Brian Kagen pick: “Underqualified Sensei” from aikiweb.com

“Anyone can rent a building and start their own dojo, regardless of their experience and knowledge of aikido. They can exaggerate on their qualifications to teach and a person new to aikido can be easily mislead. I feel sorry for the gullible students of these type teachers. I also feel frustrated that they are representing aikido so poorly. Some people go to see aikido for the first time and will leave thinking that aikido is BS.

Sometimes a student moves to an area where there isn’t a dojo and must start their own in order to keep training. In these situations, I think that it is okay to teach as long as the sensei and the students continue to learn from a parent dojo. I think that the sensei owes it to themselves and their students to continue to learn.

What are your thoughts?”

Brian Kagen is an avid web researcher with a particular interest in martial arts. His training background includes both judo and aikido. He has contributed hundreds of article links over the years for AJ readers.

Click here to read entire article.


  1. Morihei Ueshiba qualified himself with: “Step onto the mat and give it your best shots.” Sokaku Takeda would not take a student unless he had first screened him with: “Attack me and let’s see what you’ve got.” And most were summary dismissed as “being unready.”

    Qualifications reside with the practitioner and “By their fruits you shall know them.”

    There are incompetent dunderheads with wall to wall certificates; as there are totally “unqualified” who are reasonable in combat and pretty good teachers to boot.

    No continuous “downward” transmission is required. Yes, you need a teacher who can pass on the basics validly. Yes a good teacher earns your respect forever. No you do not need to kowtow to a political organization or a franchise cult. A bird who refuses to fly soon becomes predator food. Jump out of the nest and learn to fly. In real combat you will be alone.

    Some of these cults merely produce inept dancers who spout veiled allusions to “spiritual” ambiguities they use to get your money under false pretenses. But many cannot walk the walk in reality.

    Some quiet dojos have sprung up of necessity because of distance and the desire to continue to train. Some isolated individuals often sought a group to practice with, but got cast into a “teaching” role because the others had no experience. They shared, they grew, and they THOUGHT FOR THEMSELVES, producing some of the best, safest and most skilled, on the ground and active security personnel. All this without any injuries in training for decades, unlike the “accredited” and heavily wallpapered.

    This particular skill has to emerge from INSIDE YOU if it is to have any useful value. All another can do is to pass on some basic key elements. The growing is up to you. And plenty of regular WORK.
    If you cannot discern for yourself whether a group or a teacher is worth his salt, you are not ready to start. Certificates can be printed on a photocopy machine and that’s what they are usually worth. Observe, discern and THINK FOR YOURSELF. Otherwise learn to bleat.

  2. All martial arts experience these problems. I practice Jujutsu and Aiki-Jujutsu and I wrote the blog below for the unwary beginner:

    Unfortunately there are Dojo’s and instructors out there that claim to be able to teach that really have no place doing so. Usually these people are just out to make money or else seek self glorification. Sometimes it really is about feeding their ego with admiring inexperienced people. These Dojo’s can seem legitimate with glossy brochures and histories easily taken from the internet but that is where it ends. This type of martial artist is the fast food version that looks good, might even smell good, but is the proverbial bowel cement that is bad for your system. Often these types of instructors have learned a smattering of this and that – basically enough to fool the layperson into believing in their prowess. Sometimes but not always there is little or no grading qualification or worse it is a qualification that is made up or bought over the Internet from unscrupulous organisations. Other than a grading certificate teachers can also have a coaching qualification or coaching accreditation specialised for martial arts. Unfortunately neither of these is a guarantee of a good teacher so ultimately it is up to the student to make up their mind about a teacher. Prospective students of jujutsu must be aware and ask questions and take note of behaviours. The following are some of the things to look out for:

    • The master of multiple arts – who will proclaim this at every opportunity. While there are a few people who genuinely have mastered more than one martial art these are exceptional individuals who have put many years into training. Mastery is something that requires a lifetime of dedication in any single style (this is particularly so in Jujutsu / Aikido). A good teacher is not a braggart.

    • The namedropper. This is the type that is out to impress you with the number of people that they have trained under. Training under a vast number of instructors no matter how noteworthy they may be is no guarantee of ability. What matters more than who they have trained with is the amount of time spent training at a high level with good instructors and colleagues.

    • One way respect – that is when someone demands respect (which should be earned) and does not return in kind.

    • The fast tracker – be wary of someone who rapidly promotes people up the grading scale (often at a cost). Rapid promotion should not be the norm as it leads to inexperienced practitioners whose skills are mainly theoretical and who lack the mind-body programming that comes with extensive practice.

    • What recognition does your instructor have for their rank? For Jujutsu in Australia there are two main organisations that have some rigor to their recognition process. The Australian Jujitsu Association and the Australian Jujitsu Federation. Both of these organisations have requirements for grading and instructor recognition. Outside of this there are schools that are linked to Japan or Brazil for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Be wary of any instructor who does not appear to have recognition from legitimate overseas-based traditional schools or the above-mentioned Australian organisations.

    • The Narcissist or the sociopath; regrettably martial arts does attract a few of these. These types of people are most dangerous if they somehow become “sensei” (usually at a cost to others). To the inexperienced, they can be quite charismatic, convincing and even awe inspiring. This person does not really want students, but spectators (or disciples) to their own glory. They may claim that they will take you to great heights but the truth is this type of person is invariably quite limited. They will not encourage individuality but seek out copies of themselves. Once a student or colleague questions or challenges their “mastery” even in a minor way they will be isolated and alienated by the sensei (and/or their groupies) or sometimes worse things can happen. These dojos are usually characterised by having very few, if any, high level students and certainly none that approach the sensei in skill or ability. If you find yourself in this situation, the best advice is to leave quietly without drawing attention to yourself.

    • Training injuries; if you find that there are a lot of injuries in your dojo (even “minor” ones) then you need to ask yourself why this is occurring. If someone gets severely injured in your dojo then you should take a close look at what happened, particularly if the injury was perpetrated by the sensei. Accidents do happen, but it is how that accident is handled that matters. Who takes responsibility? Is the cause written off as something external? What changes after the accident has happened? If you suspect that there is a whitewash, don’t put your body at risk any longer, cut your losses, count your blessings if it wasn’t you that got hurt and move on to find a more legitimate instructor/dojo.

  3. bruce baker says:

    One of the comments annoyed me this morning .. Narcissistic or Sociopath. You all do know that everyone has some degree of a personality disorder and the these labels are given to people who show the EXTREMES and not always the lesser degrees of these conditions, but we should be aware that less than extremes are perfectly normal as long as one is not a danger to oneself or others. Just wanted to clear that up for some of you who thought you were normal …. maybe some of our teachers are not so normal? But really, what is normal?

    Don’t take it the wrong way, there are good points in considering how some disorders are under control and push people to excel where ordinary behavior would just produce mediocre results.

    As for this teaching?

    Hey, don’t we have this system of Master Craftsman-Journeyman-Apprentice that has ingrained itself in every aspect of society and civilization for the last 8,000 years? And it does work! YUP!

    Think about it. Think about the strange behavior of some people, and how some are very talented. Some can work within the system, and others can be recognized for outstanding achievements to be given rank and privilege. It is not perfect, and we human beings are not perfect, but as long as we provide some opportunity and some freedom within a controlled structure of instruction and guidance …. policing and correcting problems when dangers occur … it is a system that works.

    If one wants to figure out why what goes on goes on, then do your homework and find out what is going on for the splinter groups in aikido as it breaks away from Daito-Ryu and yet maintains some connections also, and why many of the master instructors in Aikido break away from Aikido but maintain some connections to it also. It is a complicated puzzle of human behavior, politics, and of personal friendships behind the scenes. It is the history of human civilization and present evolution of that history made manifest each new day.

    To me … it is a stupid question, Underqualified Teachers, because for every positive in the universe there must exist some negative to balance out the positive. Our attempt to create an entirely positive capsule will result in there being some negative balance somewhere out there. Get over it. It is not just nature but science too.

    In simple terms … there will always be the Apprentice, the Journeyman, and the Master. Stop whining about the Apprentice, or even the Journeyman who might not be as skilled as the Master practitioner, but even the Master-practitioner is only human, so I cannot say that even he will be that perfect teacher, which is why we struggle to support each other with some type of system that has checks and balances.

    My opinion for threads like this is NOT politically correct in it’s response. I say this with both comedy and in all seriousness … DO your homework and SHUT the hell up!

    And then when we both laugh at ourselves for being stupid … we talk and get some of that information that keeps these stupid threads from being written.

    Maybe that is the problem in today’s world? We don’t talk enough face to face, and we certainly don’t pay enough attention to the world around us … past, present, and future. There simply has to be a world where we can fail and make mistakes so we can learn from our failures. There has to be a yardstick for success.

  4. bruce baker says:

    Uh … you all did the point that we must write stupid threads to get answers, but on the other hand there must be some complaining too.

    The duality of struggle … without some struggle … there is no feeling of accomplishment, right?

    It is like the guy who asks if he can ask a question and yet there silence. When the man asks why there is no answer … the answer is … “I said you can ask you question, but it doesn’t mean I have to answer.”

    Everyone is under-qualified in some aspect of what they teach. I assume we are talking about a specific curriculum and the teaching of that instruction to a set level, right?

    Just wanted to make sure we were back to posting the level of instruction a person was certified to teach … and you get what you expect to get for that level of instruction.

  5. 1 – When I started aikido in 1974 nobody in the USA had much experience.
    2 – There’s another dimension here – paying the rent. Training is one thing. Running a business is another. O Sensei wasn’t much of a businessman. Fortunately he had sponsors in the early years and his son in his old age. The elements of business success are not all consistent with delivery of a high quality martial arts product. Yes, cars can get you from one place to another quickly, but if that was all that was sold, there wouldn’t be different model years and the wide variety of designs. The Hapkido school where I hold some classes succeeds commercially because of its kids’ after school athletic program. What product does YOUR dojo depend on and how is it marketed?

  6. There’s an O’Sensei quote I came across some years ago: “If you want to be a good sensei, don’t quit your day job.”
    In other words do you want to churn out 300+ inept clones you cannot hope to instruct properly and a cult following in lavish surroundings, or would you prefer to cover costs but produce true masters of the art out of a modest edifice and be in a position to provide proper communication, individual attention and truly qualified instruction?

  7. I think this discussion is a healthy one. I believe all of the above authors have valid views. I think the take home message from all of this is that it is up to the individual to be aware. Seekers must do their own homework when choosing to join a dojo. Sure everyone has faults – you just have to choose which collection of faults you can best live with and more importantly decide if the Dojo / instructor is going to be fertile ground for learning your chosen style. There are pitfalls but if you are aware you can learn from these as well – after all making mistakes is an important part of learning. Enjoy the journey!

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