Top 15 Signs Your Martial Arts Teacher Is Fake
This article is part of our series on the subject of "Fake Martial Arts". Read more:
- Why Fake Martial Arts Exist (And Why They Always Will?)
- Top 5 Lies Fake Martial Artists Keep Telling Everyone (And What They Really Mean)
- Top 12 Signs Your Martial Arts School Is A McDojo
- What Is A Kung Fu LARPer?
- Jet Li on Fake Masters & What Is Real Kung Fu
Let's cut the crap and get right down to it - we hate fake martial arts teachers.
At least with pseudo-fake (casual / McDojo) martial arts / schools, arguments can be made that these arts or schools are there for business and money making purposes, and your judgement may vary.
But meeting an actual fake martial arts teacher? As in, fake personified?
It is one of the worst things that unfortunately does exist in the world of martial arts.
The reason why we're calling out fake martial arts teachers is because they promote unsafe training environments that could get their students seriously hurt or even killed, scam innocent people out of their hard earned money, and contribute to a cult-like culture that is scummy and predatory.
Not only do these fake martial arts teachers profit off of unsuspecting students, they ruin the legitimacy and image of real martial artists who practice their art seriously.
Here is our list of the top signs or traits of a fake martial arts teacher. If your teacher or some other teacher you know matches most of the signs on this list - run away - as they are most likely a fake!
1. They Peddle Some Form Of "Woo Woo"
The biggest and most obvious sign of a fake martial arts teacher, right off the bat, is if they are a snake oil salesman type who teaches their entire martial arts curriculum based on some type of "woo woo" (unconventional beliefs regarded as having little or no scientific basis, especially those relating to spirituality, mysticism, or alternative medicine), such as:
- Cultivating mystical energies or "internal" energies such as Chi, Qi, or Ki, that has never been proven by modern sports science that it exists.
They perform feats of science fiction magic like pushing a person back 10 feet, getting out of an armlock or grappling position with no effort, or simultaneously defending oneself from 10 attackers at once with "Qi" force.
- Mythology or unverifiable story of origin such as selling a story of a fictitious martial arts master or lineage that cannot be verified as historical fact.
They'll make up tales of Ng Mui, Miyamoto Musashi, or some other historical story, and say they were the "secret" "descendant" or "successor" of that "lost" art.
- Way of movement that is highly strange, theoretical, or impractical for real world applications.
If this martial arts teacher constantly operates or talks about something that is only theoretical and cannot be accurately reproduced in the real world (ie. against resisting opponents, sparring, or any non-compliant scenario), or otherwise be proven as true, they are a fake martial arts teacher.
2. They're Out Of Shape / Abnormally Frail
Now, we know not to ever judge a book by its cover, as famous and legitimate martial artists like Sammo Hung or UFC / MMA fighters like "Big Country" Roy Nelson are of the larger variety.
But, sometimes appearances do matter and can be a legit indicator of your martial arts teacher's skill, knowledge, and / or level of dedication.
If your martial arts teacher / coach / instructor looks relatively out of shape, or if they look completely frail, this can be a red flag.
Observe them closely in action, and if they can't even walk up a flight of stairs without panting heavily, or they're so skinny and frail (and not because of their age) that they can barely do any technique with any convincing energy, how do you expect them to teach you properly?
If they don't even take care of their personal fitness / physical health, how can you trust that they'll take care of your personal development?
Not all martial arts teachers are equal. If your martial arts teacher is severely overweight, or not in great physical shape, there might be a limit as to how much they can help you, especially if you are in much better shape than they are.
Or worse, if they cannot physically fight off an opponent or attacker themselves (practice what they preach), then how good of a martial artist are they really?
Exceptions are given to martial arts masters of advanced age (40+), of course, but if you had a choice, you should probably try and learn from someone who can actually kick your butt (at least a little and within reason), and not from someone who can only demonstrate moves on you but cannot actually do them to you for real.
3. They Don't Allow You To Touch / Spar Them
Fake martial arts teachers or "touch-less" masters will never allow you to touch them or spar with them.
At most, they'll allow you to spar one of their students instead.
The reason is obvious - if you actually tested their skill or did something they didn't expect, they would immediately be exposed.
4. They Never Spar, Only "Demonstrate"
Any class that a fake martial arts teacher teaches, or video that they film and release online, always only consists of them teaching a technique, demonstrating on a compliant partner or student, or showing a drill on a compliant opponent, or showing themselves being attacked in slow motion in a "self defense" scenario.
They never, ever, have any moment or video evidence of them doing actual non-compliant training or sparring, much less even fighting.
If they never have footage of them doing any non-compliant attacking / defending or sparring, chances are it's because they're no good to begin with (cannot apply anything they're teaching).
The only legitimate reasons why a teacher cannot spar are either if they are advanced in age, or have a debilitating health condition and / or injuries.
If they do happen to have sparring footage of themselves, they look like a complete beginner, like it was the first day they ever stepped foot into a kickboxing gym, or they immediately get knocked out cold in a fight against a real fighter.
5. They Have Never Competed In Anything Of Reasonable Difficulty (Or At All)
A martial arts teacher is suspicious if during their whole martial arts career, they have never competed or won any notable martial arts tournaments, championships, or titles.
Or they may have competed, but in a very small / shallow / local type of tournament where there were virtually no quality opponents available (win one match in your bracket you'll win Gold, and the loser automatically gets Silver, or show up and win a Gold by default due to no opponents).
Or, they competed and won a relatively easy to win competition like performing a form or fight a semi-contact point fight that every kid or teenager has done so at some point in their martial arts career.
If they've never proven themselves against any legit competition (at least medaled or won a fairly large tournament at the city / provincial / state / national level), then they may suffer from being a "Frog In The Well" - someone who's martial arts skills are only "good" relative to the people around them (usually hobbyists or people who train casually but not competitively).
If a teacher has never competed in anything or never been tested in a high pressure situation or realistic environment, it means their skills have never been verified truthfully and thus they may not be teaching you the most reliable information.
6. They Don't Have A Fight Record / Never Fought
Fake Tai Chi "master" gets knocked out in an actual fight.
They don't have any evidence of having ever fought (streets, bouncer, bodyguard, military), competed in fighting, or have a verifiable fight record.
This means they have no legitimate track record that shows that what they are teaching actually works in a real life / real fighting scenario.
They'll usually use this list of excuses to justify why they never fought or "don't fight".
And please remember that we are talking about martial arts.
Those who say their martial arts "isn't for fighting" are lying - the word martial literally means "military fighting" or "war", and the only reason martial arts were invented was to fight / defend oneself.
If what you're teaching isn't applicable to fighting, you're not teaching martial arts, you're teaching performance art or interpretive dancing (which is okay, as long as you market it as such).
Just don't market a performance art done primarily for health / meditative benefits in a way where you're implying you can defend yourself with it, because that is simply untrue, dishonest, and dangerous.
7. They Never Produced Any Good Students
Even if a teacher has never competed themselves due to whatever reason, a good sign of a legit martial arts teacher is to see what kind of students they have produced.
If they have no verifiable track record of producing great, or even good students who have gone on to win championships, tournaments, or become famous as a result of their skills, then they might be fake.
8. They Act Like They Own You, And Are Insecure And Jealous Of Other Teachers
Fake martial arts teachers will act like they own you and will try to make sure you only belong to them and their teachings.
They will try to:
- Discourage you from learning from other teachers or schools or sources
- Dissuade you from visiting other schools
- Not allow training with other practitioners that don't train at the same school / style
- Prevent you from cross-training other martial arts
If they sense you wish to leave them or their school, they will cry and beg for you to stay.
Whereas real martial arts teachers are secure in their own knowledge and system, and won't mind and may even encourage you to seek out training from other styles or schools, in order to help you achieve a better understanding and appreciation that maybe their teaching is already the best and that you may not need to go learn from others.
9. They Hide Behind Their Style / Teacher / Lineage
Instead of representing themselves through their own personal accomplishments in martial arts, fake martial arts teachers will constantly brag about how their style or discipline of martial arts is the best, and that their style / school is better than all the other styles / schools out there.
They will incessantly name-drop, make reference to, or use other more famous names, mythical figures, their teacher, their lineage, or otherwise leverage some other person they never met or don't have close ties to, to represent their martial arts or to prop themselves up as important or legitimate.
For example, they might constantly brag about:
- Who their martial arts teacher was ("my teacher was Ip Man / Ip Man's disciple!")
- The fact that they trained with or knew of [insert famous martial artist] ("I trained with Bruce Lee's disciple / classmate!")
- That their lineage is highly sacred, regarded, and revered
If all they can do is reference / piggyback other people but have otherwise shown no proof or value that they are a quality martial artist themselves - then they are most likely weak, soft, and a fake teacher.
10. Their Martial Arts Is A "Brand" (They're A Marketing Guru / Branding Expert)
Note: The following is a tricky one. There are many legitimate instructors who have went on to create their own systems and rankings. That is totally fine. But watch out for the cult leaders.
If a martial arts teacher has successfully marketed their own "style" or "brand" of martial arts, given it a modified or distinct name, or broke off of their original style or lineage and renamed it something else, beware, they could be running a cult (complete with a cult following) and their martial arts could just be fake (something they made up).
Examples include adding adjectives to their martial arts like:
- Applied, Practical, Realistic, Reality, Real, etc.
- Internal, Spiritual, Mindful, Flow, Graceful, etc.
- Animal, Tiger, Snake, Crane, Eagle, Bear, Gorilla, etc.
- Thug, Jail, Brutal, Violent, Extreme, Deadly, etc.
Or personalized brand / terms:
- Fighting (Joe's Fighting Arts)
- System (Joe's Flow System)
- First or Last Name (Joe's Fighting Systems, Joe Jitsu, Johnson Jitsu)
Or modifying the name, abbreviation, or spelling of a martial art to stand out:
- Wing Chun, Wing Tsun, Ving Tsun, Wing Tjun (watch out for made up terms - these are different English romanization spellings to differentiate their lineage, but in Chinese, it's all the same word)
- Hung Kuen / Kyun (they're the same thing)
- Boxercise (Boxing + Exercise)
- Tae Bo (Taekwondo + Boxing)
- Tae Kwon Dance (Tae Kwon + Dance instead of "Do")
Or making something up by themselves and / or peddling it as an ancient art or mythical "lost" martial art form:
- Snake Crane Tiger Wing Chun / Tai Chi
- Ng Mui Secret / Original Wing Chun
- Some kind of "Secret / Hidden" Kung Fu
- Jailhouse Rumble Rock 82 Blox Revenge Style Boxing
Also, if a martial arts teacher is more known for the fact that they are well known, instead of their actual skills or accomplishments, then they might be a "marketing guru" and most likely a fake.
11. They Have A Fake Belt or They're Highly Ranked... In Their Own Style
Note: If the instructor has created a new system that is legitimate - they have combined several styles or refined their style into something new or made it more effective, then this is okay.
A martial arts teacher is most likely fake if they cannot tell you where they got their martial arts rank / lineage from.
They're also most likely fake if they have a 10th "Dan" "black belt" in "Kyoukuten Karate" (an example of a style that doesn't exist) or if they are a "Level 18 Master" of a "system" of martial arts they created for their own school.
In reality, martial arts that are the most realistic, do not have that many ranks or levels anyway (and it's better that way).
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you have White, Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black belt levels, and that's it (later on they've added stripes to give students more of a progression level to work towards, but ultimately are meaningless in the grand scheme of things).
In fact, many martial arts such as Boxing or Muay Thai don't have ranks or belts at all.
The only reason fake martial arts / martial arts teachers invent so many levels of progression is because they want to force their students to train longer (but progress slower), pay more tuition fees or belt grading fees in order to achieve a perceived higher ranking in their respective martial arts discipline.
The longer they can hide things and make their students train longer with the false idea that they are progressing somewhere, the better (and more profitable) for the fake martial arts teacher.
12. They Give Themselves A Title... And Demand You Call Them By It
If a martial arts teacher gives themselves the title of "Sifu", "Sensei", "Kru", "Master" in front of their names, especially in front of their social media names or handles, then this is a red flag ("coach" is acceptable).
Real, legitimate martial arts teachers do not need to give themselves these fake titles and demand that people address them by it.
The ones who feel they need to shout it out from the rooftops that they are some sort of "Sifu, "Sensei", or "Master", instead of being called that title naturally by their own students, are the most insecure of their own skills and likely a fake.
13. They Don't Teach Classes Themselves
They are never seen in the actual school or cannot be bothered to teach classes themselves.
They have a "black belt" student or some other kid / teenager student on minimum wage teaching their classes.
What this means is if the class is bad or poorly taught, they don't have to be responsible for it, as they can always deflect it as their student's fault.
They probably don't even care, as their school is just a money making tool and they're usually off somewhere slacking off anyways.
14. They Charge Exorbitant Fees For Seminars Where They Teach Basically Nothing
They travel and teach seminars at martial arts schools around the world, where at best, they teach "white belt level" basics of their martial arts, or at worst, use really ambiguous or vague terms when teaching their martial arts.
They might grab a compliant student to perform a demonstration, but ultimately is more of just a party trick or planned choreographed demonstration rather than real skill or technique.
They trick gullible students into thinking what they're showing is real or that it really works, even though the demonstration might just be an exploitation of the students' lack of knowledge.
Their "seminars" are basically glorified talking sessions, philosophical talk, or "motivational speeches" with very little actual practical application or physical practice involved.
They charge hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for a chance for students to "practice" with them, and maybe touch them lightly ("touch hands", "feel my energy"), but never, ever are they allowed to spar them.
15. They Only Teach / Attract A Certain Type Of Student
Another sign of a fake martial arts teacher, is that because others know they are fake, they are usually only capable of attracting a certain type of student that would be willing to learn from them (get tricked by them).
For example, their classes might be exclusively toddlers / children / kids / teens, or out of shape moms / dads / retired pensioners "looking for something to occupy their time" or "looking to train for health / meditative reasons".
A fake teacher is usually only able to attract "Walter Mitty" types as students. A "Walter Mitty" is described as a mild, meek, submissive man who is easily imposed on and spends his time daydreaming about his (fake) abilities and adventures.
Why is this a red flag?
It is because any able-bodied, young, athletic individual who has the potential to actually achieve some level of proficiency in the martial arts world, probably wouldn't be wasting their time with such a low level, low quality teacher in the first place.
A person with potential (or seeks to train at a higher level of quality) would be seeking out a higher level teacher or school with much more verifiable signs of quality.
A person who just wants to take things easy and isn't looking to train very hard or even compete at all, would most likely settle for "any teacher", including teachers of questionable quality or credentials to train under.
Bonus Sign: They Never Give You A Clear Answer To Your Question
Another sign of a fake martial arts teacher is that if you ever asked them a question to clarify a technique or its proper applications, they will give you some long winded, abstract answer that doesn't actually answer your question directly.
If they cannot give you a clear, direct answer to your question, then they are likely making things up as they go along to hide the fact that they do not know it or never learned it properly themselves.
Real martial arts are simple, effective, and direct. Fake martial arts are mystical, shrouded in secrecy, and confusing.
Did we miss any other signs that you think should have been included on this list? Sound off in the comments below.
And remember - if you meet or see anybody who matches most of the red flags on this list - they're a fake teacher.
Steer clear and ignore at all costs.
- Dynasty Team