If not, the martial artist who has achieved that rank dishonors the spirit of the practice and must be dealt with. Depending of the degree of the infraction, the offending black belt could lose his or her rank. Honorable teachers have been known to exile outlaw students who have dishonored the style, system or school.
Scranton Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Courtright claims to hold several black belts in various martial arts. As an “8th degree” black belt, Courtright, who owns and operates a karate school in West Side, claims to be one of the highest ranking Tang Soo Do practitioners in the nation.
Karate legend Chuck Norris holds the same black belt ranking as Courtright. Aikido master Steven Seagal holds a 7th degree black belt, one degree shy of Courtright’s accomplishments.
That’s very impressive, sensei.
In his campaign literature and on roadside billboards throughout the city, Courtright stresses “integrity.”
In a city as dishonored by corrupt politicians as Scranton, integrity matters as much as intelligence, organizational skill and governing acumen. Integrity, or the lack of integrity, shapes leadership for better or worse.
But Courtright has refused to respond to my attempts to find out who promoted him to such a high-ranking position in the international karate community. He refuses to name his teacher(s) or provide detail about when and where he received his prestigious ranking.
The questions are simple and relevant, not only to his bid for public office but in his bid for credibility in his business as well. Martial arts students have every right to expect a teacher to be exactly what he or she claims to be. Students are customers and consumer reassurance is the mark of good business. Some karate instructors have been known to defraud students as a way to increase class size and, of course, personal profit.
That’s why, as a long-time martial artist, I advise all martial arts students to verify before paying. Many truly qualified, honorable, teachers exist. So do many dangerous frauds.
Is Courtright the karate expert he claims to be?
Only he can prove the truth.
Yesterday I called a Tang Soo Do teacher near Philadelphia to inquire about rank. He said he has been practicing for about 35 years and teaches as a master – Courtright claims “Grand Master” status on his website, by the way.
The man said he knows many people in the Tang Soo Do community yet he has never heard of Courtright. He referred me to a friend who teaches in Northeastern Pennsylvania and who is a national Tang Soo Do expert, a 6th degree black belt who runs a few dojangs or schools not far from Scranton.
I called that master yesterday and left a message..
Another 6th degree Tang Soo Do master, a well-known and well-respected teacher in Tunkhannock, called the show Tuesday to say that he is concerned about Courtright’s claims. He said he also is concerned that few black belts or anyone else for that matter will call out martial arts instructors who promote themselves or add illegitimate rank to the already crowded notches in their belts.
Such fraud defines dishonor in the martial arts.
Northeastern Pennsylvania is loaded with overblown martial arts egomaniacs. They promote themselves or their friends promote them and they in turn promote their friends. I know one local teacher who promoted one of his dedicated students to a rank higher than the rank the teacher holds.
Impressively-ranked teachers mean more students, more money, more prestige and more power.
But how do students – especially children and their parents – know that they’re receiving the real deal and are not abused.
Politely demand proof.
That’s why Courtright’s refusal to answer my questions sets off alarms about his ability to lead the city let alone his own dojo.
As a “shodan,” a first-degree black belt in aikido, I can and will provide you with my teacher’s name, phone number, email and street address at Full Circle Aikido in Grover Beach, California. If you have any questions about my black belt claim all you have to do is contact my teacher. In fact, I plan to email this column to him as a heads up that he might be receiving inquires.
My teacher’s qualifications and aikido lineage that goes directly to aikido’s founder are easy to obtain as well. Man of honor that he is, I expect that 6th degree aikido instructor Steven Steger will answer all your questions and even tell you that Jesus loves you before hanging up or signing off.
Integrity means everything in martial arts and in life.
That includes the “warrior” who hopes to be the next mayor of Scranton.