2/15/2010 12:11am, #1
Turning Myself In: I Promoted Myself
Hey all. In interest of full disclosure I've decided to turn myself in for the epitome of Bullshido/McDojo, awarding myself ranking.
Here's my story...
I've been training in the martial arts continuously since 1986, most of the time under one instructor. I was promoted to 1st Degree Black Belt in American Kenpo in 1991 and 2nd Degree in 1994 before going to college out of state.
From 1994 - 1998 I ran my college's martial arts club and from 1998 - 2000 I trained at little on my own but spent most of the time working, watching kung-fu movies, and playing video games.
In 2000 I returned to the school of my youth and found my instructor had created his own Kenpo system. Like all of the other Black Belts of the school, he gave me the option of transferring my 2nd in American Kenpo into his "Five Animal Kenpo" or starting over from the beginning at White Belt. At that time I became the only student in the school's history to choose to give up a Black Belt ranking and start over from the beginning.
In 2005 I was promoted to 1st Degree Black Belt in the Five Animal Kenpo system.
In 2006 my instructor decided to sell his school and I agreed to buy it. This is where things started to go wrong. Despite being the most senior student of the school and the only remaining student from the time the school was founded, most people saw me as "only a 1st". No one cared about my two decades of experience, and the fact that I was a Black Belt before they had started training or in some cases were even born; they only saw the single stripe on my belt.
It didn't help that I really had no interest in advancing further in the Five Animal Kenpo system. The way my instructor had set things up, the material required for 2nd and 3rd dealt exclusively with weapons and I had no interest in that.
I considered learning how to swing nunchucks to I could jump through the hoops and get some more stripes on my belt, but I found the weapons material to be subpar and honestly inferior to weapons training I had experienced in other martial arts. I strongly felt learning it would not make me a better fighter and teaching it would be a disservice to my students. The only reason I would be doing it would be to get those stripes, and I didn't feel that was a good enough reason.
I was interested in the requirements for 4th, which switched back to empty hands. I felt I was more than ready to take the test for 4th, however I was ineligible because according to the official guidelines I could only do so 3 years after passing the 3rd degree test, which I could only do so 2 years after passing the 2nd degree test, which I could only do so after studying **** that I had no interest in for about 2 years.
To sum it up, I would have to wait at least 7 years to "earn" the rank that I felt most accurately reflected my current skills and abilities. After some serious soul searching, I contacted my instructor and told him that I although I would always respect him as a martial artist and as an instructor, his system didn't have a promotion path I was interested it. I told him I would retain instructors on my staff capable of teaching his weapons curriculum, but I would not be learning it or teaching it myself. As you can imagine, he wasn't exactly happy to hear what I had to say.
Up until this time, I paid for my instructor to fly in two times a year to conduct Black Belt testings. After I told him how I felt, he refused to come out any more. He also issued official testing guidelines that effectively forbid me from promoting students to Black Belt in his absence. Despite being owner of the school and having empty handed qualifications greater than or equal to anyone else in his system, I was not qualified to evaluate a student's empty handed skills because I had not tested and passed the weapons qualifications.
At the time I was still hopeful my instructor and I would eventually work things out, so over the next year I held two Black Belt tests at my school in which I had no official vote on who passed or failed. This year was very difficult as I saw my school fracture into two different camps. Approximately half the students and the staff saw where I was coming from and sided with me, the other half felt I was trying to destroy everything they believed in and sided with my instructor.
In August of last year, I held the final Black Belt test under my instructor's guidelines. The voting panel consisted of 3 of my staff members. One of the students I had trained personally, until his family could no longer afford lessons and would no longer accept them for free. He spent the last 6 months preparing for his Black Belt almost completely on his own, and although his technique was a little sloppy compared to the other's testing that day, there wasn't another student that could handle themselves better in a fight, and I strongly felt he had done more than enough to earn his Black Belt. When it came time to vote, the vote was 2-1 to fail him. I argued vehemently on his behalf, to no avail. The Black Belts that voted against him were loyal to my instructor and the fact that I felt this kid had earned his belt likely hurt his chances in passing. I would like to say that I manned up and promoted the kid anyway, but that didn't happen.
Instead I called the kid into the back room and told him that although I was extremely proud of his performance, the panel had decided to not award him a Black Belt at this time. I re-extended my offer to train him for free and offered him another shot in front of a different panel of Black Belts.
The kid took it like a man, and sat there respectfully while everyone else got their belts. He then got up, thanked me for everything and walked out the door. I never saw him again. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
In September 2009 I told my instructor that I was officially leaving his system. I also changed the name of my school and moved to a new location. About half of the students and staff decided to come with me. The other half started a new school in my, now former, instructor's organization.
For the most part the instructors that went with me were all in the same boat, along with some others that at some point along the way broke away from my instructor and started their own schools. Extremely talented martial artists and instructors, with rankings that didn't accurately reflect their skill and no one "above" them to promote them or recognize their accomplishments. I didn't really care how many stripes I had on my belt, but I did care that they didn't have the rankings I thought they deserved, so I decided to do something about it.
I decided to adopt a ranking structure based on one's accomplishments as an instructor, which incidentally was the same ranking system my instructor was using in 1994 before I went to college. In this structure Black Belt rankings are awarded by having students being promoted various rankings. The structure breaks down like this:
1st Degree Black Belt: Pass your Black Belt Test (Duh)
2nd Degree Black Belt: Have a student promoted to Brown Belt
3rd Degree Black Belt: Have a student promoted to Black Belt
4th Degree Black Belt: Have a student promoted to 2nd
5th Degree Black Belt: Have a student promoted to 3rd
Under this structure an instructor is not allowed to promote their own student. You train your own student and set the criteria they should be evaluated by, but the actual evaluation has to be done by someone else, usually a panel of your peers.
When I contacted everyone and told them what I was doing, the response was pretty much universal. Most had accepted a long time ago that their official ranking did not accurately reflect their skill or accomplishments, and didn't care that they were being "promoted" but were glad someone was doing something to recoginze the achievements of others. Most said they would be adopting the same structure for their school. There was one guy who said he understood what we were doing and why, but didn't feel the structure was right for him and his school and decided against using it.
By switching to this system I effectively promoted myself from 1st to 3rd, along with a couple of other guys that have had a student promoted to Black Belt. There is even a guy who's been teaching for 15 years that went from a 2nd to 5th, due to the fact that several of his students have gone on to be successful instructors themselves.
So that's it. No matter what my reasons, there is no hiding the fact I promoted myself. I respectfully submit myself to the bullies for judgment.
2/15/2010 12:40am, #2
So your rankings were:
- 2nd degree in American Kenpo (AK)
- 1st degree in Five Animal Kenpo (FAK)
When offered the opportunity to transfer your AK rank, you opted to train through to earn your FAK black belt.
Is your current curriculum the same as the FAK? Or are there elements of AK as well?
What is your total training time in the various styles of Kenpo?
Are you teaching any styles besides Kenpo?
I'm just curious about a couple of details.
2/15/2010 12:48am, #3
- Join Date
- Aug 2009
Your story highlights the problems caused by the lack of any governing body in the martial arts. Is there no larger organisation that you could become affiliated with that could give you some objective standard to rank yourself by? If nothing else, it might provide an avenue for your students to enter competitions.
An alternative would be stripping your art back to fundamentals+sparring and doing away with belt rankings altogether. The only real advantage of a belt system is in the recognition of students from separate schools within the same system (ie. a BB Judoka from Europe being recognised as such in Japan). Since you have only one school teaching your system, do you really need belts?
I suppose what I am saying hinges upon what tournaments your students will be entering (I am assuming full contact seeing as this is, like, Bullshido). Perhaps you should start from there. Props for honesty.
2/15/2010 1:26am, #4
- Join Date
- Oct 2007
Feel free to disregard my opinion as I'm not a practising martial artist, let alone an instructor, but the story I just read sounds a lot like the standard political split over rankings you see so often. Do you want to risk that again with your current students and fellow instructors?
If you want to recognise achievement you could, for example, award a patch or something when someone becomes an instructor, another if someone competes in tournaments, and maybe a small stripe on their uniform whenever they place in a tournament.
Personally, I would recommend ignoring what I say though, because I'm a Class 1 idiot.
2/15/2010 1:32am, #5
One of my many other sins was actually suggesting that some of FAK could be improved. Even small changes were met with a lot of resistance, regardless if they improved results.
I trained in EPAK from 1985-1994, from the ages of 8 to 17. I was an instructor from 1993-1994 and got my 2nd for having a student passed their Brown Belt test.
From 1994 - 1998 I taught EPAK in my college martial arts club, while also training a learning from other martial artists around the country. We had judoka, shotokan guys, aikido guys, tkders, you name it. What we really didn't have was any decent grapplers.
From 1998-2000 I didn't really train that much. I say martial arts as something I did as a kid, and thought I was supposed to be a grown up engineer. I would ocasisonally get together with some buddies and spar.
From 2000-2005 I trained exclusively in Five Animal Kenpo.
From 2005-2006 I trained BJJ under a Rickson Gracie Black Belt. I didn't learn much other than to tap.
In 2006 I bought the school from my instructor and started teaching FAK.
In 2007 I decided to add a MMA program to my school. Not qualified to teach it myself, I brought in a both a striking coach and grappling coach. The grappling coach wrestled in college, has black belts in Judo and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, and a Blue Belt in BJJ under Pedro Sauer. The striking coach was a 4th in Tracy Kenpo, with both boxing and MMA fights (amatuer and professional) under his belt. The striking coach founded his own kenpo/mma hybrid system in the late 90's but has been doing MMA exclusively since around 2000.
I've been training with these MMA guys from 2007-present. The main reason I brought these guys in was to train me and to help me make the kenpo I teach better. I would constantly bounce ideas of these guys, either to verify what I was teaching was right or to get ways to make it better and I still do.
I should point out I also tried to get input and guidance from my "instructor" but he was in Tennessee and I was in California so things were kinda difficult. He also had no interest in MMA or grappling. He would constantly make commets about how he would never be caught rolling on the ground with sweaty men.
The biggest changes that I've made since going out on my own is how we train, not what we train. We now use progressive resistance in our training and that has led to minor changes in techniques. We also teach things in a different order than what we used too. For example, in FAK you don't learn any punch or kick defenses in first year. The first year is all grabbing attacks. We decided to change that and teach the basics of striking defense from the start.
The biggest thing I've added, which is still a work in progress is functional grappling. The inefficent sweeps and takedowns of FAK are slowly being replaced by higher percentage techniques from Judo and wrestling. We teach our stuff in two month blocks. Before each session, I show the material to my MMA guys, tell them what I'm trying to teach, and ask them how they would do it.
FAK has virtually no ground work. Through my BJJ and MMA training I've started to add the very basics, once again guided by people who actually know what they are doing. I don't claim to teach BJJ, but my eventual goal is to add enough stuff that a black belt from my school roughly equivalent to a blue belt from a quality BJJ school in terms of grappling.
2/15/2010 1:47am, #6
I could stop teaching kids, but making a difference in young people's lives is a major reason why I teach instead of just training.
2/15/2010 8:00am, #7
- Join Date
- Aug 2009
Here's an idea. Just wear a plain black belt. You are the founder of your system, you can give out any rank you want. Giving yourself ranking is kind of bogus though. The fact that this thread exists is proof that you think so on some level. Belt rankings originated in Judo. So what dan was Kano?
There is also my original suggestion that perhaps some competition-based organisation could act as some sort of objective judge of belt rankings. Perhaps you could arrange some sort of affiliation with some other schools whereby you recognise each other's ranks?
What avenues of competition are available to your students? I assume you don't have kids doing full-contact MMA.
2/15/2010 8:24am, #8
- Join Date
- Jan 2008
- Sanctuary of Pallas Athena (Belgium)
- Savate (LBF/SD/LC) - BJJ
I'm already happy that you didn't promote yourself to 10th Dan Soke!
The grading system looks good.
The only concern I have is, what kind of mechanism do you have to check the level of your instructor dangrades and yours in comparasion to the rest of the Martial Arts/Combat Sports community.
Do you and/or students enter tournements? Which type of tournements? And are the skill levels of your students equal or better that the skill level of the same ranking students of other systems?Originally Posted by Jiujitsu77Originally Posted by HumanzeeOriginally Posted by jk55299 on Keysi Fighting Method
2/15/2010 8:59am, #9
This is why I did Judo....
...BUT... its why I really love Sambo."Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back." -- Hericletus, circa 500 BC
2/15/2010 12:13pm, #10
What is the 'typical' duration that a Kenpo practitioner (actively!) trains before he is awarded a 3rd degree through traditional means?