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A professional is a person who works in a profession. Martial arts instructors consider themselves professionals, but are they really professionals or are they just people performing a job.
Nowadays, a profession is commonly thought of as being synonymous with an occupation, or the nature of one's employment, what a person does to earn money or something at which a person gets paid to do. However, in a more restrictive sense, profession refers specifically to fields that require extensive study and mastery of specialized knowledge and acceptance by some governing body, such as the professions of law, medicine, the military, nursing, the clergy, or engineering.

Characteristics of a professional

According to Lieberman in his book, Education as a Profession, a profession should have the following characteristics:
  • Offer a unique, definite, and essential social service. For teaching martial arts, this service is the facilitation of learning a martial art. How this is accomplished and what the instructor believes needs to be learned may vary based on the beliefs, needs, and practices of each martial art and each person.
  • Have an emphasis on intellectual techniques in performing its service. While the emphasis of the martial arts is on physical performance, also require certain intellectual operations.
  • Have a long period of specialized training. Just how much training is needed is debated within every profession. For the martial arts, it would certainly require over four years and at least a second-degree black belt.
  • Have a broad range of autonomy for both the individual practitioner and the occupational group as a whole. While this has arguably been reached within many full professions, it would definitely be a point of contention between among martial art instructors and their numerous organizations.
  • Have an acceptance by the practitioners of broad personal responsibility for judgments made and acts performed within the scope of professional autonomy. This would be another problem with martial art instructors. There are so many systems and styles of the martial arts, and individual instructors within the arts, that consider themselves better than any of the other martial arts.
  • Have an organizational emphasis upon the service to be rendered, rather than economic gain for the occupational group. This is what distinguishes many professions from businesses that serve people, though it does not refer to personal motivations of an individual professional. While there are many black belt mills within the martial arts community, most martial art instructors are not as concerned with monetary gain as they are with teaching others their arts. 
  • Have a comprehensive self-governing organization of practitioners. While the martial arts have a vast number of national and local organizations to support their development, they seldom self-govern the teaching of the arts, especially within the public domains of education.
  • Have a code of ethics that has been clarified and interpreted at its ambiguous points by concrete cases. This is not the same as the code of ethics that many martial arts have established within their arts. It is a code or teaching ethics that controls the conduct of martial arts instructors. This would not be too difficult to establish in the martial arts community since they are used to supporting codes of conduct.

Be professional

Historically, only a few professions existed. Members of the clergy, medical doctors, and lawyers held the monopoly on professional status and on professional education, with military officers occasionally recognized as social equals. Self-governing bodies such as guilds or colleges, backed by state-granted charters guaranteeing monopolies, limited access to, and behavior within, such professions.

With the rise of technology and occupational specialization in the 19th century, other bodies began to claim "professional" status, such as engineers, paramedics, plumbers, and teachers. Today almost any occupational group may, at least unofficially, gain professional status, and with unification and hard work, they may even become a recognized profession.

To gain status as a recognized profession, an occupation must be governed by some nationally chartered organization or guild that sets guidelines for education and certification required of its members. These organizations have written ethical standards and require their members to abide by them. These organizations set and enforce high standards of conduct and professional behavior, so the public may have a high level of trust in a professional that is a member of the organization. Think about the respect and trust earned and held by members of the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association.

Since martial art instructors earn money at teaching the martial arts, they may be loosely considered professionals. However, to be considered professionals in the strictest sense, they need a nationally sanctioned organization that sets and enforces standards and a code of ethics for the martial arts teaching profession. This will not be an easy task.

Martial arts deal with combat, which is a male-dominated aspect of society. Combat is sometimes a necessary evil that is needed to defeat those who want to dominate or kill others. However, most times, combat is merely macho, ego-driven fighting to "protect" one's manhood. This means that those involved in the martial arts have large egos and are very territorial about their arts and their positions in each art. For them to relinquish any control to a national organization would be an affront to their manhood.

Until martial art leaders can come together and form a joint professional organization that governs the profession of teaching the martial arts, martial art instructing will continue to be a mere occupation that does not get the respect it deserves from society.

  • Lieberman M. (1953). Education as a Profession.

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