Columns by Craig Smith
Selling Values
by Craig Smith
   It is difficult to find a martial arts school that does not claim, as a part of their advertising and marketing, to improve discipline, confidence and various other positive traits in their students.
   Those who primarily target children as their customer base often add things like respect, courtesy, mental focus, self-esteem, socialization, fitness, weight control, and anything else they think will sound attractive to the paying parents of their targets. Can martial arts training really deliver on these promises? Yes. Does martial arts training always deliver on the promises? No. What's the difference? BIG.
   I spend a lot of time in dojos (Okinawan and Japanese style training halls), dojangs (Korean style training halls), Kwoons (Chinese style training halls), gyms (for assorted maulers and brawlers), clubs and training centers, and the differences I see are as varied as the gray scale from white to black. Some schools do instill the values and virtues associated with traditional martial training. Others do not. Yet I can see that many parents, wanting to put their children in a school where those values are taught, are choosing the wrong ones. How does this happen?  Simple -- they are making their judgements on symbolism instead of substance.
   Perhaps this should not be surprising. Over the past 10 years or so, we have seen an increasing trend in American society that favors rhetoric over reality - reality being the truth, and rhetoric being the verbal packaging designed to camouflage or cover up the parts of the truth many do not want to see or admit to. Within the last few years, a majority of adult Americans, busy enjoying the fruits of an economic boom, refused (or were unable) to muster the moral courage and conviction to stand up and denounce the lying, cheating, deceit, betrayal, adultery, perjury, obstruction of justice and assorted other moral, ethical and legal failings of their president  Millions who could not get enough of hammering a moral man for mispelling "potato" somehow could not be bothered with such trivial details as the violation of constitutional rights or the systematic destruction of American citizens for purposes of political survival and expediency, if done by someone with a big smile and a "Who, me?" attitude who assured them he could "feel their pain". All sins could be forgiven (if they were  even admitted) as long as stocks were up, the Explorer was clean, and Nautica came out with a new jacket each spring.
   People listened to a man who had sex with an intern on Easter morning, before taking his wife and daughter to church, when he talked about families and values.  They listened to him, and accepted his proposals concerning their taxes, their health care, their future, and the future of their children and grandchildren, even though they knew him to be a habitual liar. And they blindly trusted him as he sent under-equipped, under-trained and under-supported young American men and women to an increasing number of far and dangerous corners of the world, in record numbers and for dubious purposes, when his own personal cowardice had caused him to evade the same service to which his country had called him years before. 
   Why is this?  Because it is easy. It does not require a couple of the most difficult and demanding tasks a person is ever called upon to perform; reasoning and determination.  Not to put as fine a point on it as classical philosophers did; the ability to reason can be seen simply as being able to properly perceive the logical extension of information patterns: If A is equal to B, and B is equal to C, then A is equal to C. Or: "Water is wet...the pool is full of water...if I fall into the pool, I'll get wet."
   The ability to determine, or make a determination, is simply the ability to reach a logical conclusion as to what the final outcome of such an information pattern might be, and a judgement as to the value of that outcome: - "Since I'm wearing street clothes, I will look stupid and be uncomfortable if I fall into the pool."
   What makes reasoning and determination difficult for many people is that reasoning requires keeping track of several steps or incidents, which many feel they are just too "busy" to do, while making a determination requires a person to make a judgement which they must defend.  If a person does not have established core values and principles, this makes every new situation one of endless balancing, comparison, arguments, excuses, what-ifs and personal doubts. These emotional and moral gymnastics are just too much for some people, who retreat into the idea that the only basis upon which they can properly judge a person, or that person's abilities or intentions, is by what that person says.  Politicians and con men have relied on this for years, and millions of people have been fleeced out of millions of dollars (or drachmas or pesos or whatever) as a result of their naive trust in a big smile, bigger promises and a smooth delivery. Shiny saddles have sold many a mangy pony, and smooth talk (lies) many a martial arts program.
   So how can a person tell the difference between a martial arts school that actually teaches proper values and one that merely sells the talk?  By paying attention to certain details and doing a little checking.
   I can usually tell what kind of place a dojo is within the first couple of minutes of stepping into it. What is the first clue? Courtesy. I don't mean a superficial "I want your money" greeting by whomever happens to be behind the desk. I mean genuine courtesy, extended to me as a guest, by whomever happens to cross my path -- be it the sensei or a student. In questionable schools, the attitude is usually one of aloof arrogance, whether from the sensei or a ten year old yellow belt.
   The next clue is discipline. Again, I don't mean a superficial discipline that's all show. In good schools, the discipline is not noticeable, but it is present. By that, I mean that there is an aura of control and respect among the students, and an obvious feeling of personal responsibiity among them. In "show schools", the discipline tends to be flashy and shallow.  Instructors and students alike seem to take great pride in how fast and loud they can recite the club creed, but show little self control or respect for others when not closely supervised.
   There are a number of other areas in which a school and an instructor show what they are all about, and I will addres those in an article after the first of the year  -  because for every "show school" that is packed because people think their training builds proper values, I know of one within a couple of miles that actually does, but doesn't make a lot of noise about it.
   Which would you prefer to send your kids to?