By Lakhvinder S. Madahar
It seems there is a moral battle going on in today’s martial arts industry. Should it be quantity or quality? What’s more important? The amount of students in the school, the student’s excellence or is it possible to accomplish both? Generally speaking the martial arts practitioners who are true to themselves, their arts, their students and teachers are in pursuit of unattainable excellence – physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. They also feel a sense of responsibility for sharing the knowledge by carefully selecting their students. Furthermore, there is some knowledge that is only passed on to the few worthy students. Small classes are taught to around half a dozen students and these classes possess incredible martial arts standards. It is much more than just about the physical kicking and punching. Instead, it is a way of life, almost like a religion.
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell”. - Buddha
Also, there are the ever increasing McDojo instructors who are the martial businessman that tend to follow the flavour of the month and have no real foundation in any martial art themselves but have convinced themselves of their own Master status. Although they usually tend to have a large student base, the standard of their martial arts usually leaves a lot to be desired. If all martial artists studied the necessary business skills and in turn, the martial businessman spent some years training in real martial arts, then this would perhaps balance out the best of both worlds.
When I began teaching as a professional instructor, I learnt that despite being passionate about martial arts and enjoying all of its aspects I still needed to continue to search and understand the art in more depth. Subsequently, I came up with a set of rules for myself because when one is enjoying what one loves so much, there can be a danger of being perceived as nothing more than a busy fool!
Here are the set of rules I used as a guide:
In the early 1980’s, I had searched out a couple of Gatka (Indian martial art) instructors in Coventry and I began to train with them. Neither of the instructors charged me for the training. When I asked them why they didn’t want any money for the training they just laughed and said they had made enough money! They went on to explain how they had worked long hours in their past and had been employed to carry out manual work in factories. “You youngsters haven’t got it in you to work like we did” they said. I kept quiet as I was brought up to respect my elders. They seemed to be enjoying life despite holding little faith in the younger generation. However, at a later date, one of the instructors did explain that when they were being taught Gatka by their Gurus in India, similarly they didn’t charge them either. Instead, students carried out odd jobs for their instructors on the farm and practiced Gatka once the work was complete. The Guru would teach them a particular technique about once a month and in turn, the students would naturally be very grateful and so continue to practice with renowned enthusiasm.
It could be said that I have been on both sides of the fence. Initially, I also taught my students free of charge, in my home dojo/garage, which I had built in 1991 with the help of a few friends. At the time, I was working as a builder, which involved some travelling, so it was also great that I could get back late and have a quick workout. However, I quickly out-grew the garage as my students increased and so I hired a hall at the local community centre and began to charge the students in order to pay the rent. It was always a dream of mine to have a place with facilities such as; a punch bag, weights, etc. Now, along with the aforementioned I have a wooden dummy, a chin up bar, floor/ceiling ball and a matted floor for grappling. Currently, nearly a quarter of a century later, I am the proud owner of the largest Martial Arts School in Coventry. I am teaching at Total Martial Arts Academy and we hold over 30 classes per week. I have held seminars with the real legends of the Martial Arts world such as Joe Lewis, Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace, Erik Paulson, Rick Young, Master ChokeChaiChana Kurtsuwan, etc. I have even created a few champions! It could be said that I’ve maintained the quantity without turning into Mr Big Mac!
In last month’s Learning Curves column I touched upon the subject of ‘McDojo’s’, a term that has gradually become part of the martial arts vocabulary. Some martial artists find the term irritating and try to stay clear of everything the McDojo’s represents. Perhaps some of the irritations are justified. There have been suggestions that the standards are lowered in order to award students the grades which are promised at the time of signing the initial contract, instead of basing them on accomplishment and ability earned through hard work. In my professional opinion, this practice is not benefitting the arts or its practitioners as they seem to be watered down beyond recognition and the students often appear to be filled with false confidence.
“An Exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper” - by Kahil Gibran
I believe, whenever profit (£) has come first the product has always suffered and been abused to the point of extinction. The Martial Arts are a Martial Science, a Martial Sport, a Martial Fitness, a Martial Entertainment and so much more, except an ego-inflating exercise.
Since most of the traditional martial arts are ancient fighting systems with hand held weapons on the battle field under a military establishment. The modern world has superseded the original purpose of these arts because this set-up doesn’t exist in today’s world. Yes, there are the odd individuals who fight with hand held weapons in the street fights and domestic fights. There is also the odd rising of machete welding groups due to political upheaval carrying out some sort of genocide.
In current times, the first choice of a weapon seems to be the gun. The skills, the concepts, the strategies, the principles and the theories developed on the ancient battle fields are the blue prints of today’s warfare. The modern warfare weapons are usually the state of the art but the tactic and strategies applied are well proven and tested in history.
Providing the law allows it, it is my belief that a good self-protection programme should include training in unarmed combat, impact weapons, knife-work and firearms, backed up with an in-depth knowledge of strategies and tactics. The purpose of empty-hands training is twofold, 1. Hand to hand combat, 2. Dealing with environmental weapons,
Fighting is an extremely serious subject because people are intentionally stabbed, beaten and even killed. Even with the best training in the world, there are no guarantees of your survival or the survival of your loved ones but there is a guarantee of you not surviving without any training at all!
Certain martial sports competition rules also allow intentionally killing and/or seriously maiming an opponent because this outcome is acceptable in some cultures in the world.
Some wrestling contests in India have used a hand-held weapon, a type of spiked knuckle duster. Also, the Filipino martial arts are no stranger to full contact stick fighting contests to the death where every part of the body is trained to be a lethal weapon. These arts involve punching, kicking, head-butts, throws, take-downs, foot stamps and are all used in fighting matches without any armour.
Understandably, we cannot teach our students to be fighters to the death but nor is it right to inflate them with a false sense of confidence by turning them into so-called Black Belt paper-tigers. This can only be harmful in the long run.
As I write this month’s Learning Curves, an individual on the internet was busy becoming a sensation with his supposed set of Muay Thai clips. The clips were doing their round on YouTube and the Muay Thai community on Facebook appeared to be belly laughing in response. After viewing the clips myself, I too was amused but more so, lost for words at the individual’s naivety of his supposed ‘Master’ standard. In my opinion, he came across as no more than an intermediate student level. Judging from the Facebook reaction he received from his brief YouTube exposer it could be hoped that he will take the constructive criticism given by others and comprehend that it takes more than he thought to become a legitimate Muay Thai Master. Thankfully, in this instance, the individual responded to criticism by deleting his YouTube account and so saving the Martial Arts world from yet another McDojo.
My trades are as a Carpenter within the building trade and as a teacher of Martial Arts. At the top end of the scale, both industries have left a legacy of some extraordinary results and masterpieces and yet both suffer with a large number of chancers (Cowboys/McDojo’s) making the general public wary about who can be trusted!
Until next month – God Bless!
About the Columnist: Lakhvinder S. Madahar has 42 years’ experience in the Martial Arts and is the founder/owner of Coventry’s Total Martial Arts Academy. He is in Martial Arts Illustrated Hall of Fame 2012 (Top Instructors and School owners) and in the Combat & Fighters Hall of Fame 2011 (Commitment & Devotion to The Development of Martial Arts in the United Kingdom and around the World).
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