The Death of Integrity in the Hapkido Community
There are people who believe that they can buy honor, respect, and experience without putting in the time, sweat, work and dedication. It can be an honor to receive acknowledgement from your peers or superiors, but this honor cannot substitute or replace knowledge, skill, and experience. In today’s quick fix instant gratification society some people use a collection of certificates to hide behind their lack of skills. They use these certificates to hide their inadequacies so people will assume they have attained that level of knowledge, experience, and skill. They will emphasize to everyone how much these certificates mean to them and how important it is to have them. The emphasis should be on the content of training, the mental development and physical skill of the instructors and students, not the paper.
Once upon a time a student would train and learn from an instructor for weeks, months, years, and decades. The instructor would have spent the same amount of time teaching these personal students. The instructor would be as proud of the student as the student was of the instructor. When the student received a grading, the instructor, and the student both knew the exact curriculum for the required rank. Now a day’s, there appears to be a certificate exchange program, which would not be so bad if the people trained with each other for more than a weekend. Quite often people are doing this without even training with the instructors. These people often just meet at an event, seminar or gathering and present their black belt certificates like they are a greeting card. I met a few people who call it a reciprocity certificate. I give you one of mine and you give me one of yours.
I used to think, I don’t know how people can put these certificates up on their walls. How do people justify presenting themselves as a black belt or master in a martial art that they may have very little experience in, or sometimes no experience at all? Some people who have had years training alone or with many casual instructors may feel they need something to legitimize their training. They don’t realize they put themselves in the same category as the posers and online certificate collectors. If you have been training for a long time, your true credentials are in what you have done, and what you can do. Over the years you should have attended or promoted events, you could have made instructional videos or taught many students. As you continue to learn and train and experience many new things you could have taken pictures, videos, collected trophies or any other thing of true value which demonstrates your time and dedication to the arts.
This problem did not begin with the unscrupulous students and instructors looking for credibility. It began with the snake oil salesman selling the credentials. I was once told by a well-respected martial arts master that he just sells people what they want. If they want to pay for lessons, he will teach them. If they want to pay for a certificate, he will sell them. The Master laughed because some people have been known to travel all the way to Korea to only receive a certificate. The Master said, “He would have loved to share his art and knowledge, but when the student came to visit, he said that he came to get his black belt, rather than learn an art.” Isn’t it strange how the certificates have become more important than the knowledge, lessons, and experience?
I have seen people market themselves with these authentic traditional certificates that can be purchased by anyone with money. I really must wonder about the mind set or intent of not only the people buying these certificates, but also the instructors selling them. Never judge a person by a certificate; everyone should have a history, training partners, long time students and instructors.
Guess it’s sort of like buying a personally autographed baseball card, must be worth something to the right collector. With all the organizations, groups, and associations’ one can sure collect a lot of these certificates and replace the wallpaper in their office or home.
One of my favorite paper mill tricks is the person who is trying to gain credibility through the power of the people. They just surf the net looking for any martial artist or school, then contact them with praise and offer membership in their exclusive group of the best of the best. After receiving a free membership, they get offered a title like State Representative and in no time at all they are receiving a 9th degree black belt. Must make you wonder how the person governing this group can now give you a rank in your own martial arts style. Sort of a double edge sword though, now the person who gave the rank can make it appear as though they also gave the skill. This is another way of buying skill, just give rank to those with more skill and hide behind them to prove your credibility.
When you see a certificate on a wall of an instructor, it is a good question to ask; How long did you train with that Master who signed it? I met a fellow who told me he had been training for years with his Master. I had to laugh because I knew the instructor lives in Japan and this person has never even left the Country. It does not say much for a person who uses the credentials of someone they only trained with a couple classes per year. One thing for sure is the Master knows the difference between his personal students and his casual or seminar student’s, will you?
Once upon a time a certificate was meant to represent knowledge, skill, and experience. Martial Arts taught honor, respect, loyalty, dedication, humility, and wisdom. Things are very different now. Before training with anyone, you should thoroughly check their credentials, as even very well-known Masters have been known to sign a paper mill certificate.
There are many causes and reasons why we have this paper mill epidemic. I have listed only a few. Obviously, there must be a great supply and demand, which causes some to sell their credentials as certificates. The person selling the certificates knows what he is selling. The person buying knows what he is buying. Both people think they are fooling someone somewhere. The question is “Who really is the Fool?”
About the author: Richard Hackworth is the General Manager in the USA representing The World Hapkido Union who is working to unite Hapkido worldwide through improved standards and member support. He is the President of USA Hapkido Union, Inc. the official governing body for Hapkido in the United States under the authority of the World Hapkido Union in Korea. Visit the website at http://theworldhapkidounion.org