Why You Should Join a Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association School
Can you imagine paying good money for tuition and then studying for years at a college only to discover that the school was never accredited either by the state or by the National Association of Colleges? Would you feel cheated?
Now imagine hiring a lawyer to defend you in a major lawsuit only to discover once in court that the lawyer never actually graduated from an accredited school and is not allowed to practice in your state. Or worse yet, what if he can try the case but doesn’t really know how to properly manage it due to insufficient training and education.
In the United States we have in place a series of consumer protections for supervision of such professional activity. Aside from a professional organization’s code of ethical conduct there are laws to prevent improperly trained or uneducated individuals from practicing these professions (law, medicine, dentistry. etc.). These laws are strictly enforced and there are severe penalties for any abuses.
What most in the United States don’t know however is that unlike in Korea, the American martial arts industry is for all intents and purposes unregulated. When most people join a martial arts school here, they assume that the training and education is equal and if not identical to the country of origin is at least on par. Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that if the school advertises that it teaches Karate it teaches like the Japanese. (Otherwise, it would have an American name) Unfortunately nothing can be further from the truth.
In Korea, the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association has been certifying instructors since 1945. The founding Grand Masters of the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association were dedicated to the preservation and promotions of all Korean Military Arts and wanted to ensure the future growth of these beautiful arts. The current President of the KMAIA is KwanJangNim Jong Sung Kim.
The Koreans view the martial arts just like we do our professions, and they have regulations regarding where a school can operate, who can run it and how the instructors are to be certified. Generally, a martial artist must obtain master status (4th dan) before he or she will be allowed to own or operate a school. This holds true in Japan and Okinawa as well. Furthermore, there are age requirement for each rank thru master level. Until someone is 16 years of age in Korea, they are not awarded Dan (black belt) rank and they must train for a required number of years before being promoted again. After that all promotions must be obtained from a certified master instructor with at least two higher levels of rank. (A third-degree black belt can’t promote another black belt to second Dan)
By contrast in the United States, we have no governmental controls over the martial arts industry. Anyone with the money to buy a premise permit and an occupational license can open a school and call it whatever he or she likes. The author personally knows several teenagers who did not qualify for 2nd Dan rank due to their age yet who opened their own schools and began training students while claiming to hold instructor status. Sadly, there are an infinite number of martial arts instructors here who received their rank thru internet connections, by buying rank, or by self promotion rather than by progressing through a historically recognized curriculum with acknowledged standards.
A little-known fact among the public is that back in the sixties and seventies many Asians with basic martial arts skills arrived in the United States and discovered that with a black belt and foreign language they could claim whatever rank they desired. After all, how many of us can call Okinawa, Japan or Korea and verify a belt rank in Japanese or Korean? How many untrained students would even think of challenging their instructor?
One of my colleagues once described someone he knew who did something wrong for twenty years and called it experience. The problem we now have is that there are generations of martial artists who believe in their art and refuse to believe that their style originates with Oriental instructors who are not even recognized to 4th Dan master level in their country of origin.
I have heard the argument from such students that they aren’t interested in martial arts “politics” or philosophical arguments or inter-organizational jealousy. They just want to learn the martial art and their instructor is an awesome fighter, or instructor or athlete etc.”
Personally, if my ambition were to learn baseball and I was paying good money for that training I would rather train with a coach who had major league experience than with someone who never advanced past little league. It would surely be worse if the little leaguer portrayed himself as someone with higher credentials. Imagine arriving for tryouts with the Yankees only to discover you had never been taught what a bunt was or how to hit a curve ball!
One of this country’s most famous “grand masters” once tested abroad some years ago for seventh Dan grandmaster status only to be told by the Koreans that his skills only qualified him for a second-degree black belt. His answer? He returned to the United States, purchased grandmaster rank from an American organization that is not recognized in Korea and then changed the name of the art he was teaching so he would be recognized as a “head of style”. His students now believe they are on a par with those learning from accredited schools and that the only difference is the name of the school. Unfortunately, not having received proper organizational oversight nothing could be father from the truth. No matter how long they train they will never learn more than the highest member of their organization because he never had the knowledge to teach them in the first place.
There are black belts who have trained for years and yet still don’t understand the why and wherefore of even the most basic skills of their art. Consequently, they have “monkey see monkey do” skills and are surprised and embarrassed to learn they haven’t been taught techniques taught in the Orient to colored belts.
Some years back I had the opportunity to attend a master’s graduation course in Hapkido where I met a Master from this previously mentioned American organization. He accepted a demotion of several belt ranks so he could be recertified with the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association. When I asked him why he did this he explained that he was studying the martial arts so he could be the best he personally could be, not to fool or impress anyone with a rank that did not truly count. To this day he remains one of the most ethical people I have met.
For information about the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association or how to attend one of their courses in Korea go to http://www.kmaia.org
About the author: R.W. Stone is a veterinarian in Florida. He is an avid horseman, martial artist, best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. Currently Stone is ranked a sixth dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a third dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki TaeKwondo. He is the Master Instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies in Ocoee, Florida. Read his daily thoughts on Martial Arts at www.facebook.com/groups/koreanmartialarts For more information on Hapkido visit www.haemukwan.com