Thursday, October 16, 2008


Since our inception of the Genki Kai back in '97 I've been pondering the issue of credentials. Who gives 'em, who should give 'em, why they're given, etc. Before studying in the Genki Kai's club-like atmostphere, I studied with Stage Combat teachers that were campus space-scavengers just like I am now. Before that, there was a children's theatre troupe that practiced outside, and of course, my mom's creative movement classes in various studios in Boulder. All of these people were legitimate, talented experts that I was happy to take direction from, and the lessons from whom I still use in my current movement classes.

Now, when you take dance classes, you don't get credentials unless you later get your degree in dance. Being a member of a theatre company, even one that practices in parks, is its own credential, resume-worthy. At a school or college, you end up with a diploma or a degree, also a credential in itself.

I've noticed the combat arts are different. For some reason, a martial arts practice just doesn't seem as publicly "legit" without some kind of belt system. And I've been getting more and more questions lately from Stage Combat enthusiasts about certification, where they can get it and how. My telling them that they can put this college course on their resume just doesn't seem to have the same impact in their minds as a certificate. Why?

At the Genki Kai, we had our own belt system which Jason developed based on an old Japanese model of the 36 Ninpo essentials. As of now, our Bonzuko Movement Arts certificates in Stage Combat are in their infancy--those who took the summer Advanced class got one commemorating their successful completion of Advanced Unarmed and Taihenjutsu. I don't give a certificate out for the college course. I'm not sure why I don't, nor if there is any conflict between earning college credit and getting a Bonzuko certificate.

Having been a part of the formation of the Genki Kai's belt rank system, I realize that any belt system or certification is made up by someone. It's just whether that someone is known publicly as an expert or as a bozo. Really, that's it. Anyone can go buy a black belt online. But it comes down to this: my Oreo belt from the Genki Kai is just as legitimate a martial arts credential as my To Shin Do black belt will be. Why? Because in each case, I received the belt from an expert in the arts, one that has done his homework, has many years of experience, and himself puts his art into practice every day. Sure, Stephen Hayes is just a bit more famous and experienced than Jason Boughn, but both organizations are high quality, the men in charge of them good martial artists, and I'm proud to have a belt from both. Would anyone say the Genki Kai doesn't give out a "legit" black belt? I don't think so.

So why then is the SAFD the only organization to be considered "legit" to give out records of education for the arts of Stage Combat? Why would students of mine want to go pay lots of cash to get SAFD certified if I can give them the same education and resume-worthy experience (and even a certificate), just not with an SAFD stamp? I was this close to contacting Geoffe K. and asking what it would take to get me on the SAFD teacher-certification track, and then I had to stop myself. Why did I decide to step off that track in the first place, ten years ago, when I was being groomed for being Geoffe's wing-man and more? Why did SAFD reps act funny when approached about submitting back-cover quotes for my book? Am I really less an expert than the SAFD higher-ups? (the answer: no!) :)

It seems that what we have here is a monopoly. This is something you don't get in the martial arts because there are so many schools around, so many different martial arts to choose from. The SAFD was the first organization to, well, organize in the U.S. and actually formulate a curriculum that could be consistent. So there aren't many different schools for stage combat--they're all SAFD centered. Bonzuko Movement Arts even uses some SAFD techniques and drills (I was first trained by them, after all), but we also use our martial arts expertise to formulate our curriculum. We should be able to function just great in the same world together, and any student should be just as happy to get a Bonzuko certificate as a SAFD one. Likewise, any director should be just as impressed to see a Bonzuko certificate on an actor's resume as a SAFD one. Right now, there's only one difference between the two.

The one difference is: the public eye. That's the kicker, isn't it. That's why more people might recognize my TSD black belt over my Genki Kai one. That's why my students are asking me about SAFD certifications. So I guess the answer really is: publicity. All we need to do is sell more of my books, do more Bonuko Movement Arts classes all the time, and get this blog viral! :)

I'd like to hear what you all think of this--take a second and post responses, as this is on my mind a lot lately and I think lots of cool stuff can be done once we figure out how to continue.



ken said...

I absolutely agree! It's just like when some employers turn their nose up at applicants because they went to a state school, as opposed to a university. Certification is basically just an "experts" opinion of a person's proficiency. Why should your opinion be less valid than that of some fancy-shmancy SAFD person?

Bonzuko said...

I mean, I don't want to knock the SAFD either--a lot of those guys are talented, and I certainly dig the idea of having a standardized curriculum for Stage Combat, just like there is for martial arts. I just get frustrated by the "brand-name" aspect of it.