There are martial arts groups and organizations that engage in some borderline cult behavior. There are some that push things much further. Today I want to look at some of the characteristics that should be red flags that you are participating in a martial arts cult.
Cult status is going to require more than proclaiming that one style is superior to others or just asking for loyalty to the style. People everywhere find a sense of identity and belonging in the University they attended without even considering how long ago it was. Taking pride in your martial arts style is not harmful, it actually helps you to put more effort into what you are doing. Every style and school will try to help you find that sense of belonging and pride, and there is nothing wrong with that at all.
So how can we find those groups that cross the line into cult behavior?
One can start with taking a look at the leader of the martial arts group. Is this person demanding an absolute loyalty to his or her interpretation of the art, or to themselves personally? Cult leaders need to be held by their followers as being beyond question. You cannot question the validity of their teachings. Often, this is because they cannot prove their claims, but regardless of motivation, they must not be questioned.
Another thing that can identify a martial arts cult is the rules which dictate your life and decisions beyond martial arts training. This often falls under the classification of some form of Warrior Culture or another. While I am here, I will mention in passing that martial cults never get tired of using Warrior this and Warrior that. This is used or misused as a way to control your behavior, your outlook, and even your thinking. Controlling your behavior makes the group look they way they want to look. But control over your outlook and thinking keeps you from asking questions that might make you see through the game. Just as an example, there are martial arts groups that have rules regarding things that are none of their business such as your diet, hair style, interaction with your spouse, etc.
Every type of martial art has these types of cults – Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese – it is there. Not every organization is a cult, but the cults are everywhere and you can spot them if you look closely. Anytime they start to dictate your life and decisions outside of the training hall, put on the ol’ critical thinking cap and take a look around.
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