I personally don't like being called Sifu or Sensei. I know that many martial artists can't wait for the day to get those monikers but I really disdain them for myself even though this irks my Sifu. When I think of the level of training that my Sifu went through from fighting to calligraphy and healing arts I find it hard to accept the title that he has earned. I know Sifu simply means teacher and does not necessarily have a qualitative attachment to it but I still prefer to avoid that title. However I seem to me alone in that category.
Americans are crazy about being called master, grand master, PHD of martial arts and any 'accreditation' they can get be it from certificates or trophies. Guys adorn their web sites with scores of accomplishments from mastering 10 arts to being actual samurai's to having the ever so laughable 'licensed hands'. They do anything to look great. As one great actual 10 Dan Dutch Judo master once said, "Americans are all masters and no one who wants to practice". I see people who are in their thirties claiming to have mastered 10 styles along with a myriad of other things. It takes a lifetime to master one style how can you master ten? As far as black belts go you can get them anywhere. Decades ago when I studied Shotokan karate under Teryuki Okasaki one of the first things he said was, "In Japan you get a black belt in a couple of years and then you start your training but in America people get a black belt and then they stop their training". It's all about the title here. Several years ago I was invited to join a consortium of local martial artists and I declined. A good friend of mine, who was highly accredited and had fought internationally, was also invited and he did go. It was put together by a fellow that had studied karate for a few years and quit immediately after getting his black belt. He was a very good business man and had established successful schools. At this meeting this fellow put forth the idea that they could test each other and advance each other to higher ranks. By being in a group this would give him some legitimacy since he had broken from his lineage. My friend left the meeting disgusted and never returned. For the record my friend had to return to Taiwan each year to get tested under their hierarchy to advance so the idea of a shortcut appalled him . The karate fellow still has successful schools and is now a 'tenth dan' red belt. Who knows certified him.
Where else is their this obsession with belts, degrees and certificates? Are there the black belt, master equivalents in any other athletic endeavor? "Hey, don't play pick up ball with him, he's a black belt in basketball , he'll kick your butt". Or, "That quarterback is a 7th dan, you're screwed". How about , "That guys not just a heavyweight boxer, he's 10th dan so he's great". It just doesn't happen anywhere but in the martial arts and it's over the top insane with this stuff. How many different masters can you get your picture taken with, how many certificates can you get, etc. Then there's the guy who has a conversation with a cop or service man and is asked how to break a grip or some other mundane thing and the next thing you know posted on his web site is "I trained the LA cops" or "I taught the US army self defense". It is ubiquitous.
It's hard to escape these things and a newbie doesn't know any better, in fact, they are drawn to it. But what can they do? There are no national standards, no Bull shido police to call someone on their nonsense and no way to know unless you happen to have an acquaintance that can guide you. Beware of those people that gather shiny things, they can blind you to the truth.
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