It’s Crucial For Martial Artists & School Educators To Connect In Today’s World

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I have been teaching martial arts for a little over two years by the time I have started this article and the experience has been INTERESTING and DEFINITELY MEMORABLE, for all the good and the bad, has really made me think more carefully about how I see the world. My teacher/boss has constantly gotten on my case for simply not sticking to “just teach the class.

I would LOVE to just teach the class and NOT worry about anything else, but here’s the CAVEAT, neither life nor the world works that way. In terms of parenting and education today compared to 10–15 years ago, things have gotten harder. Most of the students I have dealt with teaching (I teach the after-school classes) are a reflection of the current state of the education system and the students’ parenting.

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Unlike many of my peers, I do have unique insight from an educational and political viewpoint, respectively being a former substitute teacher and former campaign worker (I still keep in touch with some of the people I work with or met during the campaign). I also observe, with much frustration, how a majority of master & grandmaster instructors, IMO, are uninformed about the education system and so on.

Many of them may turn a blind eye and dismiss your concerns.

Over half the students in my class have major behavior problems, at home and at school, which they bring into the dojo and it makes it a total crapshoot to teach a class. There are distractions left and right, constantly disrespectful children, and so on. The parents FOOLISHLY expect us to their problems for them.

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The parents want us to teach their children “discipline,” but it was never the core issue of their problems. To know more about the discipline part, you can check out my other piece that’s titled “Learning Martial Arts For ‘Discipline’ Is A Fallacy.

I came to the realization that the martial arts community in general, though there are exceptions, is neither informed enough nor properly equipped to deal with these problems. You’re going to ask, what does this even have to do with martial arts training? The answer is, a WHOLE F — KING LOT! I CANNOT stress that enough.

The simple answer is that these problematic children are currently or going to be someone’s students.

Parents send their kids to martial arts schools, especially if they have some after-school program (like what daycares offer), wanting them to learn “discipline” and “focus.” I again say this, it was never about the discipline. These are kids with a lot of problems that need sorting out and discipline isn’t necessarily one of them.

There’s a difference between teaching/reinforcing discipline to kids and rehabilitating kids. Discipline is part of rehabilitating, but it’s impossible to teach discipline if they’re not properly rehabilitated, and that’s something parents and martial arts teachers don’t think about.

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I spent roughly two years dealing with this one problematic child with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder) and the byproduct of ODD (opposition defiant disorder), who caused problems virtually every day like cursing (something he learned at home), temper tantrums, and other forms of troublemaking. His mother finally pulled him out of the school last year, which I am grateful for after she complained that he wasn’t learning discipline and that we “let” him run all over us.

This is a child that seriously needs therapy and counseling as he behaved this way at home and school, too, yet she pinned everything on martial arts training. She looked at martial arts training as a “magic panacea” to cure her son’s behavioral problems.

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During our recent summer camp program, I had to break up fights at least three times a day and one or two of those fights involved that kid. Whenever I had to reinforce the rules, he would reply “f — k you,” “you’re a motherf — ker,” “b — ch,” and so on. This is a boy who should have been kicked out long ago but my teacher refused because he took pity on the boy’s family, who I believe did a super piss poor job of raising him.

The first day into the final week of the kid’s training at the school, she arrived at the school in tears because she tried to discipline her son only for her son to hit her back. The boy’s uncle intervened and tried to punish him, the boy physically attacked back in retaliation. The boy’s grandfather intervened afterward, the boy physically attacked back in retaliation.

Does anybody else see the pattern?

The moral of this long-winded story is that martial arts teachers, too, are educators. You have teachers that specialize in elementary education (K-5th Grade), special education, applied sciences, social studies, physical education, studio & performing arts, computer teachers, home economics, and more.

Martial arts teachers are teachers who specialize in hand-to-hand combat with a bit of overlap in history, theology, physical education, and religion. We’re not any different from private school teachers as students pay tuition (monthly to yearly) and a martial arts school can be considered the equivalent to a small private school.

Teaching martial arts for a little over two years, especially teaching at the 2nd location (where over half the students are super-problematic), there is a lack of understanding between martial artists and educators. In today’s world, it is very important that the martial arts community at large participates in the never-ending and heated debate about education. When I answered the question with “a WHOLE F — KING LOT,” martial arts schools end up with these problematic students because their parents neither know what to do nor want to put them through needed therapy, then instead believe that martial arts training will make them behave better, when in reality, the problems are deeper than one can imagine.

Martial arts instructors, like regular school teachers, are not invulnerable to feelings of exhaustion, burnout, and many other things. There are things where I feel depressed and defeated at the end of teaching class because half the students truly don’t care to learn but I have no choice but to persevere. I’m reminded of my Kali teacher, who also has a Karate background, of why he ultimately chose to close down his Karate school.

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I read an EdSurge article titled “School Leaders Take Note: Teacher Care Is A Lot More Than Self-Care,” which inspired me to write this piece, definitely resonated as a current martial arts teacher and a former substitute teacher. Like educators in general, martial arts instructors are also victims of the flawed approach of having to save themselves. Futility is word that’s not in the vocabulary of the old guard instructors as failure is deemed unacceptable.

If the kids don’t learn anything, not even discipline, we ultimately get blamed, though the majority of their behavioral problems are out of our control. The old guard instructors have this mentality that we’re automatically equipped to do anything just because we’re martial artists. When I try to voice my concerns with students I teach, I get the response of “you’re a martial artist.”

Being a martial arts instructor is a pretty abnormal job from my experience, even on a part-time basis, which increases the stress. We barely have any time for ourselves to decompress, especially on the holidays.

This is why I adamantly believe that educators and martial arts instructors seriously need to get together and collaborate. The change in school culture not only affects the educators but also affects other people in many ways. The article talks about the importance of attacking the underlying causes, which martial arts schools generally aren’t equipped to do so.

It is the same reason that a lot of martial arts instructors choose to stop teaching kids or stop teaching martial arts altogether.

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What martial arts instructors, in general, must understand about the education system

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Underlying causes include the case with most problematic students, the student's home situation.

Former teacher Jessica Gentry, in her op-ed, listed “lack of parental accountability” as one of the reasons she had quit the profession. You can’t say “no” to their child(ren) or risk some sort of repercussion, you can’t hold the parents accountable because they can complain to the school board, and so on.

The reason that teachers try to toughen it out is because of the kids, which the parents need to be GRATEFUL for, but that only goes so far. One teacher decided to quit, the pandemic being the straw that broke the camel’s back, because of a long list of growing problems. Her reasons for quitting echo the reaches that Jessica Gentry chose to hang it up and do something else.

This is not limited to the United States, the United Kingdom has suffered a shortage of educators since 2017. The teachers are overworked because they are forced to take on additional responsibilities and that requires them to stay at their schools for longer hours.

A piece on BuzzFeed, if you look past the sarcasm, highlights how hard it is to work as a teacher and how unappreciative society, parents in general, is toward them. Like martial arts teachers, school teachers don’t really get breaks, either, and they have to spend their free time either grading papers or planning for the upcoming school day.

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This definitely holds true in a martial arts school because if you try to do either, the parents can choose to withdraw their kids from the place and you lose out on the needed tuition fees, and running a martial arts school is expensive. There are a lot of expenses to factor when running and maintaining a martial arts school, which I explain in “Self-Defense: Stop & Think Before Suggesting Part 1,” and it’s common for many of them to close down for good.

Even though there’s a growing demand for educators, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic, very few are biting. Teacher burnout is one of the core reasons that many have quit or planning to quit their teaching professions. Things are going to get even worse before they can start to get better and more teachers are retiring from the professional earlier than planned according to PBS News Hour.

Educators have said that the problems have existed for a long time, the pandemic just made it worse.

I can see that, too, especially with the lack of educators. I can recall last year when this new student joined the school whose ADHD was very bad along with aggressive behavior and anger issues. The girl’s mother signed her up in order to “learn discipline.” During the month, which I didn’t learn about until the following month, was that the parents purposely took her off the medication for the entire month.

The reason? The girl’s homeroom had a substitute teacher for the whole month, the teacher shortage, and the school declined the parents’ request to put her in a class with a regular teacher. Instead of doing the adult thing and going higher up, the parents take their daughter off her medication so that she can give the school a hard time.

There’s the sheer irony and hypocrisy of it all, how the f — k do they expect me to teach their daughter discipline when they pull off this juvenile s — t? Realistically, there’s no way their daughter is going to behave herself at the dojo when she’s already causing a ruckus at school. This incident helped me make the observation that parents today, in general, don’t have a damn clue about discipline, and yet, we’re supposed to teach it to their children.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

This article posted on The Reliable Source, titled “Traditional Martial Arts Classes, And Why They No Longer Exist,” summed it up perfectly when it comes to the education system. The author of the piece explains contributing factors such as uninterested students (very common in after-school programs) and the falsehood that martial arts training will ultimately make the misbehaved kids start behaving. I can tell from experience that dealing with unengaged and uninterested students really degrades the quality of instruction.

Instructors tend to ideally believe the uninterested kids will ultimately fall in love with martial arts but that is not always the case.

This is why my Kali teacher chose to close down his dojo and stop teaching Karate (though he’ll do private one-on-one lessons). His school got reduced to being a daycare center and only had a few kids who were serious about learning his style of Karate. He told me that another reason he stopped teaching was because of the parents who complained that their kids weren’t going up in rank WHEN their kids didn’t know their kata.

He also told me this, you must teach kids if you plan on making a living from martial arts instruction as it’s the bread-and-butter of your monthly revenue.

These uninterested kids are generally the misbehaved kids and their parents think martial arts training will automatically improve their home & school behavior, but I have seen that is rarely the case. My school, before an upcoming promotion test, has a form that kids must take to their teacher. The teacher is to sign the form and add notes on what the student is strong and what they’re poor at. If the teacher marks “no” on the test form, then that student has to wait until the next test, and that’s IF their teacher marks “yes.”

Even educators, like parents, are generally misinformed on the realities of martial arts training.

There’s the sheer irony that their school & home behavior impacts if the kids progress to the next level or not while their parents & teachers have the concept that the training will improve their behavior. I come to the belief that it’s not effective communication between the three parties.

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I also feel bad for the refugees and immigrants who are being tapped to deal with the staff shortages at schools across the country. America is not a monolithic country, neither is education. They WILL learn the cold reality that Americans in general, especially children, are ignorant about the world and generally know only what their parents & guardians teach them outside school.

Parents, like any adult, aren’t necessarily going to be informed on topics like the next person. The only difference is that parent could be an informed or uninformed person BUT with children. That includes harmful stereotypes about ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender, and so on.

I dealt with that a lot during my years as a substitute teacher because I’m Asian and classes I subbed in were full of students who only knew of the stereotypes they see in media. When my back was turned, random students said derogatory things like “ching chong.” This was a moment in my life that I absolutely wished that I did NOT have a background in martial arts.

There was this Chinese-American teacher at one middle school I often subbed at, the school’s art teacher, who constantly got berated by the students. She once tried to educate the class on classic Chinese religion, a polytheistic one, and brought up the Monkey God, only for one student to diss her and say that only God exists.

When I introduce myself or try to teach class, I get asked the same questions OVER and OVER again.

Student A asks, “Where are you from?”

I answer, “My family came from Vietnam.”

Student A then asks, “Is that in China?” or “What part of China is it in?”

Student B asks, “Are you Chinese?”

I answer, “No, I’m Vietnamese.”

Student B then responds, “Yes, you is Chinese.” The same student then follows up with “ching, chong, yee…”

Student C asks, “Are you related to Bruce Lee?” or “Are you Bruce Lee’s son?”

Student D asks, “Are you Jackie Chan’s son?”

Student E asks, “Do you know Kung-Fu?”

In the eyes of these kids, my existence as an Asian-American wasn’t valid outside the typical stereotypes, and I dealt with that virtually every day.

In his book, titled “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High,” actor Tony Danza mentioned a Vietnamese-American faculty member, codenamed Dinh, who compared education in the United States, specifically in Philadephia (where Northeast High is), and in Vietnam.

Note: The book is a memoir of Danza’s experience as a high school English teacher at the titular Northeast High. This was for a reality TV series produced by A&E but the show only lasted for a few episodes.

Dinh mentioned that in Vietnam, schools hold the parents accountable for their children’s behavior, and we go back to the inability of holding parents accountable as a contributing factor to Jessica Gentry quitting the profession for good.

I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the foreign workers recruited to fill in the vacant jobs will experience the same disrespect from the students. If that’s not bad enough, they’ll have to deal with the fallout from the complaining parents.

Like educators, martial artists ABSOLUTELY NEED to put in the work to know their students, and this is something I take from my experience as a substitute teacher. A martial arts instructor may believe they may know their student enough, but they likely don’t know their students well enough when it comes to teaching & helping them. This makes me think about the inequity of training that exists in the martial arts world.

The state of the education system, in general, including the parental influence of children in the education system, will directly affect the kind of students that get enrolled in a martial arts school. That includes the children whose misbehavior is so bad that they get ejected from one daycare after another ONLY to end up at the front doors of a martial arts school because their parents think the training automatically teaches them discipline, then complain that they’re not learning discipline, let alone in whatever timeframe they have in mind.

Those same parents have that “high and mighty” attitude and believe that we should be grateful for teaching martial arts to their children. There are many times where I want to tell those same parents “F — k you and horse you rode on.”

Most martial arts teachers, unless they have the NEEDED vigilance, don’t want to deal with those same problematic students on a regular basis, either. If you’re constantly trying to get them to behave, you’re not going to have much time to actually teach.

A lot of former teachers end up discouraging other people from taking up the same profession.

I’m virtually at the point of discouraging and dissuading people who want to become future instructors, let alone own and operate their own schools. It if was 10 years ago, I’d be supportive of someone wanting to open up their own place and teach, provided they have the correct credentials and certifications, but today, I’d be one of the first to try to dissuade that person.

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped show the true color of many parents. These parents do not appreciate the gravity of the situation, especially with the more experienced teachers, generally older, who are at risk of contracting the virus and dying from it.

Do the parents care? F — k no.

What educators, in general, must understand about the martial arts world

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For starters, the world of martial arts should be compared to the Amazon (the actual rainforest, not the shopping & media platform). You can easily get lost without a proper guide, which I consider myself (thanks to combining my knowledge & experience in martial arts, education, and politics). It is very easy to get lost and/or absorb a lot of misinformation.

Like regular educators, martial arts instructors have more than their fair share of ungrateful and hostile parents. They’re in the same boat as parents expect them to jump through X hoops for their sake. If either of them says “no” to the parents or their kids, things go south real fast.

The first thing that educators need to know about martial arts, if they have never taken martial arts before, is that the training can reinforce discipline, not teach it. Any experienced martial arts teacher, my Kali teacher, for example, said that students need to have at least some amount of discipline or it isn’t going to work at all.

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Sadly, there are adults that, too, lack the necessary discipline for martial arts. I remember this one dude who rolled up into the MMA gym, a couple of years ago, that I trained at. I do briefly talk about the guy in my piece, titled “7 Myths and Misconceptions of MMA Culture.

If they’re constantly misbehaving at school, they’re likely the same way at home. That means they’re going to misbehave at the martial arts school and it’s futile to think these kids are going to behave. I can see that the kids, the ones who are part of after-school martial arts programs, don’t care to be at the dojo, they’re definitely NOT engaged, and would rather be watching TV or playing on their mobile devices.

While martial arts can be a fun activity for kids, there’s something that separates martial arts from other activities. We teach techniques that can actually hurt and/or kill people. Yes, there’s a sports component to many martial arts, but the primary purpose of martial arts is combat.

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I subbed a number of self-contained special-ed classrooms during my time as a subsitute teacher and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with any of them learning any form of martial arts. These are kids who don’t care to learn discipline and would learn martial arts to use on other people. For the martial arts masters who believe they can learn discipline and focus, I respond with, “spare me, please…”

I’d like to go back on how martial arts can only reinforce and strengthen discipline, not teach because the lack of discipline is NOT the root cause of misbehaved kids. There are a lot of underlying problems that neither school teachers nor martial arts instructors can address. The home environment is often ground zero for the underlying causes of kids’ misbehavior such as passive parenting, neglectful parenting, and authoritarian parenting.

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They have hardcore behavior issues, major anger issues, self-entitlement issues, and so on.

A good number of the misbehaved kids I deal with have been babied by their parents instead of being taught manners and respectable behavior. These are the same children who have never been saying “no” to in their entire lives, then make a stink when they don’t get EVERYTHING they want. When I tell them “no,” they perceive it as a hostile attack and cry “you’re so mean!”

These are kids who need behavior therapy and their parents need serious counseling on how to better raise their kids, but NOPE, we end up dealing with their kids because the parents want things to be easy, and believe martial arts training is the “cure-all.” It doesn’t help as the martial arts community, too, is guilty, of claiming to teach discipline to market their schools to get kids to sign up.

It sucks being put in that position to “teach” discipline to them.

There’s another irony I need to point out and is the concept of teaching self-control, a crucial part of teaching discipline, which is near impossible because of what their parents, especially their dads, say they should do, and it undermines us. This is something I explain in my previous piece, titled “PLEASE STOP Telling Your Kids To “Hit Back” As An Initial Response.

This is one reason that traditional martial arts schools get taken LESS seriously by the day.

There are a lot of shady instructors, with neither the correct certifications nor true credentials, who can present themselves as legit, and “sell” discipline, which attracts the parents, who then register their children. I have come across these dubious teachers and ALMOST joined one of them in high school, but I dodged that bullet.

Parents ask way too much of martial arts instructors, too, but we have less options. If the school is small, especially if it’s financially struggling, the master instructor may cave to the demands because the parents can withdraw their kids at any given time and put them somewhere else. When that happens, the school loses valuable revenue and the school is further put further into financial hardship.

The misbehaved kids, from my own experience, need serious therapy and counseling, family counseling, too, to deal with the underlying problems. Martial arts training is NO replacement for necessary therapy and counseling. All the training will do is give misbehaved children tools to hurt people.

Also, the reason that traditional martial arts training is focused on “discipline” is that most of them originate from East Asian countries like Japan (Karate, Judo, Aikido, and Jujutsu), China (Kung-Fu and WuShu), and Korea (Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and Tang Soo Do). The morals, ethics, and codes derived from the curriculum of those styles, though there are many instructors who often violate them, are taken from the customs of those countries.

Those customs are heavily influenced by Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist beliefs.

On a side note, this is why I believe martial arts teachers NEED to continue their non-martial training to learn a number of topics: Asian relations, China-Japan-Korea relations, Buddhism, Confucianism, and so on.

This is why I believe we need to introduce cultural and ethnic studies at a younger age.

Why martial artists and educators NEED to seriously work together

The collaboration between school teachers and martial arts instructors is limited at best and exists in a couple of forms, but only enough to make a small impact. If a kid is misbehaving at school, again, there’s likely a couple of underlying problems at hand, and neither discipline nor lack of focus is the root cause.

The parents play a huge role in the underlying problems at hand, though the parents will dismiss those problems and pass them off as their kids lacking discipline. “My kid needs to learn discipline” is the common reason parents sign up their kids, hoping and thinking their behaviors will improve.

Strengthening and reinforcing discipline is a long process with no definite timetable. Most parents don’t realize that and complain their kids aren’t learning discipline, it won’t be on the parents’ terms, which is layman speak of “make our lives easier ASAP.”

Even though the purpose of school is to teach children what they need to know to function in society, parents can influence and control, like it or not, how schools and dojos function.

When it comes to schools (I’m talking about public schools, not private or charter schools), enough disgruntled parents can rally against the principal. If that doesn’t work, that group can take it up with the school superintendent and the school board (all positions are elected posts). They can choose to vote for their challengers in the upcoming elections.

When it comes to martial arts schools, parents can withdraw their kids one day and put them somewhere else the next day. The tuition from children, especially if they choose the after-school program (the tuition is higher than general tuition), serves as the meat-and-potatoes of the school’s revenue.

The Mississippi Center For Public Policy, for example, has a list of principles, specifically with №10, that addresses the parental role in education. That principle states that parents are responsible for the education and upbringing of their children. It explains that school is one source of education and that true education develops the person’s soul.

Schools only cover one facet of a child’s education, martial arts schools also help out to an extent, but there are things children need to learn that can only come from their family members, for good and for bad. It takes a village to raise a child, a small city to raise a child with more needs than a typical child, but parents are key to how their children function in society and how they enter adulthood.

Note: I started disagreeing with the explanation when there was the key implication that schools are to serve the parents. I stand by my belief that school needs to teach children what the ever-changing society needs them to know, not what parents need to know. Parents can be major bigots and the only thing that thinly separates them from a typical bigot is that they have kids. Those values get instilled into their children and they, too, can become bigots like them.

Though there are things about the principal’s explanation I do not agree with as parents aren’t the most objective people. EdSurge released an article in October about the negative impact parents can have on their children with the pandemic being one of them. Rhetorically asking, what kind of example are these parents setting for their kids? They’re doing stuff by interrupting the school day to protest in person, threatening destruction and violence, and so on.

These are usually the same people who complain about after-school programs being shut down.

Mr. Rogers, in an interview with Charlie Rose, explained the importance of being a positive influence.

When it comes to discipline, how the holy f — k are we going to teach misbehaved children any shred of discipline when their parents don’t lead by f — king example? Their kids are going to emulate their bad behavior and it makes the school environment toxic, then their parents wonder why their children are acting bad, and sign them up for martial arts classes, thinking they’ll automatically learn discipline.

I wholeheartedly agree that what leaders we get in the future depends on what education they get, INCLUDING the education they get from their parents outside school. A New Straits Times piece talks about education in relation to how a benevolent leader can turn into a tyrant, which uses Myanmar as a learning lesson.

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This is why teachers, especially martial arts teachers, matter. Even though we’re supposed to just teach the class and not do anything else, we’re forced to take on the additional role of being a parent to the children. In Danza’s book, he explained how teachers are forced to pick up the slack left behind by their parents.

That includes manners and acceptable behavior.

Martial artists, especially current and future instructors, must involve themselves in the education debate. If there are school board assemblies, political rallies, debates, and everything else that centers on the topic of education, the martial arts community NEEDS to get involved.

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This is where I start getting political and my views are showing, oh well…

I do believe that we as martial artists have a greater obligation to society and humanity at large than our respective schools and organizations. This is something that puts me at odds with my main martial arts instructor at times. From what I have seen and experienced over the years, there are more important things in this world than loyalty to a school or a specific style of martial arts, which is something many masters and grandmaster instructors will refuse to hear, and brand such thinking as blasphemous and traitorous.

If lawmakers want to introduce legislation that goes in-depth on genocidal acts and the human rights violations, like the Holocaust and the genocide of Indigenous Americans, the martial arts community needs to be on the right side and support it.

The martial arts community needs to support education that promotes the Native American heritage.

We DEFINITELY should promote the requiring of Asian-American studies in school. It would be ironic if we don’t because martial arts are an important part of Asian culture.

We need to support the drive to have more ethnic studies classes in school and not have a contributing role to the whitewashing of history. We need to encourage schools to tell stories that haven’t been told before such as Harlem’s Black Jewish community. By extension, we should be supportive of schools teaching critical race theory and systematic racism, too.

We should be on the side of educators who want to introduce stories told from women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ perspectives, too.

Before you say that martial artists need to stay out of politics, education will always be a political topic, the martial arts world has ALWAYS been political. Politics will influence what is or is not taught in school and it will influence the school environment. In terms of martial arts, politics will influence how they develop over the decades.

Parents are voters, too, and the voters decide who gets elected into office. Elected politicians will influence education policies for years to come. The policies affect the school curriculum and environment for years to come. School environment and parental influence will affect how a kid behaves. A kid’s behavior will affect the ability to teach them martial arts.

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Veteran citizen journalist who enjoys martial arts, indie & foreign film, anime, manga, gaming, music, and martial arts.

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Can Hoang Tran

Can Hoang Tran

Veteran citizen journalist who enjoys martial arts, indie & foreign film, anime, manga, gaming, music, and martial arts.

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