Martial Arts Cult

Martial arts cult

Thugee cult – Image from

Did you ever consider just how much some schools and organisations within the fighting arts community resembles a martial arts cult – a likeness which at times can be a little too close for comfort?

In fact, have you ever stopped and reflected on whether or not you are part of a cult-like following in your own martial arts system or school?

There are many signs that may indicate that there are some shady cult-like activities going on, such as:

The master, guru or sensei basically demanding obedience and respect; the rituals and rules being very strict – almost religious in nature; the leader and top students talking bad about other arts, schools and students who quit or join another gym; you are promised to be taught “the secret”, but is somehow constantly gets pushed further away.

It is also a red flag if the art claims to come from some old sage or master, typically a straight lineage going back several hundred years. Another red flag is grandiose claims of secret teachings and superior fighting skills “no one else possess.”

It should also be a cause of concern if you’re expected to accept the teaching as “the gospel” and not ask any questions.

You might want to read what Marc “Animal” MacYoung writes about cult behavior and cults in the martial arts.

And if you think this is a phenomenon that is isolated to the traditional martial arts, then you may want to reconsider.

A martial arts cult

In the wake of a very disturbing rape case in Washington D.C., BJJ black belt and well-known instructor Ryan Hall has posted an open letter to the martial arts community.

In this long letter, Ryan Hall speaks about why he left the team and the instructor where the three people involved in the rape case (the alleged perpetrators as well as the victim) were training.

Among other things, he speaks about what he sees as something of a cult-like behavior with knee-jerk reactions, blind loyalty, lack of perspective etc.

Over the past week, certain revelations have come to light about awful, subhuman behavior on the part of a number of members of our community, some of whom I know personally.
The worst of this is certainly the work of some truly reprehensible individuals who seem to think that they have the right to destroy the dignity and innocence of others in the pathetic service of their own desires.
Some of them will hopefully bear the full brunt of the justice system’s penalty for the atrocities they have committed. Others may not be liable to judgment at the hands of the courts, but should in no way be excused for their own disgusting acts both past and recent.
Somewhat less grievous, but still staggering in its absurd level of insensitivity, cultish wagon circling, and revolting lack of perspective has been the response of certain individuals who feel the need to blindly defend the actions of those with whom they are associated.
I cannot say for certain if this is born out of some sort of woefully misguided sense of loyalty or if it is simply the basest act of self-preservation, aimed at protecting a reputation built on the connection to someone discovered to be wholly disreputable.
Regardless, I would think that the vast majority of people should agree that their behavior is beyond repulsive not only its dismissiveness of the suffering of the victims involved in this debacle, but also in their staunch refusal to exercise the analytical portion of their brains and reason for themselves in anything other than a completely self-serving manner.

Though the whole article is a very long pdf document, it is definitely worth a thorough read – something to be reflected on for sure!

You may also want to get more insight into all the serious allegations and troubling discoveries in this case.

Martial arts cults, video:

In the video below, Matt Thornton speaks about how he sees this cult phenomenon in many (Asian) traditional martial arts.

YouTube Preview Image

While there’s a lot of truth in what he says, not all of the more traditional martial arts are anywhere near a cult – I’d say most are not. Also, as we have seen above, a cult-like climate can be found in the modern fighting arts as well.

When you have done your reading and research into this case, what is your opinion about this being something of a martial arts cult?

Are martial arts cults only found in the traditional fighting arts, or do you agree that we have the modern varieties also?

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3 comments for “Martial Arts Cult

  1. joon b
    January 22, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    Hi, nice post! There is probably (and unfortunately) more cult-like activities in the martial arts than we care to think about. I’ve sure seen my fair share of weird “leaders”…

  2. B Plunket
    February 5, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Thanks for a good post; apparently, cults are everywhere … scary.

  3. ken mellard
    February 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Great post, got me thinking about my own experience with martial arts training way back – thanks!

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