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Hijacking Terminology

Often, different people will use the same word or phrase to describe two entirely different situations or events. Consider the last time you heard someone say, “That was wicked!” The meaning of that statement would probably differ significantly between someone that is 18 years old versus someone that is 78 years old. Two factors that influence this discrepancy are experience and culture. It is likely that the older person has seen and heard past situations or events that may be a better representation of “wicked” than a current one. In terms of culture, the older person may be more likely to use a term that accurately depicts a current experience whereas a younger person may be more likely to use the term as an antonym. Without a lengthy investigation into sociolinguistics, it is sufficient to conclude that when different people use the same words or phrases to describe two entirely different situations, events, or experiences, communication becomes confusing.

There are several terms that have been used in recent years to describe various martial art schools. Terms like “real,” “serious,” “hard core,” “legitimate,” and “devastating” have all been used to describe schools from the very best, to the very worst, by different people. The purpose of this article is to investigate some of these terms to provide some context and relevancy. To achieve that goal, a few of these terms are discussed.


The term “real” is appropriately used as the opposite of “fake,” “false,” or “fraudulent.” It is in this context that many have tried to distinguish their school from the others that do not meet their criteria for honesty, integrity, linage, and quality both for the instructor and the training curriculum. For example, a fraudulent instructor is likely to be a shameless self-promoter that conveys an all knowing ego as a master of all techniques and styles. Fraudulent instructors are likely to regularly convey a false sense of security both verbally and in the context of self-defense training in the school. A modern term for these fake schools is “McDojo.” As opposed to the typical McDojo, a real school cares for and takes care of its students as opposed to focusing on the bottom line of the financial balance sheet. A real school becomes evident when students from multiple unrelated schools gather together for a seminar. The students that fail to demonstrate proper basics, lack knowledge, and show sloppy techniques that may even violate the basic principles of the physics their style is based on have bought into the slick talk, ego laced sales pitch of a fake instructor. Of course the fraudulent instructor will have many excuses why their school does not associate with other schools in the area. Look for the techniques, training methods, and instruction of a real school to help develop the student in the stated purpose of the school. Even if the stated purpose of a school is to be a “family friendly day care” or a “safe, soft, social club,” and the class activities reflect and support that purpose, at least the school is real in relationship to its stated purpose. While such a school would never be considered serious, at least the students are really getting what they signed up receive.


The term “serious” is appropriately used to describe the opposite of safe, soft, social club dojo. A serious dojo is likely to have students with multiple marks and bruises from solid contact with each other and the floor on a daily basis. Some serious dojos utilize strenuous “warm-up” exercises (for maybe 20 minutes a class), weight training, take-down contact sparring, heavy bags, and daily practice of falls and throws. Safe, soft, social club dojos are too concerned with protecting all students from any possible injury or bad feeling to allow such training practices. The safe, soft, social club dojo class is usually about 45-50 minutes long and likely consists of 10-15 minutes of stretching with light warm-up exercises, 10-15 minutes of kata/form practice, 10-15 minutes of other practice and a few minutes of the instructor stroking egos and advocating the greatness of his school.

A serious school should be concerned about ensuring the techniques they learn and practice are effective and efficient in performing their intended function. For example, if the school is dedicated to Olympic Judo, look for the instruction, training, and facility set-up to help prepare students for such competitions. That serious school will not spend time on jump spin kicks or anything else that would not help prepare the students for the intended function of the school. That serious school will not offer classes for kids, aerobic kick boxing, or board breaking seminars because these would be distractions to the intended function of the school.

Hard Core

The term “hard core” is used in a similar manner to “serious.” It is appropriately used to describe the opposite of a safe, soft, social club dojo that is void of the sweat, bruises, and frustration commonly present in the process of learning to become adequately proficient with the required techniques. The term “hard core” may occur more frequently from students describing their school that focuses more on ground work (newaza) than a karate school, but the term is not appropriately limited to such application. Look for students performing 10-20 repetitions during each class of each technique they are attempting to learn, and look for the close observation of a senior student or instructor to correct each repetition in a real hard core school.


The term “legitimate” is used as opposed to “illegitimate.” This term is often used in context of lineage of the style/system, qualification or rank of the instructor, and the validity of the techniques taught to perform their intended function.

In terms of the qualification or rank of the instructor, it is important to verify the rank(s) claimed by the instructor. This will require a little effort, and is thus usually not pursued by most people. A real instructor should not take offense to questions related to how someone could confirm the rank(s) he claims to hold. Rather a legitimate instructor should welcome such inquiries as evidence of a serious and informed student.

A legitimate rank is more than just having a piece of paper hanging on a wall. Today, with the ease of communication methods, it should be a simple matter to call, email, or look up a web page for an instructor’s teacher to confirm his/her rank in each style/system claimed. Even if the instructor’s teacher is no longer alive, there had to have been other students at the same time that could vouch for the instructor. Understand that by verifying an instructor really received the rank(s) claimed from his/her teacher only proves the instructor is honest about his current rank. This verification does not prove the legitimacy of the style/system, or the legitimacy of the instructor’s teacher.

The problem today is that second and third generation illegitimate instructors are prevalent. This happens when one person claims a rank in some style/system (regardless the reason) without proper training and begins promoting students in that system, then some of those students begin to instruct and promote students in the same system (second generation), then some of those students do the same thing (third generation). This means it may be necessary to verify back two or three instructors to really verify the legitimacy of one instructor’s rank. For example, consider one person that legitimately obtained a Blue Belt in Taekwondo, then supplemented his education with what he could learn at seminars, from friends, in magazines, videos, or in other methods that do not involve the dedicated study from a legitimate instructor. At some point he decides he know enough to open his own school promoting his own system. He claims to be the founder of that system and assigns himself a high rank like 10th dan (Judan). He begins teaching and promoting students that failed to verify the legitimacy of his lineage and rank, and before long some of them are awarded high ranks and open their own schools. These second generation instructors may not even realize they “bought a lemon” if the original instructor replied to questions about his training and qualifications with wonderful stories of personal accomplishments and an ample amount of ego. Did the second and third generation students really receive the rank they claim? Let’s assume the answer is “yes”. Does this mean the second and third generation students hold legitimate ranks? No, because the style/system is not legitimate.

The final aspect of legitimacy is that of the techniques taught. A good Judo hip throw is of no value when point sparring in Taekwondo, just like a jump spin kick is of no value in a Judo match or self-defense. The techniques taught need to help the student perform better in the focus area of the school. That is why a school that advertises “we do everything” does not offer its students the quality focused instruction in one area to be beneficial. This is especially a concern for self-defense. Some instructors make wild claims about the legitimacy of the self-defense techniques they teach and cover up inadequacies with extra ego. Look for terms like “unstoppable,” or “un-defendable” as clues that an instructor is trying to cover something up. Listen for things that imply that some technique or series of techniques will “destroy” or “devastate” an attacker all the time. Similar ego terms should be a warning. Just like the same attack will not always score a point in Taekwondo point sparring, there is no to believe any one technique will always work in self-defense.


Terms like “devastating,” “destructive,” and “lethal” are used in attempt to indicate the effectiveness of one’s style/system. No one wants to spend their time and money learning something that is not highly effective. To admit to such foolish endeavor would be humiliating. On the other hand, some illegitimate instructors tend to use similar terms to pump up their student’s ego to help them believe their techniques are ultimately or always effective, and consequently their students may use the same or similar term describing their system. Look out for these type of ego based terms being used to describe a school, instructor, or system.

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute
Minami Budo Ryu
Ju Jitsu / Aiki Jujitsu / Judo / Self Defense
Aiken, SC
Phone: (803) 341-3221
Email: newtobudokai@gmail.com

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