Buyer Beware

Buyer Beware!

Advice Before Investing Time and Money into Self Defense Training
For New Students in any style, anywhere, to make an informed decision.
No one style is perfect, many styles offer unique and functional attributes.
Be informed before you choose.
- Matt Plewes, CAI - International Director.

We realize it is not true in every case, school or teacher, but many.
The information is intended as a caution to new students when looking for real self-protection teacher without the distraction of empty katas, competitions, ancient weapons, trophy seeking pseudo world championships tournaments, self-appeasing "rags" awards and associations or other distractions.

Finding a Non-sport Martial Arts - Self Protection Teacher / Class

(Not as easy as you think).

Have Caution...

It is Sport, sometimes disguised as Self Defense -

Unfortunately, not all, but many local schools (the local YMCA-"type") children focused karate as well as the high kicking sport-based tae-kwon-do like styles may not work under the stress of a real street encounter, though they may look functional in the controlled class or staged demonstration or at an organized competition. They are excellent for health and discipline, but are sport based and require many years to be somewhat effective for real defense. They will teach you openings, speed and balance. But sparring, no matter how good you are, is a game that is basically safe and not fighting, it will not prepare you for adrenaline dumps, brutality and facing death. Sparring has a whole different dynamic than the real world of fighting. Sport is sport!

Student - Masters-

Another big problem is instructor training. Students are too eager to become teachers. In the west people perceive Black Belt as an instructor or master level, yet in truth Black Belt is the beginning of the real training. The martial arts colored belt ranking system originated in Japan, where I have been living the last decade, so I know.

A common misconception that needs to be clarified, is the "black belt as master" stereotype. In reality, a black belt indicates the wearer is competent in a style's basic techniques and can begin formal training. The 1st Dan black belt is thus seen not so much as an end, but rather as a beginning, a doorway to advanced learning. Instructors with 1-4 degree Black Belts are mere students themselves. Before black belt levels colors are just the very basics, preparing for "real" training. For an analogy using language learning. The under "Black Belt" colors are like learning the alphabet and the black belt levels are learning to put words together and start talking".

Do you want a third grader teaching you a language they should be studying themselves or a college graduate?

So the problem in America and other countries is many put to much value on the Black Belt. If you are not 5th degree or higher, you are a student or a tutor that should still have a Master's guidance and not a master or even a full teacher.

Superstar Teachers -

When searching for schools and teachers, don't be impressed by how many belts, students, certificates or trophies the instructor has. Trophies are from Sport and mean nothing on the street, nor do belt colors, the attacker doesn't care about belt color or trophies. The trophy is your life.
Multiple Black Belts in different styles? Remember a Chinese Proverb; "One style mastered, is better than 100 tasted".
Also don't be impressed by all the "rags"magazine features, or certificates from councils and misc. organizations to try to give the appearance of credentials, but in truth anyone can get with a little effort, money and the Internet. Be more impressed with people that actually teach you something, not that are always trying to post awards and past accomplishments to try to impress you.

Certificate Chasers / Paper Tigers-

This brings to mind another problem. People that never "truly" made the ranks of a system, or the "Certificate Chasers". Certificate chasers are people that the only real training or lack of training, is they travel to attend seminars here or there with a renowned master, but themselves have only these few hours with said master. Usually the training is a lecture, BASIC workshop and demonstrations in a group class. Afterwards, a photo-op with said master, with maybe a "Certificate of Participation". Some "instructors" then show off the photo in their school or web page as though they are a personal friend or teacher. Of course these seminars and workshops are good and complimentary, but does not make YOU a teacher. If you get a teaching paper after a seminar or two, it's a money making scheme and I don't care who it is or who they were. Don't fool yourself, we are talking life and death, not a popularity contest.

"Dime a Dozen" Grandmasters / Sokes -

And then you have the hundreds, if not thousands of "Martial art Prodigies / Grandmasters / Sokes", especially in America and other countries outside of Asia where martial arts aren't regulated. Never mind the centuries of tried combat techniques and refinements, I'll put together a few things I learned and saw in magazines and invent my own style and proclaim myself master or 10th degree Black belt. Not all, but most of these "Prodigies" never even legitimately got a basic Black belt themselves and are jokingly referred to as "Brown Belt Grandmasters" by some of us old-timers that did put in the time, blood, sweat and tears and did study a "complete" system and made the ranks.
Some of these "Experts" quit, could not make the grade or were kicked out of a style or school for disciplinary issues, violence, bad attitude etc. This misrepresentation of the true martial arts way is a big problem. It is rampant now and it's false advertising and very dangerous. "Bad teachers make bad students, and bad students make bad teachers". The new generation is really missing out of the true discipline, peacefulness and oneness of the mind-body-soul connection that the Real Martial Arts cultivates, as well as centuries old refined and tested real martial skills.
A few people may have put together a really effective martial art or defense system, but ask yourself, why all the grand titles? It's about functionality and survival, not a social-class system.

Be careful if they address "themselves" as Master, Soke, Sifu etc.

The modern Masters that have invented excellent systems do not address themselves such a way, i.e Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Ron Van Clief for examples.

The title Master, Grandmaster, Sifu, Shifu, Sijo, Soke, Sensei etc, are titles of status achieved by skill and time, but using as a title along with your name is an honorific that is respectfully and optionally used by students or peers and not oneself. In 99% of the cases, the true masters I have met in America and in my several years in Japan and Asia, I almost never have heard a "real"master do so, as it is contradictory to humility, a component of being a master. Only in the west with self promoters I have heard people address themselves or bestow such titles upon themselves. It's contradictory to the true way and the humbleness of being a real master. Do you introduce yourself as Mr. so and so? Or have Mr. in front of your name on your Facebook page? Most likely not. It's a honorific that others say to you. I am not saying all that do so are not masters, as it does happen in special circumstances, but rarely. Just be cautious.

Unregulated -

As I mentioned before, America doesn't regulate martial arts. Many Martial arts in Asia where we are located are regulated. They don't make you choose a system or way, but they do make sure you know your stuff before you can take it public. For an example: In Singapore, where things are very tightly regulated and strictly enforced, I was there in January with CAI instructor Sheik Ally to open the new branch of Chuntian Academy International. In Singapore, all schools and teachers must go under the scrutiny of a board of government appointed martial arts masters. Everyone that wants to teach, no matter the size of the school or even though you are a certificate holding mainstream martial artist, such as from karate or tae kwon do, or even if you are an eclectic self defense teacher. No matter what, you must demonstrate your skills. This is to weed out people that brag but don't show or claim special powers etc, etc. They don't care about paper certificates, resumes or seminars you attended. They want to see what you have and can do and is it worthy of an instructor status. ( I approve of this). In addition, all applicants must complete a Government sport health and safety course and have a government issued license. For public safety, we need this type of oversight everywhere.


Fear is human, real and okay as it helps prepare you for fight or flight. If you hear: "Be fearless" in your schools motto, you know you're most likely in the wrong place. A fantasy camp of perhaps a self proclaimed bad-ass instructor with a few brutal cool techniques or it's a sport on some level. Many may have even won tournaments and are blinded by the "illusion of success" of the class room or ring, but, would most likely lead to disaster on the street. Fear is a Human emotion, like sadness and grief. What if I told you not to be sad if your mother or child died, to tough it out. What would you think? People that say be fearless, ironically are the ones who are preoccupied with fear or are scared. Except the fact that you are human and mortal first.
It should be known, that some people are more susceptible to fear or have emotional issues, such as severe shyness, agoraphobia, etc. and have a longer road to travel to adapt their fear and emotions into combat. Even still, martial arts can build confidence and help considerably. But to be totally fearless, is trying to be non human. If you are not a psychopath, this way of training could set you up for a disaster.
Yes, some can be fearless by confronting their fears a point. But, we aren't talking about bullies or bar brawls. We are talking about facing real death, real danger, a real murderer.

Do you really understand what "real" fear is? Fear definition: "A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc. whether the threat is real or imagined."

You need to accept fear, before you can try to understand or dream of conquering it. Fear is the tick, tick sound of sweat dripping from your chin onto a prison floor. Fear is the long ride down on a flaming airplane. Fear is the relentless onslaught of terminal Cancer. Fear is our perception of impending danger or death. Fear creates physical reactions that are designed to save us in an emergency. Rapid pulse, tightened muscles, adrenaline pumping and sharpened faculties. So when you feel fear, channel it into action, for God sakes don't try to be fearless, in doing that you are actually trying to be unprepared, and you will. But also fearful, focused on the, surprising to you, ill-effects. Such as heavy, numb and weak legs, loss of feeling, shaking, weakness, tunnel vision, nausea, loss of bladder control, self doubt, etc.. If you understand fear and the possible situations you may encounter, these effects won't be so pronounced or unexpected, learn what it is and use it. Train in reality, using fear as an ally.


Beware, IF...ANGER-> Danger-

Now "Anger" isn't okay, it's one letter from D-anger. Anger makes one lose control as well as make unwise, unfocused, uncontrolled or premature moves. Anger should ONLY be used at a very beginner, survival stage of training, such as a Rape and survival defense class. But, higher levels and mastery of defense, anger doesn't exist in any positive form and will only prevent you from being a true master. If your teacher promotes anger beyond the very basic levels, he too should find a senior teacher or master and continue his studies. You ultimately want emotional content, not anger. You should focus, or channel your emotion into every move you make, instead of letting your emotions turn you into some wild, flailing whirlwind, such as anger does. This accomplishes several things at once. It keeps your emotions in check, you expend less energy, and you stay focused on your ultimate goal, to beat your opponent with determination and focus. To survive and turn the attacker into victim.
Chinese aphorism: "Anger is a wind that blows out the lamp of the mind." TRUE MASTERS DO NOT GET ANGRY. BEFORE YOU CAN MASTER A MARTIAL ART, YOU MUST MASTER YOURSELF.

For more about why not anger read:

Red Flags

A few things you should consider and beware of before joining a (non-sport) Real World Defense School.

Beware if the teacher or school:

- Self promotion;

ex. John Doe's Karate. John , The John Doe Reality-based #1 System etc.
Self-promotion usually means self-fortune. Avoid self promoters, unless they're internationally proven or known already.

- They invented this wonderful NEW and The Best style.

Often using Asian words to make it sound authentic. But usually sound odd to someone that understands the language. Also, they often, not knowingly, mix up Chinese, Japanese, Korean words to name the system.

- Claims to be the best or first style /system/ idea.

- Claims Special Powers -

Ki / Chi invisible shields in which attackers (pretend to) bounce off.
Healing Powers, instant knockouts from soft applied techniques, etc.

- Claims multiple system Black Belts

Chinese proverb: One good style mastered is worth more than one hundred tasted.

- Beware of mass productions.

The teacher has more than 20 students per instructor /class.

Has adults and children in the same class.

Children and adults require different approaches to Self Defense.

Pre-School Classes.

Six years old (School) age is recommended to start a basic exercise, sport martial art.
Keep in mind this is not self defense, though if may be useful to encourage assertiveness and anti bullying.
3,4,5 is too young unless it is private and self-defense twisting and running (escape-focused).
Most school that teach this young are just making money or trying to make money.
The kids essentially put pads on and pound each other - this may do more harm than good, and encourage random punching and aggressiveness.

- Beware if they are Cocky or Bullies.

Every real master I have met was extremely gentle, peaceful and polite. They are humble with nothing to prove. Ever notice how big strong bad-ass dogs don't bark and "little" harmless dogs yap their heads off trying to appear bad-ass? People are the same. (With the possible exception of ignorant violent criminals).

-Your training in traditional weapons before you learn to fight.

- Quick, Special Intensive Black Belt certifications for a "Fee" or young children Black Belts.

- Claims knowledge of special military/ancient secret techniques or "powers".

- Your doing Sport fighting, fighting the air , memorizing a lot of useless unexplained techniques. (Sport)

- The Katas are nothing like the sparring (practice fighting) you see.

- Doesn't put emphasis and training on avoiding and escaping or talking to diffuse a situation, if possible.

- They talk about / display all the "Championships" and trophies they've won. (Sport)

- Has military titles, patches, uniform designs, but they are civilians!

- Just because They are Asian, doesn't always mean they're Martial Arts Masters.

This is not a common problem, but it does exist. Another stereotype is believing that they are the real deal just because they're Asian. I am a white American teaching in Japan and 90% of my students are Asian ( Japanese, Chinese). In America, I have met Asians that have jumped on the bandwagon of martial arts for money that aren't so talented. Poor Yip Man's few students he had in Hong Kong are in the hundreds now. It reminds me of 20,000 people that claim they were one of the 500 navy SEALS in the Vietnam war.
Like most Sushi restaurants in America, customers believe it's authentic because it's staffed by Asians. Sushi is Japanese, and the vast majority of Sushi restaurants in America are not staffed by Japanese. In Japan, you have to study for years in a special school to be a Sushi Chef. Many of these "Asians" in America are not certified and are self taught. This can be applied in some cases pertaining to martial arts. Just be careful. Now some might say the non-Japanese Sushi-college trained restaurant's Sushi tastes good to them. Well, I can tell you from personal experience as a Sushi connoisseur living in Japan for several years. I tried the many non-Japanese restaurants in America, once you have had the real thing and understand the real thing, imitators are not even close on many levels. This too can be applied to martial arts.

-Beware if a school or teacher makes you sign a contract, or charge you an outrageous fee.

They're trying to give the illusion that you get what you pay for, so $150 an hour private lesson, oh! they must be really, really good.

- When sparring (practicing) you get points for contact.

If you know it is a sport and know better than to think it's self-defense, Okay. But, know the difference, Don't take a sport to the street for gosh sakes!

KNOW: Martial arts tournaments and magazines are aimed at BEGINNERS to make money, no matter what stage they are white belt or so-called black belts.


When you do find a good true teacher (master), stay with him and learn the entire system. Don't be so eager to go on your own. Doing both is fine, because part of learning is to teach. Remember: "Good teachers make good students and good students make good teachers". This same saying can be applied to bad teachers and bad students.

You may have to travel to get to your teacher. Don't settle for just the nearest teacher. Sport is fine for sport, not the street, know the difference.

There are a lot of techniques that aren't functional in the real world, but also some OVERKILL techniques on Youtube that would land "YOU" in Jail and the criminal would likely "walk".

When searching for a system, you are looking for functionality that YOU can do, that excepts your physical and mental limitations and embraces fear and human attributes and natural reactions under the stress of a violent, unpredictable street encounter. Which isn't easy to find. There are more reality-based schools today, however, there are also many wanna-be-bad-asses and not true teachers, many that claim to be masters are not even close. They teach anger, fearlessness or other poor mental preparedness, or lack of I should say.

- A street encounter shouldn't be as technical, as it is much more mental and reflexive. Your training should be geared this way. Simple, survival mode with a attitude of not to be a victim, not really a defensive or submissive mindset, but a determined mindset with basic technical skills that are functional, reflexive and natural.

- Avoid the ground and treat it as if always a broken glass riddled, asphalted hard street, ally, parking lot or sidewalk, not mats or a smooth floor. The real world doesn't have mats! That's sport.
It has been said (mostly by those who are promoting grappling systems and videos) that most street fights go to the ground. What is this based on? Maybe true in the case of untrained drunkards falling around bar stools and chairs in a dimly lit bar or not life-threatening backyard "fights", wrestling and horse playing or even the wrestling-based UFC type SPORTS.

I don't know about you, but most street fights, including bar fights and even road rage fights I have seen are over in about ten or fifteen seconds, usually the person with the fastest and the most attacks wins.
In the event of an unavoidable ground altercation, such as an ambush or violent rape attempt, because of the dangerous surface of the street and the great potential for injury, we treat this as a life threatening event. We train to respond rapidly and intensely with strategically placed savage-like bites, choke-outs, well placed and delivered eye gouges, jugular ripping and more. ( Basically we bite, scratch, rip, gouge and go "Primal-ape" on the opponent).
Now if you are in the Law Enforcement or Security industry and not survival mode fighting, that this website is about - For complementary skills, in the event you lose your footing- Basic Brazilian Jijutsu, Greco Roman Wrestling are good as a non- life threatening skill to learn.

Feel free to email me any questions about a potential defense system. I will answer inquiries free of charge. I hope to soon have a page of endorsed schools with contacts on this site in the future.

Matt Plewes,
Chuntian Academy International (CAI) Founder and Director.

Part IV. Suggestions of where to start searching for a teacher:

First of All, all students and teachers are not equal.

It really irritates me when someone post on Youtube Karate vs. Kung-fu or similar type matches ups. And the Karate guy, or whatever you are trying to promote, beats the other style. THIS IS NOT ACCURATE, nor honest. Of course if I take a weaker, less experienced student and match them up a more experienced fighter, they will most likely lose. A style can not be represented by one person. Of course, some karate guys can beat some kung fu guys and vice versa. This has nothing to do with the style, but the person and training.


If you want real defense, no distractions and the teacher doesn't have any "Red Flags" mentioned above, I suggest the following to start with when searching for a school. Remember, I am talking about extraordinary potential life threatening defense. As for punks and bullies, walk away. If they follow and touch you aggressively and your peaceful options are exhausted, a thought provoking punch to the face from most any style of defense will do wonders - Choose avoiding and running first..


- Jeet Kune Do / Jun Fan Boxing if in good health and strong.
- Combat ( Non-sport) Kung fu ( case by case, consult the master)
- Many Filipino Martial Arts ( case by case, consult the master)
- Krav Maga if you have good heath, fitness and confidence.
- Traditional Asian Police Grade Judo / Jujitsu
- Expert Boxing if you have size and or speed and agility.
- Old Style Karate, if not Kata, weapon or sport focused and you are of good size and health.
- Wing Chun, also romanticized as Ving Tsun or "Wing Tsun" ( softer style for less powerful people)

--- Learn the law. For an example: Krav Maga, how it is often taught, is great for combat and street survival, but it is overkill if you are in law enforcement, security or dealing with a small disturbance or altercation. The laws are very similar internationally, so please read:
- Also, you should know The Law.


Carrying a Weapon

-You need to be fore-warned and fore-armed; If you carry mace, a tazer, a baseball bat or a gun, are they always with you? No. You need empty hand skills as well, everyone. Also, you need to know how to use these weapons technically as well as mentally in the real world. Also know, we strongly discourage carrying a knife. Statistics show, that people that carry knifes have a higher chance of getting cut themselves by pulling them out prematurely or under the wrong circumstances and leads to elevating a simple fight or robbery to murder....Yours. Agree or not, statistics don't lie and I'm just the messenger here.

Read about knife reality:

If you tote a gun, understand knifers can get you before you draw, so be aware. Just like the empty hand drills, you need to practice the automatic- RADD-"Retreat and cover, As you are Drawing and aim Drills".