The Powerful Influence of Authority as a Martial Arts Instructor

The Powerful Influence of Authority as a Martial Arts Instructor

The block that convinced me to stop teaching it.

Please read this objectively as you can. Some martial artists are easily insulted, which is not the purpose of this article. The goal is to stimulate thought and discussion. 

As martial arts professionals, most of us fell in love with the arts from our first class. 

You, like me, were probably hooked from that first class. 

Travel back in your mental time machine to the earliest moments you can recall learning martial arts. 

Here are seven predictions about that class. My experiences are in bold italics.

1. You started by learning the rituals of bowing in and out of class. Yes.

2. You were told to address the instructors as Mr., Mrs, Ms, Master, Sensei, Sifu, or some similar title? Yes.

3. The instructors were in full uniform. Yes.

4. The origin of the style explained to you as coming from the East and developed by martial arts masters. Yes. “Taekwondo was developed in Korea where they develop strong legs from climbing the hills.”

5. You were told the advantage of your martial arts style over others. Yes. “TKD is a kicking style. That’s best because the leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than the arm. 

6. You learned the horse stance from which you were taught to block and punch while squaring off to your opponent and pulling your hand to your hip and holding your punch out in the air. 

Yes, along with front and back stance.

7. Your instructor demonstrated a kata and explained, “This is a fight against multiple opponents.” Yes.

Now, imagine this…

The same exact skills are being taught, but what is the effect of eliminating the East from the class?

1. The class did fist bumps instead of bowing?

2. The instructor said, “Call me Joey.”

3. The instructor was in sweat pants and a t-shirt?

4. The instructor said, “I created this in the Bronx. I had to climb a lot of stairs as a kid, so I developed strong legs.”

5. The instructor explained the advantage of the style is that “It’s a kicking style. That’s best because the leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than the arm.”

6. The instructor taught the same horse stance from which you were taught to execute blocks and punches while squaring off to your imaginary opponent and pulling your hand to your hip, aiming and holding your punch still in the air. 

7. The instructor demonstrated a kata and explained, “This is a fight against multiple opponents.” 

If the skills Instructor Joey taught and the reasoning behind them were the exact same as we experienced in our actual first lessons, would anyone watching have readily accepted what was being taught as we did?


Suspending our Disbelief–East and West

Suspension of disbelief is the voluntary avoidance of critical thought and logic.

When you watch a Superman movie and accept that Superman can fly, that is the suspension of disbelief.

Do we suspend our disbelief about what is presented as self-defense and practical skills because it has Eastern origins?

Two Quick Stories

When I was a new 14-year old orange belt, my dad asked me to show his buddy what I learned. They were drinking beer and smoking at our dining room table.

I did the new orange belt kata, Tan Gun and I explained each step as I had been taught. 

When I got close to the end, I executed a square block while explaining, “This is how you block two guys at once. One overhead and the other to the side.”

At that point, Dad’s friend said, “That sounds like a bunch of bulls*** to me.” 

20-years later, and I’m at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, where I’m going to teach the inaugural ACMA Certification Program (now the MATA Certification). 

I was on a stair master in the gym when an adult karate class started on the basketball court. The instructor started teaching Tan Gun. 

When he got to the square block, he explained it exactly as I learned it. 

I thought, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! How can those students keep a straight face?” 

Blocking two guys? I can’t believe I teach this stuff.” 

I never taught a kata or basics again. 

Masters Talk A Lot About Kaizen

How have you improved and progressed over the past few decades, or are you perpetuating square blocks?

Have you ever questioned the sheer logic of what you teach your students? 

Have you always been taught that the secrets of fighting and self-defense are hidden in the bunkai?

Now that we have multiple videos of the Asian masters executing bunkai, you can see why the root word is bunk.

Have you ever seen a horse stance, square block, or a lunge punch in a real street fight or self-defense situation?

I have nothing against teaching kata it’s great for cardio and coordination.

But I object when it’s taught in anyway as related to fighting, sparring, and certainly not self-defense.

I was a US Open Kata Champion. I was the first center judge at the WAKO World Champions in Munich when they introduced kata as a division.

I also consider myself a life-long student of the martial arts, not a master. 

Given the choice in a 50-minute class, I personally would not spend any time on basic blocks, lunge punches or kata. There are way too many fun skills and applications are actually rooted in the reality rather than buried in bunkai.


Why Reconsidering Kata is a Good Idea Post-Pandemic

Why Reconsidering Kata is a Good Idea Post-Pandemic

I am not against teaching kata as an art form. That is great. It’s like being a museum curator.

However, I am strongly against kata being presented as a tool for self-defense. That is fraud. That is what I am addressing here. 

I spent a decade of my life learning to be one of the country’s top kata competitors and teachers, only to discover that what I believed and taught was pure fantasy. At the bottom of this page, you can see me execute a kata and bunkai in my 3rd-degree black belt test.

Kata for practical training is worse than a waste of time because it creates terrible habits that can get you killed.

It’s confounding to me how many reasonably intelligent adult black belts believe that kata is the end-all to a martial arts curriculum. 

Unless it’s only for the art how can you justify spending 50% or more of your classroom time teaching traditional skills and kata?

How can you justify advertising that you teach self-defense when you’re spending 50% or more of your classroom time teaching traditional skills and kata?

In my experience, the best thing a martial arts school can do is to eliminate kata from the curriculum as fast as possible because there are so many far more effective drills and skills you can work on during the time that is wasted on kata.

Traditionalists talk about the “secret moves” in kata that you can only learn if a master reveals the hidden and protected bunkai of the form. These guys are in an eastern hypnotic trance.

Why not just teach the secret move instead of burying it in a bunch of useless moves? Remember, the root word in bunkai is bunk.

Before I get into the bad habits traditional martial arts create, let me help you with some perspective.

Kata was created by Asians that were probably about 5’ 5” foot tall and 130lbs. 

They did not fight 6’ 5” 250 lbs drunken males intent on smashing their faces.

As far as I know, they did not collaborate with law enforcement, prison guards, the military or anyone who deals with violent adults day in and day out.

Kata is one size fits all self-defense, which is foolish.

Where in kata can you adjust for a taller fighter? Where in kata can you adjust against someone trying to tackle you? Where in kata can you adjust to fight a shorter, stronger bull of an attacker? Where is there an in-direct attack using a fake in kata?

You can’t. You must execute all the steps in order or you are penalized by your instructor. 

Bunkai reveals that all kata are against multiple attackers. Why is the form designed so that you are standing between your opponents rather than moving to the outside and lining them up. That is rule one in fighting multiple attackers, yet kata does an awful job of teaching how to defend against more than one attacker.

Karate and Kung Fu Kata are all theory and teach TERRIBLE HABITS.

  1. Pulling the hand back to the hip instead of the face.
  2. Leaving a punch out for good form instead of snapping it back to a guard.
  3. Thrusting punches instead of snapping them.
  4. Squaring the center body-line to the opponent instead of turning it away to protect the groin, solar plexus, and throat.
  5. Becoming “one with the earth” in a deep stance rather than keeping your feet under you for instant mobility.
  6. Keeping the chin up for good form instead of tucking it down for protection.
  7. Pulling the shoulders back for good form instead of pulling them up for protection.

The best move I made was to replace traditional karate with modern skills that are much easier to learn and to teach. This is the basis of my  Empower Kickboxing curriculum at