As a martial arts instructor and writer I spend a lot of time talking about the outstanding benefits of training. The self confidence, comradery, self defense skills, culture, etc etc. However I also feel that it’s my responsibility to make people aware of the more unpleasant side of the martial arts world; the manifestations that come with individuals who achieve positions of power and influence when they have no right attaining them.

Becoming a martial arts instructor is as easy as being able to lie. There is no national governing board that separates the real teachers from the phonies, and even if a given instructor has great skill there is no saying he/she is mentally and emotionally stable enough to handle the authority that comes with the position.

Insidious instructors often have an impulse to use their authority for sexual gains. In fact, grooming and manipulating students is part of the draw.

The movie “Foot Fist Way” is a comedy, but actually strikes a few martial arts problems right on the head. This is one of those instances. Check out the following clip:


You probably found that a little bit cringe worthy, which is good. Unfortunately there is very little comedic exaggeration in that clip.

Today I did a quick Google search for “karate instructor arrested”, just to see what kind of results came up. In this month of August, the top 8 results were as follows:

Orange County youth soccer and karate coach charged with molesting boys – A 29-year-old soccer and karate coach charged with molesting two 8-year-old boys is expected to be charged with molesting three other boys when he is arraigned next month.

Waco-Area Karate Instructor Freed: Time’s Up On Sexual Assault Charge – Danny Ray Passmore, a former Waco area karate instructor who was arrested May 22 on a charge of aggravated sexual assault, was released Thursday from McLennan County Jail after the state failed to secure an indictment within the required 90 days.

Martial arts instructor released, then arrested on new charges – Shortly after being released on bail on Wednesday, a Fulton martial arts instructor charged with criminal sex acts with a child was arrested on new charges relating to a second victim.

Polk officials arrest seven Tampa Bay men in child sex sting – Joshua Adam Hunt, 19, of 7402 Pierce Harwell Road, Plant City, is accused of going to Polk County to have sex with a woman in the presence of children. Hunt told detectives he worked as an assistant karate instructor for people ages 8 to 20 at the Planteen Recreation Center at 301 Dort St. in Plant City.

Chairman of county ethics panel arrested in sex assault – Chavez has taught karate and is a certified instructor in non violent crisis intervention and has completed coursework with the Texas Institute for Public Problem Solving.

Mr Ehrlich plans to market a unique youth development programme in East London – The former karate instructor was found guilty by the East London Regional Court in 2003 of 14 counts of indecent assault on boys.

OC karate instructor sentenced for indecent exposure – He pulled down his jogging pants and started to masturbate as a woman holding her baby walked by, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Bail Reduced For Karate Coach Accused Of Molestation – A judge Monday reduced bail from $1 million to $800,000 for a karate instructor accused of repeatedly molesting a 13-year-old boy who took classes from him.


I was tempted to dig a little deeper, but I think this gets the point across. We are looking at results from one generic Google search for one month, from students who actually dared to speak up. A small amount of research into sexual exploitation cases will show that reported incidences are a mere fraction of actual cases.

My goal here isn’t to scare parents and students away from training, or suggest that they need to blow a safety whistle every time an instructor touches them. Far from it. Instead my desire is to see parents become better educated about the role of martial arts instructors, and the possibility of encountering a bad person in an influential position.

One common symptom that allows these teachers to continuously get away with criminal behavior is the shield of well-wishers they put up around themselves. They spend lots of time becoming “a good role model” and “part of the community” in the eyes of hundreds of casual on-lookers. It creates an environment of comfort where no one would possibly suspect dangerous behavior. Anyone who begins to sense trouble or tension is quickly shuffled away.

The “Sensei” is an interesting position in that it has built-in respect and influence. Individuals who would normally not accept abuse or manipulation allow it to happen because they aren’t sure of the “rules of the dojo”, and what should be allowed. They don’t want to seem disrespectful or out of line. Manipulative instructors know that and use it whenever possible.

Some Simple Advice

The dojo or dojang can seem like a whole different world, and in some ways it is. However, that doesn’t mean common sense and instincts should be left at the door. Parents should get in the habit of spending time with their children at the dojo and not rely on it as a day care. If they can’t be in attendance, they could instead develop a rotating system with other parents to ensure someone is monitoring things at all times. Children should not be handed off for trips or excursions without some sort of adult supervision.

Older students (teen and up) should realize that they are in no way obligated to be a confidante of the instructor, or connect with them in any way deeper than a teacher and student. There is no mandate to discuss relationships, love life, or anything of that nature. Your instincts will tell you when physical contact is normal training and when it is not.

Remember – there are lots of fantastic teachers out there who really want to do the right thing and help in your development as an artist. There is no reason to stay in a bad situation or keep quiet about inappropriate behavior.