Martial Arts Myths Part I
The Truth Behind Martial Arts Organizations

by Troy Baker

Perhaps you have been here before: You go to a martial arts school and talk to the instructor about joining the school, and then you hear "...and because we belong to Organization XYZ," and then a load of impressive sounding benefits that makes you think about how this must really be a great school. Hey, if they are that proud of the organization they belong to, it must be good - right? Welcome to the new world of the snake oil salesman.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are some good martial arts organizations out there. Some of them actually do have some benefits that might even filter down to you. Mostly though, it is just a confidence game. Here is how it works:

Pick up any martial arts magazine at the news stand and look at the small ads in the back. Pick an organization with an impressive sounding name or initials. There are many to choose from. Send in a registration form along with the appropriate fee, and wham-bam, your school has instant credibility.

Now, many schools would have you believe that because they belong to this or that organization, that there school is better. Let's look at the benefits they try to sell a prospective student one at a time.

If you earn any belts through us, they will be good anywhere.

Not exactly. If you are with an association, you can transfer your belts to another school in the same organization. The catch? No organization has schools everywhere. Most likely, there won't be one where you go, no matter how large they claim to be. Even if you find a school in that organization where you move to, there are good and bad schools in every organization. There is no set standard of quality in any organization, regardless of what the school tells you.

Basically, if you go to another place and find a good school, one of three things will happen.

1) The new school will accept your rank regardless of where you obtained it.
2) The new school will not accept your rank and you have to start over. (So what?)
3) The new school will evaluate your skills and give you the rank they think you deserve according to their standards.

In our organization, you will have access to training with grandmasters in the martial art we study.

Actually, this is likely. But just because you get to see a Grandmaster in action, that does not mean that he can magically give you martial arts skills by simply being in his presence. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to belong to many organizations that were run by the founder of an art, and found it to be quite enriching.

Once the founder dies, however, the organization as well as the art seems to go downhill and gets very politically oriented. Many splinter organizations are formed in the aftermath and every one claims to be heir to the throne.

An organization insures that certain standards of performance are maintained.

No, an organization sends a representative to perform a test and collect a fee. The representative will pass any student who tests. You see, if a student ever fails a test, they might get mad and quit, even if they know they don't deserve it. The school loses money and might get mad at the organization. Associations work for the school, not the schools students, and they don't survive by insuring standards, they stay in business by collecting fees.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, if the school belongs to the Better Business Bureau, you can at least call them to see if there have been any complaints about the school and they will actually tell you. Sometimes a federation will have minimum age for black belt requirements or sometimes even a required number of hours of training before allowing tests, but these organizations are exceptions, not the rule.

If an organization performed background checks on its instructors, and wouldn't take drug dealers or child molester, then I could say that it was attempting to enforce standards, but I haven't seen one yet that thought this was a good idea. When introduced to this notion, most talk about how it would cost too much or take too much time. In fact, I know of one organization that actively opposes this type of regulation because some states have tried to pass legislation to this effect. They say that since the boy scouts and others aren't required to pass such checks, that it would be unfair for martial arts instructors to have to. This organization encourages member schools to vote against such legislation. So far, they are successful.

On the good side, if the school you join belongs to a typical organization, you are 100% sure to pass your belt exams, whether you know your stuff or not. The only time you could possibly fail is if your check doesn't clear. If you want fast promotions and easy exams, I guess you could consider this a plus. But be prepared to pay extra and forget about "standards."

Our organization holds tournament competitions which only other member schools can participate in.

Unaffiliated schools compete too. I have seen some competitors just as good as ones from affiliated schools, if not better, because they compete with a more diverse group of martial artists.

In our organization, a master/world champion comes down to perform your tests.

Does this master teach the classes? How will this "world champion" help you? If you are fortunate enough (and can afford it), will a couple of hours a year at a seminar with a hundred other people make you better? Doubtful. And how much will it cost you? Plenty. I know from experience.


Organizations don't make a school better. Pick your school based on its own merits, not on which organization it belongs to. If the organization is the schools only selling point, look elsewhere. And don't fall for the hype.

Incidentally, I belong to several organizations. They include the ITF, IPMAF, USAF, MAF, and KDP. I have earned credentials from USTF, NAPMA, UTA, Moo Duk Kwan, MAJKA, FAF, and the CAKFA. I have even been licensed by TACKA, and competed under WTF, WMA, IGJJF, ATFI, and other associations. The only reason I stay with some of them is because I might have access to continue MY training, or get other member benefits that help me run my school.

Do these organizations mean anything to you? They shouldn't. Neither should any other schools organizations, associations, or federations. They don't do a thing for the students of a school except raise the cost of instruction.