Guest Columnists - BBB = Bulls**t baffles brains - Terry Wingrove - 9th Dan


One troubling aspect of martial arts is the so called 'credibility point'. Unlike other sports and pastimes, we have to deal with a vast multitude of grades and titles conferred by numerous organisations that vary from creditable to mediocre to downright worthless and fraudulent. How can Budo students, let alone the man in the street, find their way through this minefield? The answer is they can't – all they can do is look for the tell tale signs.

When you open any martial arts magazine anywhere in the world these days there are many ads inviting Budo students/teachers to join new associations, where, 'Your grades will be recognised, you will not be held back for promotion and for a fee you can obtain a superb certificate in 'English, Japanese, Chinese and other Oriental languages' to help convince others of your proficiency. These ads must work, otherwise the advertisers wouldn't pay for them. Take a look at or for an example of today's budo marketing. What does it achieve for our BBB advertiser? Basically it enables him to control a money making machine, with grading fees, certificates, association passports, courses, badges, personalised gi's, franchise fees etc.

The latest impact on the karate scene is the blending of franchising and 'pyramid scheme' techniques which offers almost overnight grading following door to door canvassing and a potential incentive to cash-in by inducing students to set up there own classes a.s.a.p. and pay commission fees to their original dojo. Over the past 50 years I've seen many fly-by-night organisations in all the martial arts, some set up from day one to fleece the members, others that consist of a number of like minded losers of poor to mediocre technical ability, who seem to go up a grade or two every time they shake hands with their buddies, wear gi's that look like Christmas trees with every decoration except the V.C. or Congressional Medal of Honour and claim direct lineage from Samson, Musashi Miyamoto and Desparate Dan.

Eventually after raising the hopes and aspirations of many students, their star starts to fade and they drift into limboland when students compare their capabilities with other competent teachers and associations and move on to better things or worse still give up martial arts training completely. So what are the warning signs that students/we should look out for?

BBB 1:
The title and grade 'business'. I am still amazed by the audacity of many of the so called experts when they demand to be called Professor, Dr., Master, Soke, Shihan etc. by their students. I have always understood that the title of 'Professor' was linked to a chair of study at a university and 'Dr.' was again a title conferred by an academic institute. I suppose it disproves the saying 'Respect is earned not demanded'. I have even seen first hand situations in the U.K., where students are not allowed to talk directly to the top dogs but have to speak through an underling – this is a definite case of BBB. Over the past 55 years, of which I spent 21 continuous years in Japan, I have only heard the highest grades (8th, 9th and 10th Dans) addressed as Sensei on the mat. Off the mat it is either sensei or business titles are often used such as Shacho (President), Kaicho (Chairman) etc. To have a better understanding of the grading system I can do no better than suggest you look at which is the essence of a lecture by the late Donn Draeger nearly 30 years ago and still to my mind says it as it should be.

Let me say now that Japan is certainly not without blame or sin in this department especially when senior members of each style/art realised on the demise of the founder/master there was no clear lineage in the modern 'Do' arts and this encouraged a free-for-all, especially if the style/art had a big foreign following, hence a big income and a potential gravy train. Just look at Shotokan, Goju, Wado, Aikido, Daitoryu etc. How many 'official heirs', 'designated successors' or 'official headquarters' can you find on the internet? I rest my case.

One of the most frequently asked questions is which is the 'official' body controlling martial arts in Japan? IMAF, DAI NIPPON BUTOKUKAI, NIPPON KOBUDO SHINKOKAI, ALL JAPAN BUDO FEDERATION? Just to name a few. The truth is hard to find, as the present set up in all cases is based on the heritage of the pre war make-up and tradition of the martial arts system in Japan which was a military, Ultra Nationalist dictatorship, where the military imposed stricter and tighter controls on martial arts in the late 30s and early 40s, as they considered any martial art was good training especially at school level to provide the canon fodder for WW2.

By 1943 they had imposed direct control through the Ministry of Education and it definitely was a case of doing what you were told, whether you were a beginner or genro (elder) in martial arts. After WW2 and the general dissolution of budo groups following the banning of martial arts, plus the high morality of senior grades in all the arts, the reinvention (sorry, reintroduction) of Karate, Aikido etc. was now on a so called democratic basis, which meant that anyone in Japan looking for a fast buck could set up an organisation and using the most tenuous links could claim descent from a pre war group. All that these organisations became were grade and status selling agencies. It's worth taking time out to consider other sports/pastimes. I don't think you need to buy a grade or ranking in football, cricket, gymnastics, ice-skating, stamp collecting, darts, wrestling, athletics etc. etc. so why martial arts?

BBB 2:
The next marker we should look for is the financial implications of training in Bullsh*tdo. Look carefully at the cost of membership, monthly dojo fees, contractual lesson fees (you must sign up for a course of 10-20 lessons) with no get out clause. Association fees, insurance fees, grading fees (note how many grades, examinations (on average) you need to pass to reach shodan (first dan), in some cases it can be as many as fourteen separate fees, certificate costs, compulsary course attendance fees, badges (left punch badge!, right punch badge! etc.) Gi costs, if you are obliged to buy overpriced gi from one designated source you should ask why? Fees really do sort out the chancers so look around and compare what you are getting for your money.

BBB 3:
The 'blurred' antecedents, this is where the Bullsh*tdo 'Master', 'Professor', 'Soke' claims he was taught by some uncheckable source, such as some dead untraceable Oriental. For example, a member of a Japanese ships crew who was master of some obscure school of bujitsu and decided to impart his unrivalled knowledge to a 12 year old English schoolboy, I don't think. A classic example of this in UK has been the 'Jack Poole' affair in Aikido. This saga has taken years to bring the facts out in the public domain but proved worth it in the end (for details see In my generation it was usually that these flim-flam Walter Mitty's had learned from a soldier returning from WW2 who had studied with the Delai Llama, Chairman Mao or Emperor Hirohito or in some cases all three! Whenever you question these 'masters' you usually get the standard response that they have been sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal their supreme knowledge to mere mortals such as you or me.

BBB 4:
The real litmus test for Bullsh*tdo is the 'Mat Test'. Most of the so called Bullsh*tdo 'masters' will only venture on the mat with tried and tested lackeys and will decline any test of their ability by anyone out of their clique using a myriad of excuses, such as health problems, advancing age, technical superiority of their techniques or the deadly and lethal potential of their free style or again the old 'sworn to secrecy' ploy. Have a look at, it proves that a picture is worth a thousand words. What a great shame we cannot all benefit from these 'masters'. Again its only in martial arts, not football, cricket, athletics, darts, etc. Why do we stand for it?

How can we combat the Bullsh*tdo syndrome in martial arts? I think one way is to ask as many direct pertinent questions in suspect classes and on suspect courses and not be 'blagged' off and then to expose them for what they really are in magazines and the internet (try for up to date examples). One advantage that we have today is the speed of the media and bad news travels fast especially in cyber-budo. I would like to see a reversion to the old days (pre war) in Japan where challenges were common place and 'feeling was believing'. This is never going to happen but every now and again there is a chance to expose these frauds for what they are.

This type of fraud did not raise its head in Europe until the 70's when it was realised that teaching budo was an industry and big money could be earned, especially if you had an Oriental training background. I remember in Japan the 'photo freaks' as they were called in the 70's. This was the name given to foreignors who came to Japan for 2 or 3 weeks and spent all their time rushing from one dojo to the next to get their photo taken with all the top teachers, so they could go back to their own country and show their close and intimate knowledge with whatever group they were promoting.

On the other hand I can recall the incident in 1958, when Tetsugi Murakami called a meeting in Paris for the first time of all the European representatives (6 from memory) who were all black belts in Yoseikan karate, including Vernon Bell from the U.K., lined them all up and they thought he was going to train them. Instead he knocked them all out in turn and said 'I'm the boss now you must train to be worthy of the belt you are wearing', This made a lasting impression, which I will go into in my article next month.

This article may seem very negative but it does focus on a very serious problem in the perception and understanding of karate and a series of questions that need to be addressed if karate is to be credible. On the other side of the coin, there are still hidden in Japan a small number of very skilled teachers (including foreigners) who have spent their life studying budo almost every day. People like Jeff Anderson and Bryan Huddart, names virtually unknown outside of Japan, who have both spent nearly 40 years in Japan, with have nothing to do with commercial promotion and teach a very small circle of students to a high level of proficiency. Their philosophy is that quality will always prevail. Long may they prosper.

Terry Wingrove is happy to discuss any relevant Budo matters and can be contacted at or Tel:07708888880

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