On Martial Arts Regulation - The Case of Bill A2571


Martial arts study holds a tremendous potential for good that can shine through even questionable interpretations and un-professional conduct -- to a point.


Like most life-long martial artists and instructors, I love the field passionately. Unlike nearly all my colleagues, this love has led me to a quite different conclusion regarding the most controversial of all industry issues -- government regulation They fiercely oppose it. I support it.


Yes, I understand the dangers of bureaucracy, corruption, artistic interference, etc. Yet, in the absence of any kind of restraint, the state of our industry has morphed into something nearly unrecognizable as martial art.


If you're paying for training, this issue effects you perhaps even more than those who get paid to train you.



There are a number of reasons NJ martial arts instructors are so opposed to regulation. One is their past experience with several blatant attempts, by certain competitors, to establish state sanctioned industry dominance for themselves by way of such legislation. Another reason, frankly, is simple mistrust of bureaucracy. There is also the martial arts instructors' characteristic antipathy towards being told what to do - about anything, by anybody, for any reason. Finally (and I believe most importantly), is the certainty of exposure faced by the incompetent and unethical.


For one reason or another, legislative remedies for abuse was never going to happen. Then along came something different.


In 1998, a bill known as A-2571 was introduced that was departure from anything ever before proposed. I voiced such strong support for it that my state assemblyman asked me to prepare for possible testimony on it’s behalf before the Consumer Affairs and Regulated Professions Committee.


The bill eventually died in that committee without a hearing, but several years later I had the opportunity to meet with its sponsor, and ask about its demise. He said it died simply for lack of industry interest. (Of note, is that it, unlike all others, the bill didn't fall victim to massive industry outrage.) But that wasn’t the end of the story. In 2000, the bill was resurrected as S1119, again went to committee, and yet again, died there. Surprised by its reappearance, I was, none the less, unsuccessful at getting any meaningful information about it from my representatives.


Although a bit long winded, this prepared statement outlines my position quite clearly. Whether you agree or not, I think it’s interesting that, in terms of the underlying problems I allege, not much has changed over time. Consumers, students and the arts themselves are still being abused.




New Jersey Commission on the Martial Arts

(Assembly, No. 2571)

Opinion by Salvatore T. Musco

Co-Director, American Budo Kai, Inc

Head Instructor, East Morris Karate Academy, Whippany, N. J.

Sixth Degree Black Belt, Isshin-ryu Karate



The following opinion contains certain representations that, at first, might appear overly broad or assumptive, yet should not be dismissed out of hand. Only a cursory investigation will lend them enough credence that even opponents of this bill must acknowledge some level of their validity. As a result, this presentation can also be used to raise important issues peculiar to the martial arts field.


The history of martial arts related legislative initiatives is characteristically one of vociferous, overwhelming opposition by service providers, the very consumers such measures are meant to protect, and legislators wary of potential industry protectionism.


Valid reasons for their opposition do indeed exist, and failure to address these concerns has led to the strikingly immediate withdrawal of all prior proposals. Until now, this proved fortunate in the sense that each proposal was flawed for lack of representative industry counsel that was sufficiently objective, knowledgeable, or unbiased. However, the public, and indeed the industry itself, still remain vulnerable to both unscrupulous and incompetent service providers.


I support A-2571 because its distinctive approach is perhaps the must workable solution possible for all concerned. By establishing an advisory, rather than a regulatory body, it provides inherent safeguards necessary to satisfy legitimate industry objection while allowing the state to move forward confidently in meeting its responsibilities to the public.


The bill’s primary opposing argument is that any form of governmental intervention will infringe upon unfettered entrepreneurial, personal, and artistic freedoms. However, this premise merely restates the obvious price for living in an ordered society. It also begs the real question: Whether or not this particular industry is itself prepared, or capable, of alleviating the causes of unfortunate incidents caused by its providers. Such an alternative argument, from among martial artists, has not been forthcoming. If it had, case studies would reveal that few such incidents resulted from risks not systemically manageable from within either accepted competitive or customary martial arts practices. Rather, they stem from circumstances reminiscent of the emergence of other highly specialized fields that ultimately required legislative control.


In principle, state intercession on behalf of its citizens becomes warranted and justifiable when:

  • The nature of the product or service precludes reasonable expectation that the public can, or will, adequately defend itself against potential hazard or abuse, and when...
  • Remedial industry self-regulation, or consumer driven market adjustment, is unreliable, ineffective, or non-existent.

The martial arts industry meets both definitions. Its domain has proven far too complex and enigmatic for the uninitiated to make critical decisions concerning issues of safety and value. The very definition of what constitutes a “martial art”, and thus the scope and nature of its training, has become a target for obfuscation by exploiters of the market. The public is left to rely solely on chance for competence and integrity in whatever individual service providers they encounter. In this respect, the martial arts training field, unquestionably, ranks alongside those of medicine, law, engineering, and the like in necessitating some measure of consumer advocacy.


However, unlike those professions there are no extant organizations that substantively regulate, or even significantly influence, any appreciable segment of the martial arts industry. This contention will no doubt be disputed, but is none the less a fact. Although associations abound, none approach even liberal interpretation as legitimate governing bodies in terms of relevant operational controls, enforcement authority, or their own willingness to accept any appropriate measure of accountability. Contrary to public assumption, no martial arts instructor is ultimately answerable to higher authority, nor can peers effectively censure even the most outrageous abusers. Not until the public finally suffers significantly grievous harm are such individuals subjected to authoritative scrutiny in our courts. Yet, these cases represent only gross examples of a multitude of less dramatic injustices and hurts that continually afflict consumers and erode the industry’s image and reputation.


Market adjustment has proven minimally effective at best. The public’s persistent and erroneous belief that all martial arts training is virtually identical, bears witness to this failure. That this perspective encourages consumers, especially parents, to typically view school location as a preeminent buying decision factor, is a testament to their vulnerability. Frequently, important differences between service providers, practices, and programs are routinely dismissed as minor issues. Yet, there is no viable mechanism for an attempt at unbiased, objective consumer education by responsible providers. In an era of intense competition and media exploitation, legitimate and responsible industry consensus is lost to the public amidst a furor of unbridled marketing promotion. Furthermore, formation of any substitute public consensus is equally confounded. Well-funded, high profile, entrepreneurial interests continually introduce inventive, and often spurious, representations of the martial arts, necessary to sustain their market share.


Still, once established, any argument for state intercession remains subject to coinciding institution of effective industry self-control. Such desirable result has elsewhere been successfully achieved by fully representative industry governing bodies working in concert with responsible state authorities. A-2571 deserves support because it establishes industry representation in a way that safely encourages what is the presently unlikely formation of such martial arts cooperation.


Historically, martial arts training was always strictly regulated. Unfortunately, the traditional internal mechanisms, which once accomplished that task locally, were largely sacrificed during what has amounted to an industry gold rush. Incredible evidence of this is that, to date, no one has ever questioned the sudden, universal appearance of so many qualified instructors in a study acknowledged as both highly specialized and potentially dangerous. Re-establishing regulation within the industry is becoming ever more critical not only for the public’s welfare, but for sake of the field itself.


Ordinarily, such controlling bodies form naturally to promote common interest. However, extraordinary diversity and partisanship lead individual martial arts providers to invariably focus on their differences instead. One need only engage any martial arts instructor in short conversation for this to soon become apparent. The perspective is so ingrained that it alone has, and will, largely divide service providers except in a common cause to sustain it. All previous proposals provided that common cause by threatening to place authority over the even legitimate individual diversity of one provider sector in the hands of their competitors.


Individual service providers responded with their only available defensive strategy – a call for the preservation of artistic freedom delivered to legislators with unmistakable unity. Yet, even this apparent unity is misleading. Rare is the instructor who does not bemoan some excess in today’s martial arts environment. However, experience has taught them well of the potentially dire consequences associated with reform initiatives. Sadly, it’s a risk too few are willing to take without encouragement.


A-2571 promises an opposite effect because its mandate will establish responsible, representative consensus as the benchmark for legitimizing diversity. In turn, forcing the martial arts community to refocus its dialog on its similarities removes a major obstacle to non-partisan cooperation.


However, the New Jersey Commission on the Martial Arts holds more promise than merely as a buffer of expertise or catalyst to facilitate industry responsibility. Our state will lead the nation, as the first to legitimize the martial arts training profession, and, in turn, promote the future realization of its attendant potential as a powerful new vehicle for far-reaching societal advantage.




© 1998 Salvatore T. Musco. All Rights Reserved.