No, Everyone You Disagree with is Not a Fraud

An interesting evolution of the term “fraud” has entered the martial arts lexicon. I don’t know when the new definition first became common, but I’ve encountered it twice in recent memory. That redefinition defines as morally and functionally equivalent those who lie about their martial arts credentials and those whose martial arts simply don’t pass functional muster.

To put it another way, let’s say we have two martial artists. The first is the “Soke” or “Hanshi” of a made-up ninjutsu style with a fictional history. Soke Grandmaster Bob Smith claims he has been in over three hundred street fights, that he secretly worked for the CIA, and that the only reason he is not on the cover of Black Belt magazine is because his many jealous enemies have conspired to push him out of the industry. Soke Grandmaster Smith regularly posts lengthy screeds about that conspiracy on his free Internet blog.

The second martial artist is a multiple-dan black belt in Aikido. Let’s call him Sensei Jones. He has spent part of his life living in Japan, speaks fluent Japanese, and is well regarded among his fellow Aikidoka. He travels the country getting paid to teach seminars in Aikido and otherwise lives quietly. He is not famous and does not aspire to be, but most people in his state who study Aikido have heard of him.

Both men get into separate arguments on Facebook with separate MMA exponents. Sensei Jones, eager to defend the honor of his system, accepts a match with BJJ blue belt Douchebag McBragshard. Soke Grandmaster Smith accepts a backyard Kimbo Slice -style grudge match with a self-styled street fighter who has knocked out five opponents on YouTube.

Both Sensei Jones and Soke Grandmaster Smith get their asses kicked in their respective matches. Are they both frauds?

Adherents to the “new” definition of what the word fraud means would say, yes. The only problem is, that’s completely untrue. The reason it’s not true is that the term fraud implies — connotes, if not denotes — wrongful or criminal deception undertaken with the intent of personal or financial gain. Stated another way, a fraud is lying to you and knows that he is lying to you. 

Clearly, there is a difference in tenor and character between the two men. Sensei Jones is a man of good character. At worst, his crime is having devoted his life to the study of a martial art that isn’t combat-effective. Soke Grandmaster Smith, on the other hand, is actively dishonest. He seeks to make himself more than he is, he knows that he is trying to deceive others, and he has no problem cheating his way into a position of power and prestige. Only an idiot would see the two men as morally equivalent. Yet in the world of martial arts and combat sports, idiots abound.

When we apply the term “fraud” to all those who do martial arts of which we do not, ourselves, approve, we do every adherent of martial arts and combat sports a disservice. Stated differently, you don’t get to call someone a liar simply because they have honestly reached a conclusion you don’t like. Yes, you may well be right; Aikido, or the Bujinkan, or Wing Chun, or strip mall Tae Kwon Do, or your ten-year-old’s Karate class, might not impart training that actually can be used to win a fight at full force and speed with aggressive resistance. But the majority of people teaching those systems aren’t teaching them knowing them to be flawed or inadequate. They are at worst misguided — and at best naive.

Martial artists and fighters who proclaim all ineffective martial arts fraudulent — or as fraudulent as made-up and deceptive systems — come in two varieties. Some are motivated by the genuine desire to see their fellow human beings training only in “what works” as they see it. They are frustrated by their fellow citizens’ insistence on not agreeing with them. They don’t understand how anyone, given the same information, might decide differently. Others who sneer at all martial arts they dislike as useless and therefore fraudulent are interested only in aggrandizing themselves. The result, though, is the same: It conflates being wrong with being false — and it equates being foolish with being fake.

If another man practices or teaches a martial art you consider useless, and if he insists on committing the deep and abiding sin of failing to agree with you, you may consider him misguided. You may consider him stupid. You may consider him delusional. You would be within your rights to say so. But if you confuse all these qualities with deliberate lying, if you see no difference between lying to yourself and lying to everyone else, you are the one guilty of fraud. You are lying about another human being by imputing to him malicious intent he does not possess.

It’s very comforting to tell ourselves that everyone who disagrees with us must necessarily be a liar. After all, it could not possibly be the case that we are incorrect… could it? It would never be so that a man could have all the information we also possess, yet reach a different conclusion… could he?

If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that our fellow humans can and do disagree with us in earnest. Just because a man studies a system you don’t like, just because he believes techniques will work that you do not, does not make him a fraud. His errors, his false reasoning, his delusions may make him wrong… but they do not make you right.

We must therefore insist on applying the term “fraud” only to those who are actually lying. Fraud is deceit. It is not merely being incorrect. If we allow the two concepts to become equivalent, we unfairly malign countless people whose only real crime is that they dared to believe something we do not.

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