Grand Master Steve DeMasko about Black Belt Hall of Fame

“When ordinary people talk about Black Belt Hall of Fame they think that this is quite meaningful for a master to be on that list. But it in reality it does not mean anything! They just paid 35 dollars for diploma and their name on it”
Grand Master Steve DeMasco

We present to your attention an exclusive interview of the journalist Marina Saparkina with Steve DeMasko – Grand Master, 10th degree of Black Belt, PhD in Philosophy. For the project “Truth and Lie about Martial Arts” in the Tribune broadcast the Master shared his opinion about the Black Belt Hall of Fame and about martial arts in general. This time we will knew what the main problem of martial arts industry and how does industry of martial arts should look like.

Will begin with a conversation how martial arts world looks today. Master DeMasko is engaged in martial arts for more than 45 years and as he admits he hates this industry! It was never pleasant to him and never will be. At the same time he certainly loves martial arts, otherwise he wouldn’t be engaged in this business. The reason is that the industry by itself is simply terrible. Master explains it in the following manner, for instance in United States there are about 20-25 thousand martial arts schools if we do not take into consideration the small ones. Besides, there are still studios at schools. For instance the population of the city where Steve had been living has about 45 thousand residents. As a rule, in such cities there are about four studios, and in his city there were six of them. What may be inferred from this? If the population of the city work out 45 thousand, there are six part-time studios and one full-time, then we have people who work full-time. In the second half of the day at 16:00 they open the studio which is visited by about 30-40 students.

As we can see, current industry of martial arts is absolutely unregulated segment as there are no licenses and government bodies which would be engaged in regulation, though people try to make it for many years. They try to create an organized control system. But who would be working on it? There is a Korean style, Japanese and Chinese styles and variety of others, but nobody can regulate all of them at the same time. Unfortunately, due to the lack of any regulation system in this sphere nobody knows where is the truth and where is the myth.

Where is the truth? Later on in the talk, there was a talk about the diploma. DeMasko says that all these 45 years he can not believe how many thousands of people, – besides he knows hundreds personally, – after one year of practice at martial arts school they have decided to open own studios with green, blue or brown belts. They open studio and put black belt there; nobody knows what is behind all this. From the outside the studio seems not bad (they even have a window) … and a diploma for 25 dollars as well!

At the same time it is possible to adjoin any organization. It is enough to pay 25 or 100 dollars – and they will sell you the diploma with your name on it, allegedly from the worldwide organization. It looks that from now on you do not have a green belt, but a 4 level black one.

It has to stated, that this type of approach kills the industry. Some people are surprised why one has to pay much money to professional athletes. The matter is that everyone who comes to a floor has to prove himself. If you are a basketball, football, hockey player or any other professional athlete, you are obliged to take the field. You can not be called a professional just like that, without anything to confirm it. But in the industry of martial arts it is possible. And, of course, as Steve admits, it is disappointing.

DeMasko notes that there are many Grand Masters which act as sellers. They pay money to become lawful masters and to append signatures on certificates. Needless to say not all are like this, but Steve in the course of his career has visited practically every corner all over, and he had to see a lot of things that provide evidence for such statements. He remembers his trip to Sicily where he has seen an inscription: “Bruce Lee. Kung fu”. It was not even in United States! Outside the entrance to studio there one guy, the other sas in studio and they were clothed into black clothes as Bruce Lee did. And when the second has seen Steve in a t-shirt with the “karate” word he began working out on punching bag. But it meant “Bruce Lee. Kung Fu”? Even the titil seemed to be incorrect, instead of “Kung fu” there had to be “Jeet Kune Do”. It is necessary to be attentive to similar things.

According to Steve DeMasko, there is only one Black Belt Hall of Fame which is the Black Belt Magazine (“Black Belt”). This edition is rightfully considered to be a Bible of the industry. And the main thing that it is not necessary to pay for it. You have to be voted to get in there! It is possible to find names of such famous people in the same Hall of Fame as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and Bal Wallace . The magazine has provided some categories with annual voting system. But people have stereotypes. When one hears about Black Belt, he does not even understand about what it is about. In the world of martial arts as Steve says it may mean absolutely nothing. It is difficult even to present how many thousands of people are being nominated in Hall of Fame annually. As a rule, even at one hall there could be 2000 people.

However the main idea remains as it is: everything which is required is to pay 150, 175 or 225 dollars depending on the fact that you want and then descend for dinner which costs about 35 dollars. And there you receive paper which says: “Steve DeMasko is an instructor of the year in the Hall of Fame”.You have parents coming and other guests and 10 thousand people more. You see parents standing and enthusiastically discussing the guy who has received a black belt.

Steve claims that in the Black Belt Magazine Masters of Year are chosen by voting. But who votes there and what are the criteria?
Most likely, people who have some relation to a magazine owing to the fact that they are masters of martial arts and who are considered to be the best. Articles and stories which are sent every day to edition by people from around the world are published in the magazine. Therefore they know a huge number of masters. One of important criteria is the popularity of the master and his contribution to development of the industry in the right direction. It doesn’t mean at all that there are no good masters. What is Important is what are you doing for development and how many people in the world or in the United States know you. Starting from collected stories, making a decision to whom this time there will be a luck to become a person of year. According to other selection criterion, the master who have trained you has to be known at whom you studied from because today everybody can distribute ranks.

Therefore, even if you are a good fighter, it doesn’t make you the master of martial arts. For example, one guy head of the organization of 350 schools of martial arts on the territory of the United States possessed only a black belt of the 2nd level. Later he has received black belt of the 3rd, 5th and 10th levels to become the Grand Master. And up to the 10th level whilst he never took any lessons all of these years. So today the industry looks like this.

Let us look at the perspective of Steve on how the industry of martial arts should look like?
He considers that this direction will never be operated in view of existence great number of different styles. Such industry has to be predicated, besides the respect and discipline have to be one of the main principles. Unfortunately, we do not see it nowadays, people offend each other: “My master is better than your”. There are black belts that are received easily, without making special efforts. For Steve, for instance it took 10 years to work and to receive the 1st level of black belt.

What then represents this black belt? It is quite often possible to hear: “The master has given me this rank because I trained 4-5 days”. It says only about a big ego of his instructor. Receiving a black belt assumes time, studying material and discipline in training.
“Probably, I am only one in this country who feel sick from this industry”, – Steve says.

All instructors at DeMasko’s school are obliged to pass annual tests to have a right of teaching. The question is not about how many years you wear a black belt, but when are you a real master. And it is a big difference! It is possible to receive a black belt, and then within 10 years not to train at all. When did you see the fat football player or the hockey player last time? It is necessary to be in good shape and to practice, work constantly at least 4-5 times a week and to take lessons.

What are criterias of a Master in martial arts? Steve claims that it is necessary to take lessons, and not 1-2 a year, at least, once a month or 2 times a week. Having received a rank of Grand Master Steve went to China to train under the other master and to have an opportunity to discuss the problems in martial arts that this article has mentioned. DeMasko can frankly say that he is a professional master of martial arts, and he has devoted all 45 years to train and work and not just keeping the gained knowledge. Despite it, he does not claim that he is the best master. Meanwhile others count the money earned in studio or at school, knowing that they live in a lie. They do it so many years for a long time that they have believed in the fact that they say. They have to believe in their own words, otherwise how would they live?

Perhaps, DeMasko has some idea which can be offered to the world of martial arts rather than just current situation? Or, maybe, he wants to tell something to the whole community of martial arts? Steve emphasizes that what he speaks about is only the truth regarding current situation. People who will be upset after this interview are those who are guilty of what was said before, and those who will not get upset are true martial artists who strenuously work and perfect themselves.

It is possible to visit different competitions. If it is national championship, then there can be only 10 people, and at other places maybe 100 people. All can participate in competitions. For example, Steve saw a guy at competitions who claimed that he is a national champion whereas quite good money has been paid for this title. It happens constantly. Steve does not want to offend anybody, but it is time to tell the truth, and he is convinced that he has earned the right to tell this.

DeMasko strives for integrity in the industry of martial arts. If the master has put on himself a black belt, then he has to show respect, he has to be disciplined and control himself. People won’t remember us for what we have. They will remember us for what we have made for others.

Steve has opened about 15 schools in his country. Of course, he should be engaged in this business too to earn for living. But when he stands before children, having put on a black belt, he trains them the skills that will help them in their life. Only then he can remain as the one who he is. He defines his goal as: work out, remain healthy and don’t get up in front of people just to tell something. Everything that the person possesses someone can take away. The only thing that remains, is he himself and the one who he is. Perhaps, this is all that really belongs to a person. If you betray yourself, then you have nothing. And Steve remains throughout all his life one and the same self.

Finally Steve DeMasko has shared his message:

“Begin now! Begin today! Make correct actions. Take lessons and train yourself until the end of your life. But the most important thing is to help other people. You will not help them in any way if you teach them just how to punch and kick, if you yourself do not know how to properly do it”.

Author: Ann Fisher