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Certificate mills


A mill is an operation that churns out an endless supply of a product. A certificate mill churns out an endless supply of phony education degrees or rank certificates to anyone who pays a fee. Check out the Accreditation article for information about unaccredited education mills.

Mills are a touchy subject! Mills do not like being classified as mills since it would interfere with their fraudulent income. Willing or unwilling victims of mills do not like their degrees, certifications, ranks, etc. being exposed as useless since they rely on them for self-gratification, and sometimes their jobs.

Rank certificate mills

Some martial arts organizations are mills that exist only to issue rank certificates to those who send them money. These organizations require little to no verification of claims of rank and they do not attempt to authenticate the claims; you just send them money and they send you an "official" certificate.

Mills do not test in person, they do everything through correspondence or over the Internet, the applicant's physical presence is not required nor desired. One reason being they do not want you to see what the organization really is; a computer system in the bedroom of a small apartment.

Mills charge tens, if not hundreds, of dollars for a 25-cent certificate that is only worth the paper upon which it is printed. Just as no legitimate university will accept course credits or degrees earned from illegitimate or unaccredited schools, no legitimate martial arts organizations will accept rank obtained from a mill.

Before everyone gets upset, not all organizations that issue rank through correspondence are mills. Some do everything they can to authenticate applicant claims. However, none of this would be necessary if they simply required the applicant to test in person at an organization official testing location.

Some of the things mills use for verification of claimed rank:
  • Resume. Some of the mills require you to send a resume of your martial arts history. We all know that people tell the truth on their resumes and never exaggerate their qualifications.
  • Copy of your rank certificates. Rank certificates can be created and printed easily on a home computer or may be obtained from another online mill. Since the person is submitting a copy, it makes it impossible to tell if it fake by looking at it. Unless the organization knows the issuer to be legitimate and is able to verify that the issuer actually issued the certificate, the certificate is worthless.
  • Thesis. This is usually just a basic high school type paper. A thesis is an academic project that is researched and written in accordance with academic standards, constantly reviewed and critiqued by academics during its formation, and then submitted and defended in person before an academic board. A paper is just a writing submitted by a person. We all know from our school and college days that papers are never faked.
  • Tournament history. This is easily faked or inflated unless the organization has direct access to tournament records or knows trustworthy people who were at the tournaments who can verify the information.
  • Letters of recommendation. These are easily faked unless they are from people within the organization or from people to whom the organization has direct contact.
  • Video of the person performing. This is easily faked by having a stand-in perform in the video. Some organizations may require a copy of a photo ID to verify the person on the video; however, photo ID's are also easily faked using a computer, especially when you are only furnishing a copy. 

At an in-person test, the tester has one chance to get it right or he or she fails; no matter how tired, ill, or injured the person may be at the time. On a video, the tester chooses the best time to perform and can make numerous versions and select the best one to submit.

Mills do not authenticate claims made by applicants since any attempt to do so would cost them money and their primary purpose is to make money; therefore, they just rely on their infinite wisdom to discern whether the claims are true. The requirements they have are just there to make the process seem legitimate; they are actually just a part of the scam.

Some organizations may actually have good intentions, strict standards, and try to authenticate all claims; however, authentication can be very expensive, so they aren’t very thorough. If an applicant is willing to spend the money required to have his or her claims authenticated, why do they not just pay the money to get tested in person by a legitimate organization?

Testing considerations

Every time I awarded a rank to a student, I asked myself, “Would I want this student to be an example of a student of mine at this rank level?” When a martial artist tells someone he or she was awarded his or her rank by me, it means my integrity and teaching abilities will be judged by what that martial artist is able to do.
  • What would be considered a perfect performance?
  • The level of performance expected of an average student testing for this rank.
  • The level of performance as compared to the level of performance of students who tested for the rank in the past.
  • The level of performance as compared to the level of performance of other students who were testing for the rank at that moment.

I could not accomplish this through correspondence or videos. I want to see the student’s, appearance, mannerisms, body structure, etc., and how he or he reacts to stress, failure, pain, etc. I want to feel the strength of the student's handshake and test his or her muscle tone. I want to smell the cleanliness of the tester, the appearance of his or her uniform and hear the student's breathing, the depth of the kiai, and the moans and groans. Rank testing is an experience, not an administrative process.

Legitimate rank issuing organizations

A legitimate rank issuing organization issues rank to students who have been:
  • Trained by a certified instructor of the organization.
  • Tested in person by a certified instructor, or a group of certified instructors, of the organization and passed the testing.  A 5th-degree in karate disagreed with me on this point. His complaint was that today most organizations issue high rank by correspondence (previous rank certificates, resume, letters of recommendation, thesis, videos of performance, tournament records, etc.) and that ranks above 3rd degree are mostly awarded for a time in rank and work in the art and the organization, not physical performance. His argument is that correspondence rank is just as legitimate as rank issued to people who tested in person. I disagree.
  • Recommended for rank by a certified instructor, or a group of instructors, of the organization as having met or exceeded the organization's requirements for the rank.

Why people want mill certifications

If a person has a rank that was issued by his or her martial art's certifying organization, why would they want to pay more money for a rank certificate from some "unifying" organization or have their rank "recognized" by another organization? Most would not! However, there are some who would. Some of the reason they want mill certifications are:
  • They have no legitimate rank.
  • They want more justification for their illegitimate rank.
  • They think their importance is determined by the number of rank certificates they have on the wall.
  • They are founders and sokes of new styles of martial arts who seek recognition for their new arts so they may show potential students the certificates.
  • Sometimes there may be a legitimate reason to have your rank recognized by an organization, such as the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), so you may compete in their tournaments, or the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) so you may compete in the Olympics.

What mills say they do

  • Unify the martial arts. I guess this means that if all martial artists are recognized by one group then the martial arts are unified. I think not.
  • Permit people without access to their masters or their organizations to get promoted. So, if the masters of this grand organization only teach in a storefront school in Podunk, Arkansas and you don’t live near the school, you too can still become a certified black belt in this grand organization by simply sending your money.
  • Permit people who have broken away from their masters to get promoted. People who have broken away from their masters or organizations have to bear the consequences of their actions. Most form their own art or organization and give themselves rank. They then use mills to get more rank certificates to add credence to their self-imposed rank.
  • Permit people who are not physically able to test anymore to get rank. Life is not fair. Not everyone can do everything, and, at some point, every person becomes unable to do some of the things he or she used to do. Deal with your limitations and don’t expect special treatment because of them.
  • Verify rank claims. Yea, right! Even if they wanted to verify rank, it is not economically possible. Verification by having people fill out forms, sent in copies of rank certificates, sent in recommendations, send in videos, etc. is all a waste of time since these may be easily forged by a teenager on the family computer. Checking with each organization to see if they issued the rank and then checking to see if the organization itself is not fake takes a lot of time and money. Even though the cost of the rank application is exorbitant and a rip-off in itself, it is not nearly enough to cover the cost of any detailed verification. Some organizations claim their board of "experts" can recognize fake credentials. Counterfeit money fools banks, but these "masters" have the ability to spot counterfeit rank. Another one of their extraordinary skills?
  • Stay out of the "politics" of the martial arts. It is easy to stay out of something of which you are not a part of. When you are not a legitimate organization, there are no politics to avoid. The only thing to avoid is the law.
  • Do not pass judgment on the legitimacy of martial arts. Since they “don’t judge,”, they will recognize anything that says it is a martial art, after they receive the money of course.
  • Do not criticize other martial arts. Of course, they do not criticize other martial arts, if they did, they would not MAKE MONEY! When others criticize them for ripping off the public, they say it is not in the spirit of the martial arts for others to be criticizing them. They think this "holier than thou" attitude makes them immune from criticism.

Military background

From surfing the web for certificate mills, I have noticed that many of the mills are operated by people who claim to be current military, prior military, or retired military. This may be because their claimed military background is as fake as everything else. See military claims article for more information on false military claims.

Be careful

Be careful with dealing with certificate mills. They are spiteful people who get very nasty when you question their tactics or their credentials. They will not provide you with answers or facts and will attack you for questioning their integrity. They are very protective of their money-making scams.

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