account for the one that took first prize: a certificate made with a rusty ball-point pen and cut-out letters from magazines. I almost coughed up my spring rolls when Hugh Davey of the Shudokan Martial Arts Association, who researches such claims, showed me that one.
--As soon as you ask questions about the teacher's origins and instructors, you get a "I don't have to tell you because you're an idiot" behavior. Sure, there's obnoxious snooping, but there's also reasonable and expected questioning that must arise if you visit a dojo. One correspondent sent me a copy of a letter he received after he inquired about a great master's credentials. "I don't have to tell you, and besides, everyone knows I'm a master, so if you keep snooping, I will not talk to you," was the "master's" basic reply. This super-duper master also mentioned that he had his picture taken with martial arts movie stars and full-contact fighters, which of course validates all his claims. Uh huh.
Last I heard these movie stars weren't exactly known for their vast intelligence or historical authority. Would you trust your child to a day-care teacher who refuses to tell you where he received his certification, and then shows you pictures of him standing next to Tom Cruise? Posing next to a movie star at the local bar and grill has no relationship to whether or not they're certified as teachers now, does it? So why would you accept that reasoning from a martial arts teacher?
--When you take a step back, does the teacher's actions exhibit a kind of paranoia and pattern of obfuscation? Does your teacher have a bodyguard to protect him "from the evil people who question my authority"? That's paranoia, my friend. Unless, of course, he really does have enemies who hate him so bad they would take him out in broad daylight. Then you'd better think twice if you want to be caught around this guy when bullets start flying. Does your teacher's stories about the origins of his style change whenever you present him with the facts? That's like the impulsive liar in the famous Saturday Night Live television skit. Martin Short used to play a liar who, when he was caught with an obvious lie, would sweat profusely, smile, and then make up another lie to obscure and obfuscate the original lie.
--If you know enough about martial arts techniques, observe the class. Does the school's forms resemble nothing less than poor karate basics? I once observed a so-called ninja group going through their kata. What I saw wasn't anything that resembled any koryu (ancient martial arts) art. Rather, it was a poor rendition of Okinawan karate's Naihanchin kata. In another case, I was sent a video copy of a demonstration given by a kenjutsu group. The demo was so bad, I was laughing (yes, until snot came out of my nose) all the way. The kata were a hodge-podge mess of everything but the kitchen sink thrown in, with mixtures of karate breathing exercises, Jikishinkage-ryu kenjutsu, Katori Shinto-ryu, Onoha Itto-ryu, Daito-ryu, and so on, all probably copied from videotapes and books, and then thrown into a blender to create an instant "ancient" martial art. And the sad part of it was, I think all the students really believed that they were doing an authentic martial art, and not something cooked up overnight by some egocentric bozo.
--As I've noted, cultish behavior begins with the best of intentions. Even some orthodox aikido and karate groups, while they may not exhibit full-blown cult behavior, are guilty of at least abusive teacher-student relationships that could grow into cultish behavior. I was informed once of a rather notable aikido sensei who would hurt his deshi so needlessly and badly that they all suffered from bruises, sprains, and black-and-blue sores. They accepted physical and verbal abuse as part of their "training." When the teacher started sleeping with a female student upstairs of the dojo (he was married, in spite of this), and other students began to excuse his behavior, that's when my friend decided to leave.
The worst abuses, however, belong to various so-called ninjutsu and koryu groups, mainly because not much information exists in English to verify many of their claims. Suffice it to say, I find it hard to believe that the United States can have more ninja masters than all of Japan. I'd also be very suspicious of a lot of koryu groups' claims. Too many of them have crawled out of the woodwork by combining poor aikido with some swashbuckling swordsmanship and a few bits and pieces of authenticity strewn here and there...