Martial arts>Fraud>Recognizing>Organizations

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Be aware of the rampant fraud that is found in the martial arts. Do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions before you commit years of time and money to a martial art and a martial art organization.

Masters and other instructors are usually affiliated with an international, national, or regional organization that certifies the rank issued by their particular style. Taekwondo has such organizations.

In the early years of modern taekwondo, there were two major controlling organizations in taekwondo; the International Taekwondo Federation and the World Taekwondo Federation. As taekwondo gained in popularity, so did the number of organizations. As instructors grew discouraged with some aspect of their organizations, they broke away and formed their own organizations. These organizations grew, and their instructors grew discouraged with them and broke away and formed still more organizations. Some organizations flourished, some combined, others failed.

Some organizations have high standards for belt promotions and require high levels of fitness, proficiency, knowledge, and taekwondo spirit for promotion. However, some organizations are revenue producing, belt factories. When the standards are high, students highly value their promotions and respect senior ranks. When the standards are low, promotions have little value and respect is low. With so many different organizations awarding rank, rank is basically meaningless outside the organization that awarded it.

In some organizations, students are promoted regularly if they meet certain minimum requirements; promotion failures are practically nonexistent. In these organizations, belts do not denote proficiency, they merely denote a student's time in the organization's program. The motivating factors in these organizations are to keep students in the program and to make money.


Is a counterfeit Rolex watch the same as a real Rolex watch? It looks the same. It indicates the correct time. It has Rolex printed on the face. It appears real enough to fool most people into thinking you own a Rolex watch. It may cost less than a real Rolex or you may pay the full price. If most people cannot tell the difference between a real Rolex and a counterfeit, then a counterfeit must be the same a real one, right?

If you knowingly bought a counterfeit watch, then you were not cheated, even though you encouraged cheating. If you bought a counterfeit Rolex watch after being told it was a real Rolex, you would feel cheated and would want your money back. It would not matter to you that the seller claims that the counterfeit watch is the equivalent of a Rolex watch; you were told it was a real Rolex and you want a real Rolex. If you sell your counterfeit watch to another person while claiming it is a real Rolex, whether you knew it to be a counterfeit or not, you would be liable for the sale of a counterfeit watch.

Some organizations are counterfeits; they claim to be the original or a part of a legitimate organization but are only counterfeit copies. They charge you outrageous amounts of money for rank certifications from legitimate organizations but only deliver counterfeits, or do not deliver at all. They may claim upfront, or after the fact, that their rank certification is the equivalent of the legitimate certification. Just because an organization claims its rank certification is equivalent to the rank certification of another organization does not make it so. It is only the equivalent if that organization says it accepts the rank certification as an equivalent.

Fraudulent masters may quibble that their rank certification is the equivalent of another organization's certification. Their reasoning is that, since any organization may issue rank certificates, then their certificates are just as legitimate as the other organization.

While any organization may issue its own certifications, that does not make one organization's certification the same as another organization's certification. The certification of a national organization with 500 members in two states, it's not the same as an international organization with tens or hundreds of thousands of members around the world. The international organization's certifications are recognized worldwide, while the small national organization's certifications are only recognized within their schools in the two states.


As stated in other topics, there are no state, national, or international government agencies that license martial art organizations and ensure their legitimacy. This means that anyone may open a martial arts school and issue rank certificates. It also means that anyone may create an organization and use it “certify” rank certificates and instructors. If you know all about an organization and choose to join it, then that is your choice. However, if the organization claims to be something it is not and misleads you into joining, then that is fraud.

Before you buy a new car, you should research the car to find out its reliability, resale value, insurance rate, fuel mileage, owner comments, professional reviews, its dealer invoice price, etc. Then you should research the dealer who sells the car. Then finally, you go to the dealer to negotiate the deal.

Before you start training in a martial art, you should research the legitimacy of the art, the legitimacy of the organization, the legitimacy of the school, and finally the legitimacy of the instructor. Then finally, you make your decision as to whether this art, organization, school, and instructor are best for you.

A martial art organization may be regional (located within a certain geographic area, such as the Piedmont Triad or the Research Triangle of North Carolina), national (located within two or more states), or international (located within two or more countries) or it may just one or a few local schools located within one city. Either way, if you are fully informed about the organization, you are may make an intelligent decision as to whether to join the organization or not. You may train your whole life in a local school that does not belong to any organization, in a school whose rank is only recognized within the school itself, and be happy with your decision. Just be aware that, just because your rank is recognized within your school or organization, it does not mean that it will be recognized by any other school or organization.


Some organizations operate schools that are commonly referred to as "McDojos" or “McDojangs." These schools operate purely as businesses and, as such, their goal is to make a profit. To make a profit, most schools charge a reasonable monthly fee for their services, keep their current students in training, and seek new students to replace those who leave. However, to make a profit, some schools just keep a relatively small student base and then nickel and dime the students to death. These McDojos:
  • Lock students into long-term contracts.
  • Require students to buy and use only their branded uniforms, sparring equipment, and other items, to which they have added a high markup.
  • Have numerous ranks with additional sub-ranks, each requiring a separate testing and accompanying testing fee.
  • Black belt testing costs no more to administer than does any other belt but these organizations charge outrageous fees for black belt testing. Since students have already spent so much time and money to get this far, they pay the money.
  • Have numerous closed tournaments, camps, clinics, etc., each with a large fee and sometimes required for rank.
  • Frown upon students competing in open tournaments with other styles or organizations; sometimes they even forbid it.

These schools may have strict promotion requirements, but, for most of them, time in rank is the primary requirement. If you serve your time and minimally perform a few other requirements, you will be promoted and thus will be more inclined to stay with the school and keep paying the numerous fees.


Some organizations are pure rip-offs. Their goal is to take money from gullible people or people who want an "official" certificate to hang on the wall. For a large fee, they will register you in their organization and send you an official certificate. These organizations and schools are basically scams. Some of the scams they use are:
  • Study at home. These organizations promise you black belt rank if you successfully buy and complete their home study program that consists of such things as studying videos or competing online classes. Testing is accomplished by you mailing them a video of yourself (or possibly someone else) performing the required techniques. All the study material and tests have exaggerated fees. Some of these organizations do not even promise rank, they just promise you will become "fighting machine" by buying their videos and practicing the techniques.
  • Seminars. These are short, only a couple of hours, training sessions taught by some "expert" who teaches some exotic martial art, either for rank or a certificate of completion. Most of these seminars have some type of "hook" to entice people to attend, such as the teacher is a former military special operations instructor. Seminar instructors tend to work in conjunction, each recommending and inviting the other so they all get a piece of the action.


Some organizations fall under the definition of cults. They promote mysticism as though it were an integral part of the martial arts. They have a central spiritual leader, a "supreme grandmaster," that demands students believe all the rubbish he or she spouts as being the truth without question. Sometimes the leader has so much emotional control of the students so that they blindly follow him or her, often paying exorbitant amounts of money to the organization. Students become isolated and only associate with other students, sometimes handing over their assets to the group and living a communal lifestyle.


Organizations are usually formed by one or more "founders." Some organizations were formed for noble reasons, others were formed as crutches to support the power-hungry egos of their founders and to give them the feeling of power over someone, many times because they have no power in their lives outside their organizations. In these types of organizations, the founders set themselves up as little dictators and compel all their members to comply with their wishes and commands or face retribution.

These power-hungry organizations seek total control their school owners, instructors, and students. They have long-term school owner contracts that restrict instructors and they usually make exorbitant demands for more money and power. No one should fault founders for trying to earn a decent living, but one may fault them for trying to get rich on the backs of young, beginning school owners who, after years of indoctrination as students within the organization, are suckered into long-term contracts that restrict their business growth while making the founders even richer and more powerful. One way for an organization to maintain its power is to exclude anyone who may usurp its power. Some ways to do this are:
  • Copyright your forms so no one else may use them, even though you originally gained your own power using someone else’s forms.
  • Operate closed tournaments to limit student exposure to students from any other organizations. You do not want them to see the greener pastures on the other side of the fence.
  • Demand every school, instructor, and student strictly and unquestionably adhere to everything the organization says and does.
  • Lock schools into long-term franchise agreements to ensure they must depend on the organization for their very existence.
  • Ensure black belts and instructors are only taught the organization's special way of doing things so that, even if they wanted to leave the organization, they would have nowhere to go without starting over again as a white belt.
  • Lock students into long-term contracts. Once they have a lot of time and money invested in one organization, they are unlikely to go to another organization
  • Develop an almost cult following amongst your members.


Some organizations demand exorbitant fees from school owners for registration, belt promotions, tournaments, etc., the cost of which is passed on to the students, and offer little in return except for an "official" rank certificate. Do not get locked into an organization that charges too much for its services and demands total control of its school owners. Once a student spends years working his or her way up to black belt and is ready to become a certified instructor and open his or her own school, he or she will have been indoctrinated in the ways of the certifying organization and feel obligated to continue to obey the organization. This is the way that organizations wield their power.


Martial arts instructors may be sexually attracted to students and they may use their position of authority to abuse students sexually. The military understands this may occur, so it has specific laws and punishments against fraternization. Adults should be aware of this behavior in any person in a position of power, including martial art instructors, and be very careful before entering any relationship with superiors.

Some instructors may be considered sexual predators since they continuously use their positions to pursue their sexual needs. The Triad area of North Carolina had the "master" of a group of area schools sexually involved with some of his young girl students. Even if they care, most martial art organizations are not equipped to handle fraternization.


Although most people are not aware of it, another problem in the martial arts is sexual predators. This usually does not usually occur at the organization or school level, but it is most likely to occur with individual instructors. Most sexual predators seek adult companionship, but some are attracted to children.

A martial arts school offers a pedophile fertile ground; a group of unsupervised children who are taught to respect the instructor and follow orders unquestionably. Many times, there are overnight and weekend events when the children are only supervised by the instructor. Although sexual crimes against children are rare in the martial arts, they do occur. One male karate instructor was murdered by the father of a male child the instructor had run away with. In my hometown, the founder of a local "international" karate organization was convicted of child molestation.
Parents should check the background of a potential instructor, ensure their children are never alone with any one instructor, watch and wait while their children are in class, and go them on out of town trips. Most martial art organizations are not equipped to handle child predators.


Illegitimate organizations also use what is called "cross-ranking" where, for a fee, they will use the master's certification you received from another fraudulent organization to issue you a master's certificate from their organization. In this way, pseudo-masters may receive high ranks in numerous styles of martial arts. These organizations grant "Site Awards” to each other to make their websites appear more impressive and they award "Instructor of Year" or some such award to each other to make themselves seem more impressive.


  • Can the founder's or instructor's claims of rank be independently verified? Do the instructor's teachers exist?
  • Does the founder, or the organization, have a history of unsavory conduct, such as numerous charges, convictions, lawsuits etc.?
  • Does the instructor make claims that no rational person would believe, such as John "Iron" Kim's claim of jumping from an 11-story building with a side kick and landing safely on the ground?
  • Does the instructor discourage questions?
  • Does the instructor constantly put down other martial arts and being too soft, too political, too commercial, etc.?
  • Does the instructor avoid dealing with issues of proof and change the subject, or does he or she attack others when asked probing questions? In other words, do they behave similarly to politicians instead of as statesmen or women?
  • Do they have testimonials by "satisfied students" on most of the promotional materials? Who would print testimonials by "unsatisfied" customers?
  • Does the instructor demand to be treated as something special instead of as a teacher?
  • Does the school use deceptive practices or changes names and locations frequently?
  • Does obtaining money appear to be the prime goal of the school or organization?
  • If this were a business deal, would this organization be a risk in which you would be willing to invest your time and money?
  • Does the organization claim international status because someone in another country is a member?
  • Does the organization’s website look like a child designed it? If the organization is all it claims, then it should at least have a professionally designed website.
  • Do the claimed benefits exist and are they commensurate with the membership fee?
  • When choosing a school, find an instructor you like and then consider his or her organization. If you cannot accept the procedures of the organization, then find another instructor you like, in an organization you can accept. In fact, membership in an organization is not required to learn taekwondo (or any other martial art) and to advance in rank. Your rank is not determined solely by your certificate of rank; the final determination is your skill in the martial art. People are not impressed by a certificate that says you are skillful, they are impressed by the skills you can perform.


Most organizations are NOT power hungry or seeking to make a core group of founders rich. Their founders and their school owners are all equal partners who then vote one of their own as their leader. No person or persons have total control. Decisions on rules, procedures, and standards, and enforcement of them are made by a consensus of the group. The organization only issues rank and instructor certifications and acts as the figurehead of the group.

The only cost to school owners is the basic operation of the organization. Students in these organizations know that their money is going to their school and not to some distant, unknown "organization." If they like their school and their instructor, they do not begrudge making fair payments for services for they know that intimately they will benefit.

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