Martial Arts Vs Self-Defense: Beware of Fake “Masters”

Before you settle on a traditional martial arts instructor, especially if you’re looking for effective street self-defense, you need to be sure that what you will learn is combat effective and that the instructor is qualified, experienced, and skilled enough to teach. But how can you tell the difference between legitimate instructors and fake “masters”?

Consider the following scenario: stepping into a prospective “school”, you’re met by an imposing-looking guy wearing a Karate suit. A shiny satin black belt is tied around his waist, embroidered with impressive looking Japanese characters. There are certificates mounted on the wall behind him; one of them shows that Bob Smith is a 10th Dan black belt in a suitably asian-sounding martial art that you’ve never heard of; another claims that Bob Smith is the “Grandmaster Founder” of “Smith-Ryu Do Karate” – and, yes, you’re talking to… Grandmaster Bob himself!

Wow, you must be in the presence of a REAL master, right?

Think again.

Sure, the above scenario is outlandish, but believe it or not, there are fake “masters” out there who are happy to teach bogus “martial arts” that might get you killed, and they have many ways to fool prospective victims into handing over their hard-earned money to them.

Here are a few things that you should bear in mind before you sign up for instruction with any “master”: visit –

    • 1) Lineage. If you’ve never heard of the martial art that the instructor claims to teach, ask about it. Many fake “masters” invent their own styles of “martial arts”. These scam artists often appoint themselves grandmasters or self-award themselves high ranks. They may even hold legitimate-looking (but still fake) certificates in real martial art styles, awarded by some dubious organization that has been set up to exchange rank for money, so be sure to check out who awarded the instructor’s claimed rank/s. A legitimate martial art should have a clear lineage as a matter of historical record. At the very least, an instructor should be able to tell you a little about the history of his art and about his or her own teacher. And no, proof-less stories about being trained by unknown mystery masters won’t cut it.


    • 2) Experience. There are many reasons to study a martial art; some people are interested in the history of classical martial arts, some appreciate martial arts as performance arts, some are looking for a means of overall self-improvement, and some look for real world self-defense training. If self-defense training is your priority, you need to ensure that your instructor has tested what he teaches. Many fake “masters” know something about martial arts theory, often cobbled together from conflicting sources in books or from the internet, but know almost nothing about practical application. Often, the best teachers have worked in the military, law-enforcement, or other careers that require proficiency in the use of practical self-defense techniques.


    • 3) Testimony. Can you talk to the instructor’s students? Can you choose which of them you talk to? Can you talk to them without the instructor being present? A legitimate instructor should have no problem with you talking to his students. A teacher with few students is not necessarily a bad teacher, but one who tries to prevent you getting honest feedback should probably not be trusted.


  • 4) Skill. Observe a demonstration class. Sometimes, when all else fails, you need to trust your eyes. All claims and proof aside, does the instructor look like he REALLY knows his stuff? Can he clearly convey theory? Can he accurately demonstrate techniques? Can he motivate his students? Not only should you look for an instructor who is a skilled martial arts practitioner, your potential instructor should have solid communication and teaching skills, too! Fake “masters” are often all too obviously bogus when you observe their actual work.


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