Without Writing

The art of writing without writing… about fighting.

How To Spot a Fraud

While discussing my blog post on Sid Sofos (and people like him) with some friends, the following question came up: Is there a hard and fast way of spotting those in the field of martial arts who wish to pull the wool over your eyes by giving you ineffective techniques, and taking your money in the process?

It’s true that Sofos is a painfully obvious example of a completely fake, totally meritless excuse for a martial arts instructor. But people still seem to have been taken in by him, especially those without previous martial arts experience. So how can prospective martial artists possibly protect themselves from frauds who are more convincing than Sofos? And let’s face it, any fraud will be more convincing than Sofos.

So is there a checklist of some sort that one can apply to a martial arts teacher to determine whether he’s trying to con one out of one’s hard earned cash? This is my attempt to draft such a checklist, for the benefit of seekers of combative knowledge.

Question 1: Is the teacher claiming to have mystical or pseudo-mystical powers of any sort?

This would include things like:

– The teacher claiming to have (or even demonstrating) the ability to fling opponents unnaturally high into the air, often without touching them or only touching them very lightly.

– The teacher claiming to have psychic powers, like the ability to literally read the thoughts of an opponent.

– The teacher claiming to be able to disable an opponent with their voice

– The teacher claiming to be able to disable an opponent by hitting a small pressure point with their fingers… or any other appendage.

Bear in mind that students of fraudulent martual gurus will often back their teacher up on all these points if asked. Students will co-operate with their teacher in the most ridiculous and craven ways; students will swear on pain of death that Sensei’s secret Ki-powers, e.g: “OMG Sensei’s Ki is so real! He just touched my hand and I flew backwards totally without doing it myself!!!”  are real. Watch out for this bizarre type of ideomotor effect and don’t listen too much to what deluded students tell you,

By the way, the appropriate answer to give in response to such a statement is “Yeah, right.”

If the answer to question 1 is “yes”, then don’t train with this teacher. Ever. The only thing you’ll learn from such a teacher is:  just how easily you and your money can be parted.

Question 2: Is there evidence that the teacher actually can apply/has applied his or her techniques against a resisting opponent?

If a teacher can’t use what they’re teaching in a sparring match, they definitely won’t be able to use it in a real fight. And if they can’t use their own material in a fight, how the hell will you? Therefore, beware teachers who don’t spar with their students.

There are a couple of provisos to this rule: bear in mind that many older trainers and coaches don’t spar with their students any longer, but often they will have a past record of fights or sporting matches that one can refer to to evaluate their effectiveness. e.g: Billy Robinson‘s knees are shot. This doesn’t mean that he wasn’t able to apply the techniques he teaches BEFORE his knees were shot. His record speaks for itself.

In addition, some teachers really are masters of theory. In the field of self-defence, you may learn a great deal of indispensable information from someone who can’t “fight” per-se. You might for instance learn how to spot danger before it becomes an issue. Or how to talk your way out of trouble. All very vital stuff. But in more physical disciplines, if the answer to question 2 is “no”, avoid the teacher in question.

Question 3: Is the teacher’s syllabus going to give you what they advertised/promised?

If a school purports to be a self-defence school, they should be teaching self-defence. They shouldn’t merely be teaching shopping mall karate or killer kommando kungfu. On the other hand, if a school claims to be teaching fighting, or in other words combative technique, they should be teaching a syllabus full of practical material that can be employed against a resisting opponent. Anything else is by definition fraudulent… and false advertising.

So there we have it. Three questions that will root out most of the martial frauds you may encounter in your quest for knowledge. Not all, but most.

Of course… I realise that some of the teachers who fit these descriptions are themselves deluded, rather than being intentionally fraudulent. However in my book, even if they’re also conning themselves, they are still conning you.

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3 responses to “How To Spot a Fraud

  1. scotto 2012, September 24 at 5:44 am

    Good post. I realise that your blog is aimed at people practicing what you regard as ‘martial’ arts, however I’m interested in your ideas about spotting frauds in the ‘traditional’ or koryu martial arts such as iaijutsu. Surely some of the same principles apply?

    • withoutwriting 2012, September 24 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks for the interesting question.

      There will be frauds in any art and discipline, this much is obvious. When one is seeking to study a classical or historical art the same way it was practiced in the past, which has remained unchanged since some indeterminate time in the past, one will encounter a different type of fraud.

      The main type of fraudulent activity that one might encounter when seeking a old traditional japanese “martial” art (a”koryu bujutsu”) would be: People claiming that their art is classical when it is in fact a recent invention or recent reimagination of an older art. (e.g: Judo is a “gendai budo”, a relatively new school of jujutsu, adapted from older schools… some fraudulent people might therefore only have studied judo, and teach a judo syllabus, but at the same time claim that theirs is a forgotten classical art.)

      Of course, the real question is: why would one wish to study a koryu art?

      The only valid, sensible reason to study a koryu art in my view is to preserve a historical curiosity. The usual reasons to study martial arts don’t apply to koryu arts; practical reasons such as learning self-defence, improving fitness and confidence would all be better served by studying younger arts like Judo, or much older arts like greco-roman wrestling and boxing.

      Koryu arts, by their very nature, must remain unchanged and unchanging to an unusual degree… or they will no longer be koryu arts. Combat however changes as each generation changes, as each new form of weapon becomes the vogue.

      Therefore a martial artist will change too, and his or her art will change with him/her, or it will lose relevance.

      If you’re a historian with a passion for one particular small period in Japanese martial history, you might want to study a koryu art… then you’d have to worry about frauds like those described above, and check the lineage and qualifications of each instructor etcetera (much easier nowadays with the use of the internet)…

      But in my considered opinion if you want to learn an effective martial art; an art or set of arts that will be effective for you, today… you’re better off leaving the past in the past.

  2. scotto 2012, September 25 at 1:01 am

    Thanks for your reply, it’s interesting to think about things that way. It seems to me that koryu has an unfortunate attraction in some cases for folk who have some need to dress themselves in some kind of foreign tradition and mystery.

    For example, I know one guy who practices a koryu tradition who not only goes by a Japanese name [he’s caucasion Australian], but tells people he’s a samurai and has said on occasion that he gets mystical teachings in his dreams from the school’s headmaster. At the same time, after years of sometimes making threats to others that disagree with him on various issues, the same guy insists that ‘Japanese tradition’ mean that his edicts be obeyed without question. This seems like dangerously delusion rubbish to me.

    Although this particular guy seems like an extreme case, I’ve seen a number of people attracted to the ‘traditional’ arts who seem to have various degrees of this syndrome.

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