A World of Politics in Martial Arts

In my worldview, I have always thought that the things that restrict human freedom were things that should be ridiculed and brought out into the light. Let them be exposed for what they really are and let them face public scrutiny. I am not right 100% of the time, however, I do think I have good judgment when it comes to things like freedom of the press, politics, cults, and religions. These are things that we have to deal with in the world that we live in today. We also have to deal with each one of these things in the Martial Arts and Mixed Martial Arts world.

I ‘ve trained Martial Arts for over 40 years in many countries. There are things that are different in every Dojo you visit and there are familiar things as well. One thing that is constant is the respect that lower belts pay to the people that have achieved upper belt ranks. In Tae Kwon Do, if you have achieved a brown belt or higher, regardless of your age, they will refer to you as Mr. /Mrs. , Coach, or even Sensei. This is purely out of respect for your rank and the appreciation of the amount of mat time that it takes to achieve it. That being said, not all ranks are the same. The belt color might be the same, but the athlete behind the belt is completely a different monster. A Black Belt out of the Gracie Academy that has put in 1000s of hours of mat time is different from the guy who gets his Black Belt from Kim’s Kung-Ninja-Do and Pizza Emporium. This way, as good Martial Artists it is important to look at the fighter rather than the rank they hold.

It important as a Martial Artists that you expose yourself to as many different Arts and competitors as possible as you advance in your career. They say that variety is the spice of life, and this holds very true in Martial Arts as well. Think about it. If you are training in the same Dojo day in and day out for years against the same 5 teammates, you will have their games completely memorized in a number of months. At a certain point, your sparring or rolling becomes robotic and you will hit a training plateau. When that happens you can go for months without feeling like you are improving. In times like these, one of the best things you can do is visit another Dojo as a guest.

This is where the fun begins with some Dojos. Since the beginning of Martial Arts, there have been Instructors that will tell their students not to train with other Dojos or their students. This is because back in the day, people thought that their techniques were proprietary and only the students of one Dojo can learn them. This is kind of a ridiculous notion, but it was the culture of the time. Now, with the culture of Martial Arts shifting to more of an international competition and more realistic Martial Arts techniques, this is not the case anymore. People and practitioners are more focused on realistic techniques that work and tend to laugh at “secret” or “magical” techniques that only one guy knows. It’s become more of a mindset of how does my Art and training stack up against other Martial Artists. If I win, great. If I get submitted, K.O.’d, or outpointed, what can I learn from that experience to make myself a better Martial Artist?

If your instructor tells you not to train at other Dojos you should start to question why. Are they trying to retain a student? Is it a personal issue? Did you just join a cult? There may even be legitimate reasons for their disapproval. You should find out why and ask if this is a Dojo you want to continue on with?

So instructors do in fact become power hungry because of all the love and respect the students in their Dojo heap on them. They end up forming a cult-like environment and it is probably a good idea to shop around for another place to train.

More modern instructors will happily send their students out into the world to train. Afterall, if you are competing in local tournaments then these are the people you will be competing against. It’s good to get out there and test your abilities. See how your Martial Arts skills stack up outside your normal training partners.

When you do go out there to train outside your normal Dojo, there are some things to keep in mind. Following the correct protocols and being polite will always go a long way.

Remember you are there to learn and test your art. You are not there to teach. DOn’t be that guy that chimes in every few seconds with “I can get out of that.” or “That’s not the way my teacher teaches it.” Don’t be that guy. You will go down in history, but not the kind of history you want. Do the techniques taught by the coach. At the end of the day, you can decide later if you want to add that technique to your battle chest or not. You do not have to verbalize it on spot. Remembering this will make you welcome at nearly every Dojo or gym in your area and around the world.

Politics in gyms and between gyms are a real thing as well. It is a good idea to start to learn the temperature of the local scene before starting out on your adventure. Remember your goal is to test your art and not cause issues. Learn this temperature by going to local tournaments and talking to other artists. Normally speaking as a lower belt you can visit gyms that are having a row. But as a higher belt, it will get very tricky to do so. Some may even see it as a challenge. That is a situation most should avoid.


Remember the reason you started training in your art, you wanted to learn something cool, and you wanted to challenge yourself. As you advance in your career it is important to spread your wings. A little manners and respect will take you very far and make opportunities for you to test and improve yourself.



About the Author

Jeremy Deschner
Black Belt in American Karate from the Texas Karate Institute. Now training in Brazilian Jiujitsu in Japan. Twitter: @mmajpn1 @jiujitsu_Jedi

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