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FAQ


1. Is there a difference between Morning Star Martial Arts karate and karate taught at commercial schools?

2. Why is Morning Star Martial Arts karate so inexpensive?
3. Are the commercial schools better because they charge more money?
4. Iím an adult, can I sign up too?
5. What happens after the session is over?
6. Iím still unsure. Where can I go to get some more thoughts?
7. Some commercial schools are EFC Blackbelt Schools. What does this mean?
8. What are your costs?
9. With your low fees, how much will it cost to earn my Blackbelt
10. Is there a problem with religion and the Martial Arts? Doesn't some of what you do have religious meanings?
11. My neighbor recommends I enroll my child in another school because her son loves the teacher. Is that a good reason to enroll there?
12. Does that mean that schools with more students are better?
13. I see something call jodo on your flyer. What is that?
14. All the schools I've looked at promise to teach discipline and improve grades. Is this true?
15. A local school boasts the Carroll's Best logo. What does this mean?
16. I see a local karate teacher is offering a program for ages 5 to 10 at the local library. He promises to "teach the class members how to defend themselves with simple yet practical karate techniques that may be used in any self-defense situation." Is this worthwhile?
17. I saw an ad claiming that martial arts provides life long benefits. My child is 8 years old. Will this really provide life long benefits for her?
18. I've talked to a lot of local karate students, and when they find out I'm interested in taking karate, they always tell me what belt rank they are. Why is that?
19. The Visitor's Center is small.  Can I or my child find space?
20. Can I take a sample class?

1. Is there a difference between Morning Star Martial Arts karate and karate taught at commercial schools?

Yes, there are two differences. The first is cost. Commercial schools are typically much more expensive than our program. Our program is the most affordable martial arts program in the area. Second, being nonprofit we do not have to use the business tools commercial schools use to keep people paying for lessons. For example, commercial schools typically give students a reward of a belt or stripe every few months. One commercial school has 10 levels with 3 sublevels each, for 30 promotions! A student there gets a 'promotion' every three months, which coincides with their contract cycle! We have the traditional 10 kyu (divisions), and our course of study takes twice as long to complete before earning a blackbelt. We think this produces better trained people.

2. Why is Morning Star Martial Arts karate so inexpensive?

Our program is so inexpensive because it is an all volunteer program. We practice in simple places like Sykesville's Visitor Center, so we have very little overhead. There are no testing fees and sparring equipment is covered by the program so the student does not have to purchase his or her own equipment. Since we are not making a profit, and we do not support an outside organization, our costs are low. We remain the least-cost program in the area.

3. Are the commercial schools better because they charge more money?

No. People open commercial schools to make money, not because they have a unique product. There are no schools to train martial arts teachers, so teaching excellence comes from experience. Morning Star Martial Artís head instructor has over 38 years karate experience and has taught for over 28 years. In addition to his 6th degree blackbelt in karate, he has a blackbelt in Tomiki Aikido and has conducted rape prevention seminars and self defense lectures. More money does not mean better instruction and in fact, it can mean less instruction. All martial arts schools struggle to keep attendance up and one of the industry standard 'rules' is that you have award blackbelts after two or three years of study. People need to see that they will get a blackbelt to devote the time (and money) to attending. The practice of 'guaranteeing' a person a blackbelt presents the temptation to lower standards. Visit a number of schools and look at their advanced students. Make your own decision.

4. Iím an adult, can I sign up too?

Yes, of course. Unlike a number of other activities, martial arts study is not limited to any age group. We accepts students from ages 5 to 80. We understand that different people have different medical and physical issues and accept individualís physical limitations and work to find ways to enhance the strengths.

5. What happens after the session is over?

Karate has no seasons, and any sessions or testing cycles are for ease of accounting. We meet 51 weeks a year and offer training from beginner through advanced black belt. Since there are no contracts, if you have to temporarily drop out, you donít have to pay for missed sessions.

6. Iím still unsure. Where can I go to get some more thoughts?

Select the link How to Pick a School for more ideas on choosing a good martial arts school. Feel free to email if you'd like additional guidance or information.

7. Some commercial schools are EFC Blackbelt Schools. What does this mean?

EFC, Educational Funding Company, provides "Tuition Management and Business Consulting" to the Martial Arts Industry. They provide advice to commercial schools on advertising, customer relations, and strategies to get and keep students in the school. They also provide billing and contract services. In return for this they get a monthly fee and a percentage of tuition. As you can see, this has nothing to do with the martial arts, the quality of teaching, or your learning. EFC promotes the strategy of calling a school a Blackbelt school under the theory that the "Acme Martial Arts School, A Blackbelt School", sounds better to you than "Acme Martial Arts School." In reality, there are no such things as blackbelt schools, just as there are no such things as white belt schools. All schools accept and teach all levels, and the individual school or style decides if it awards advanced blackbelts.

8. What are your costs?

Tuition in Sykesville is $50 per month for the first student with generous family discounts. This fee covers all classes, providing maximum benefit. 

There is a yearly  membership fee of $25 that gets the student a club patch, membership card, student handbook, and testing services. Belts are awarded upon promotion, free of charge, and uniforms are optional, but we'll give you one when you sign up. You can get uniforms anywhere, but the club gets a discount and we believe we are the cheapest in town. We ask $25 for uniforms.

When you shop around for a school, ask them for prices before signing a contract. See how many will give you the information before getting you in the door!

9. With your low fees, how much will it cost to earn my Blackbelt?

As every school is different, and each student learns at a different pace, calculating the cost of a Blackbelt is difficult. If we make some assumptions we can arrive at a ballpark comparison of the costs for Morning Star Martial Arts vs. a typical local commercial school. Let's start by noting that the commercial schools in this area charge over $120 per month while we charge $50 per month, with deep family discounts. Let's also note that most commercial schools need to turn out Blackbelts in about 3 years because that is what the industry has discovered is best for keeping American students in the school. Most Americans, and especially young people, are interested in quick satisfaction and a longer path, even if more profitable for them, does not hold their interest, especially at $120 per month tuition. Doing the math gives a cost of $4,320, assuming it takes you three years to get a blackbelt. If you add testing fees, sparring equipment, competition fees, etc., the cost goes up even more. Let's assume a $300 is reasonable, giving the total cost of a blackbelt in a commercial school of about $4,620.

Morning Star Martial Art's Karate Program averages 6 years from beginner to Blackbelt. (Let's think about this...longer time in school means more knowledge...more knowledge means better defensive skills...better defensive skills means you have more of what you wanted in the first place...interesting...). At $50 per month, we can add up a cost of about $3,600. Other than yearly membership fees there are no other costs, so generally speaking, it appears that it costs about two/thirds as much money as in a commercial school, and you get twice as much training.

10. Is there a problem with religion and the Martial Arts? Doesn't some of what you do have religious meanings?

No, there is no problem with either Christianity, Judiasm, or Islam and the martial arts.

It is commonly believed that oriental martial arts originated in the Shaolin monasteries of China. What is not commonly known is the relationship of the martial arts to the religion of the day and how this relationship has evolved over time. In todayís world we maintain a number of ancient traditions in our styles and the religious meanings are lost and of no concern.

Kung Fu, by its many names, and as the precursor to most oriental martial arts, was invented for three primary purposes. First, and without defining ki (chi) at this time, it evolved to satisfy the belief that manipulating or expressing ki made one holier. Second, the monks soon discovered that constant meditation was not conducive to good health and that regular exercise made them fitter, longer lived, and better able to do their duties. Third, as there was a need to defend themselves and their monasteries from thieves and soldiers, it provided an effective system of self-defense.

Over time, as the martial arts migrated from China to Korea, Okinawa, and Japan, the religious ties vanished. In some cases other philosophies replaced them but in others no religious connections arose. In our modern world, except for Buddhists and Taoists, there is no connection to religion. Buddhists and Taoists use Kung Fu to develop aspects defined by their religion, not as a part of the religion itself.

Many of the traditions we practice today derive not from religion but from basic oriental culture and are hundreds of years old. We keep them to stay close to the martial arts roots of our styles, and to provide an additional level of structure and control in class.

I continue to get questions about bowing and its meaning in the dojo. Bowing in oriental culture is the same as a handshake to us. In Western culture, bowing was a feudal device that demonstrated the subservient relationship between the peasants and their masters. Peasants bowed to Counts, who bowed to Earls, etc. The King bowed to nobody. In oriental culture everybody bowed. Even the Emperor bowed, albeit not as deeply to commoners!

Bowing when entering the Dojo serves a number of purposes. First, it shows respect for the work that others have already accomplished. It serves to focus the attention on the job at hand and to remind us that we are in the dojo to practice. As a standardized accepted practice, it constitutes better manners that simply jogging on to the mat and shouting to your buddy. There is no religious meaning to it.

Bowing to Shoman, or the place of honor, originally had spiritual roots. However, with the passage of time the religious implications have dropped away, and it now serves to connect us with the history of our style. Each Japanese house has a Kami-dana, or honored corner, where mementos of family are kept. These mementos served as reminders of parents and showing them respect was respecting the memory of parents. I have a similar place in my house with a few honored things: a table my Grandfather painted by hand, a daisho sword set given by a friend, and a hat my deceased father wore propped on one of his prized imported canes. I certainly donít bow to it (Iím a part of the western culture) but I do keep it dusted, and donít let the kids pile stuff on it. In the dojo I wear an oriental culture, and instead of dusting Shoman, I bow to show respect.

Living the Martial Way, but Forrest Morgan, Barricade Books, 1992, gives a different interpretation of this by explaining that Confusionism, Buddism, Taoism, and Shinto are not religions at all but instead philosophies. This distinction, well explained and defended by Maj Morgan, shows an even greater separation between religion and karate. In addition, he points out that the warriors who practiced these arts did so solely for victory on the battlefield and were not interested in religious interpretations. Their goal was to survive and kill their enemies.

The early ties to religion have dropped away. There are a number of similar things in our modern culture that do not relate to Christianity in spite of having Christian roots. Christmas trees originated in the pre-Christian British Isles. The early Catholic Church couldnít stop the freshly converted Druids from celebrating the old pagan holy days and ignoring the Christian ones. The pope, I forget which, in a very clever move, started the tradition of the Christmas tree, giving the Druids a tie to the old and a bridge to easier acceptance of the new. Contrary to opinion, the expanding Christians did not want to kill all pagans: they preferred to convert them. Both Christmas and Easter were not originally celebrated in winter and spring. Christmas was celebrated in spring or summer and Easter was not a spring holy day. Both holy days were moved by the Catholic Church to better align with pagan festivals in the interest of converting them. The original pagan meanings have vanished, and we no longer worry about worshipping trees when we decorate the Christmas Tree or Druid fertility issues when celebrating Easter. The same is true of bowing to Shoman.

Bowing to each other falls into the "its just a different kind of handshake" department. We need to put aside our western attitudes (for this at least) and understand that there is no other meaning. We bow before practicing together, and before sparring, for the same reason boxers are told to Ďshake hands and come out fightingí.

On the surface it is hard to justify free sparring with the pacifism of someone committed to Ďturning the other cheek" as taught in modern Christianity. Yet if we dig a bit deeper we see that there is no conflict. A Karate shiai or free sparring is not a fight but an opportunity to test oneís skills against a live person in a controlled situation. No one gets hurt. It is a basketball game with different rules. Unlike a fight, the goal is not to hurt the other person but to score points. This fundamental difference is the key to resolving the concern. Because no one is trying to hurt the other, it is not a fight, and not subject to the moral pacifism of Christianity. In fact, one could argue that all Christians should pursue martial arts because without the ability to fight effectively, one cannot freely choose not to fight. If you cannot fight then choosing not to fight is not a moral choice at all. You do not have the freedom to put your faith into practice.

The concept of chi is misunderstood by many. It is not a spiritual concept but an oriental expression of the physical reality of the effect of increased concentration or focus. There are no magic or hidden energy flows, however, it can feel like that if expressed correctly. We see chi all the time. For example, my daughter was having a terrible time in softball. She was far from what anyone would call a power hitter. One day my wife told her to forget about strength and aim for the picnic benches beyond the outfield fence. Now she is one of the best hitters on the team. By relaxing and focusing on the goal, she mastered her chi and was able to extend it through the bat. In the West we have ignored this concept and so donít have an equivalent set of tools. The concept is a model of a real physical phenomenon. Its is simply chance that Eastern culture refined the concept and developed tools for it while Western culture moved in other directions. Another example of this is acupuncture. Many western doctors accept acupuncture as a valid medical technique, even though it was not invented in the West.

The philosophical teachings of humility, tranquility, harmony with the world, and respect for others are sound principles that do not contradict Christian or other religious teachings. In the Christian philosophy humility demonstrates the absence of pride, tranquility comes from knowledge of God and our place in His universe, harmony with the world counters greed, and respect for others is built into Godís command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As can be seen, there is no conflict between religion and Shorinjiryu Karate. They are compatible and supportive of each other. But remember the fundamental truth that Shorinjiryu Karate does not address or have ties to any religion. All are compatible and supportive. Shorinjiryu truly is a universal martial art.

11. My neighbor recommends I take my child to a different school because her child loves his teacher. Is that a good reason to enroll my child?

Not really. While you child must get along with his or her teacher, liking them is not necessarily required. A student's liking the teacher is not a good measure because all students love their teachers. There is no information here. Almost 100% of the time, if a student does not like the teacher, they will quit. The only ones who stay are the ones who like the teacher. You cannot find a student that does not like their teacher, and you don't know how many left because they didn't like their teacher. If you could compare how many left because they did not like the teacher vs. how many stayed because they like him or her, you might have some information.

12. Does that mean that schools with more students are better?

No, it does not. Large schools get that way through a number of strategies including contracts that force a person to stay, frequent ego gratifying (and chargeable) promotions, patches, and other strategies that don't reflect on the martial arts. Larger schools also limit the opportunities for individual attention. In this instance, smaller might be better.

13. I see something call jodo on your flyer. What is that?

Jo-do (joe-doe), or the martial art of the walking stick or 4 foot staff, is a system of self defense centered on the use of the walking stick. Students are taught strikes, escapes, defenses against other weapons, how to counter someone grabbing their stick, and how to defend against someone with a jo. It should take about three years to get a blackbelt in the jo.

14. All the schools I've looked at promise to teach discipline and improve grades. Is this true?

Maybe. All schools claim to improve grades, but some ignore the issue, and others simply check report cards. If bad students are prone to quit martial arts training (because even if you are in a diploma mill you have to commit to attend a few years of classes), then the claim of martial arts improving grades is not valid.

A student's discipline will improve if they have the seed of it within them, and if they have a personality that can thrive in the environment of the dojo. For many young people, karate school is the first time they've been involved with a strong group dynamic and this may be a factor in the reported improvements in discipline. Karate class provides the opportunity for a student to develop that facet of themselves. I'd caution that for-profit schools are in business to make money, not necessarily to provide a growth opportunity. It is not good for business to remove students for discipline or character issues.

Morning Star Martial Art's program has a strong character development focus. We view martial arts training as a path to both physical and spiritual (if I may use the term) self development. We make it very clear that we will not reward students who do not meet high ethical standards, or who are unwilling to work towards improvement. We encourage the development of personal responsibility, and do not promote those that fail to demonstrate good ethical standards. We've asked students to leave because they were dishonorable, and will do so again if called for. Being nonprofit, we can reach for a higher standard.

15. A local school boasts the Carroll's Best logo. What does this mean?

Carroll's Best is a contest conducted each year by the local community newspaper, the Carroll County Times. For 3 weeks in the early summer, they publish ballots for subscribers to complete and mail in. These are tallied and the businesses with the most votes are declared Carroll's Best. Categories include best supermarket, ice cream, tanning salon, etc. Martial arts schools, recognizing that most people will accept this at face value, encourage their students and their parents to vote, and the largest school typically wins. In other words, the Carroll's Best award simply means that the winning martial arts school had a large number of students (big classes = no personal attention) and was able to convince them to vote. Questions 11 and 12 discuss big schools and teacher charisma. The bottom line on Carroll's Best is that with respect to martial arts schools, it is not measuring if they are the best, but instead how well they convince their students to vote for them. Since this is a business strategy, having no relationship to the quality of instruction or the martial art, I wonder if the school that wins compensates the students for supporting the business? After all, they've done volunteer work for a for-profit business. That would be like volunteering to paint a supermarket's parking lot because you liked the pancake mix.

16. I see a local karate teacher is offering a program for ages 5 to 10 at the local library where he promises to "teach the class members how to defend themselves with simple yet practical karate techniques that may be used in any self-defense situation." Is this worthwhile?

I doubt it. I saw the same notice and noted that he is affiliated with a local for-profit athletic club. They run a karate program designed to give children something to do while their parents exercise. Being at the library gives credibility with parents, as the library is the place where they offer high quality reading programs for children, however, the library is not offering martial arts training, and given that they cite the athletic club, and are limiting class to children, it seems a marketing strategy for the athletic club. Observe any martial arts classes and you'll discover it is mostly children. The industry recognizes this, and targets them aggressively. The psychology of people is such that they tend to enjoy physical activity once they do it. Getting children in the door for one or two lessons is the proven method for getting them to tell their parents they want to take karate, and thereby get more students. It is a marketing strategy. Also, I'm bothered by the statement that they will "teach the class members how to defend themselves with simple yet practical karate techniques that may be used in any self-defense situation." Are they implying that simple techniques and fundamentals are not practical? The reality is that the fancy and complicated techniques are not the best for self defense. Ask any baseball coach what the team should do if it is in a slump: go back to basics. Since when is a simple punch impractical?

What technique may be used in any self-defense situation? I've been studying Karate-do for 37 years, and have also have a blackbelt in another martial art, and have yet to find this 'holy grail' of self defense. I don't recommend telling a small child that the solution to all his problems is a kick to the groin and a punch in the nose. Most self-defense situations need never go to violence, and there is no single answer.

I'd caution against anyone who claims they can impart self defense skills in one lesson. True self defense skills come from years of practice. Self defense seminars are valuable, but not the panacea that most claim. See question 1.

17. I saw an ad claiming that martial arts provides life long benefits. My child is 8 years old. Will this really provide life long benefits for her?

Its a catchy advertising slogan, isn't it? Unfortunately, it will probably not provide the lifelong skills you're expecting. Martial arts skills, like everything else in life, start to fade if not used. Much depends on how long one practices, and what one practices. If one spends 5 years practicing front punches, front punching skill will probably last a long time after one stops. If, as is typical in modern commercial schools, one learns a large vocabulary of stuff in two or three years for a blackbelt, then the odds are good that shortly after stopping, one's skills will fade. Years ago I had a teenager call about the program.. He had a brownbelt in another style from a local commercial school and asked, "I have a brown belt but have been out of practice for a year and have forgotten everything. Can I still wear my brown belt?"

Martial arts can be a lifelong activity, and will provide lifelong benefits if it is practiced for a lifetime. Most cannot afford commercial school prices for the time between when their children start until they leave for college. They want the quick (2 - 3 year) blackbelt and then they consider themselves graduated. Two or three years after quitting the child's skills are gone.

Morning Star Martial Art's price structure is designed to make long term training affordable. Blackbelts are charged reduced rates. Our long blackbelt program is designed to build reflexive skills, not simply impart a large vocabulary of techniques into short term memory. We want our students to join and both desire and afford to stay a lifetime.

18. I've talked to a lot of local karate students, and when they find out I'm interested in taking karate, they always tell me what belt rank they are. Why is that?

I, and my students, have seen this too.  Normally the teller is quite proud of their x-color belt and y-colored stripe, and know exactly when their next test is.  The answer to your question has to do primarily with the psychology of commericial schools and expectations management.

When most people first start training, they want exercise and self defense skills. Most commercial schools reward students very quickly with a belt or stripe, which does two things.  First, it makes them feel good so they continue training and sign another contract, and second, it redirects their focus away from training and onto the next belt.  Within a very, very short time students loose sight of the goal of building self defense skills, and focus instead on the next belt, and where they are with respect to others and the mystical blackbelt.  This serves to keep people signing contracts, since while most Americans will quit when they discover that it takes years of hard, dedicated training to build true self defense skills, most will stay if there is a short term, ego fulfilling goal ahead.  It's a great example of commercial psychology but poor martial arts philosophy.

At Morning Star Martial Arts we have only 10 divisions to blackbelt, and our course of study is long and hard.  It takes years longer to get a blackbelt from us.  Our students come to class regardless of their belt color and many continue training even if not promoted for over a year.  They know there are no guarrantees with us except good training, but that everyone can get good skills and reach blackbelt, in their own time.  They've also learned the lesson of humility and good manners.  After all, its neither humble nor polite to immediately try to establish superiority over another by bragging about martial arts belts.

19. The Visitor's Center is small. Can I or my child find space?

The Visitor's Center is indeed small.  If or when the number of students in any class gets too big, we will limit enrollment and keep a waiting list.  If the waiting list supports an extra night of classes, we'll add them.. 

Small is not bad and the Visitor's Center has a number of advantages.  The floor is seasoned wood with a touch of spring, perfect for karate training.  The windows act as mirrors on three sides, providing a fantastic opportunity to watch yourself and improve your form.  Small classes mean near-personal attention.  We believe that the dojo created in this room has a more traditional character than the typical modern one.  As the Japanese say, "Less is more."

20. Can I take a sample class?

Of course.  You may give us a try, free of charge, at any time.  Just drop by.  Children under age 18 must have a parent or legal guardian present. You may, of course, watch as much as you'd like and we'll be glad to answer any questions you may have.