A Bad Reputation

I have recently gone through a bit of a learning curve on the view of martial arts, how clubs are run and peoples attitudes toward them. Sitting back and digesting the information I realise I have been quite naïve to it and in my training and teaching over the past 25 years I have been quite sheltered from it all. I must point out though that due to my recent experiences I am pleased that I have been.

It seems as though that many people have a very negative opinion of martial arts and what the training is all about. As I have always been trained properly and been brought up right, I have never come across any problems and, due to all the benefits I believe I have had from it, I was of course keen to get my children involved at the earliest possible moment. This brings me to a negative and, at the time, an unbelievable experience I had about 4 months ago. I had a surprising confrontation with one of the mothers from my son’s school. It appears that when the kids are play fighting it isn’t ok for my son to play back because he does martial arts! It is ok for him to get hit but he can’t hit back because he knows how to hit properly. Now I have seen this play fighting on the way out of school several times and have often been surprised at how reserved my boy has been. He doesn’t do half as much as he could do and I put this down to him being taught right and having the correct values and the respect for other people’s safety he has from his training. I tried to explain that it is a positive that he does martial arts and he has the control that the others lack. Unfortunately I feel it all fell on deaf ears and it seems as though there is just a complete negative opinion of martial arts and the people that study them.

Every martial arts organisation I have been involved in from an early age have followed the true values of martial arts and rather than just teaching how to kick and punch etc. I have learnt respect, discipline and control amongst many other values and I know my son is getting the same ethos. So as I have had nothing but positive experiences, at the time I was so shocked that someone could have such a negative impression of martial arts and what they are actually about. I don’t know where her opinion stems from but more recently I have experienced something that would give anyone a negative opinion of martial arts training if they didn’t know any better.

A couple of weeks ago I went to support a few friends in a point sparring and light contact sparring competition. What I witnessed was beyond believable and other than a few exceptions from certain people and clubs there was a complete disdain to what martial arts is about. There was a lack of respect to students, judges, referees and themselves. Some reading this will know what I am talking about but without the experience of being there then it is hard to comprehend just how disgusting the behaviour was from some people. As a martial artist I was embarrassed for them. Without going into too much detail there were coaches from certain clubs screaming, swearing and hitting their own fighters (I’m talking kids here) and arguing every decision with the judges and literally bullying themselves into a favourable decision. Now if all this is happening in a public event what goes on behind closed doors at these clubs?!

I have always said that there are good and bad clubs but every martial art has something to offer. I stand by this but now add there are ugly clubs too. It is such a shame as they are obviously doing some things right as these kids had some brilliant skills but at what expense? It is these clubs that give martial arts such a bad reputation and damage the opportunities that decent, well respected clubs have of demonstrating the benefits martial arts can offer a community. As an instructor or coach in martial arts you need to set an example, very much like a parent or school teacher. The behaviour portrayed to the child will stick with them and not knowing the difference they will begin to think that this behaviour is normal and acceptable. The way they are treated is the way they will treat others. When they see their coaches arguing with someone i.e. the referee, and getting their own way they believe that this is the way you get things in life. They will grow up with a complete lack of respect for authority.

There is a big difference between a club that trains fighters and a club that trains martial artists. Both can offer a great set of fighting and self defence skills but one can offer so much more. Just be careful when you are searching for a martial arts club for your child as what they are taught physically, socially and mentally can have a lasting effect on them.

Matt Fawcett
4th Dan Black Belt