Caveat Emptor – Let The Buyer Beware

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Jul 15th, 2016

A few days ago I read an interesting discussion on Facebook. No, it wasn’t about politics or cute pet pictures. It was a discussion between the buyer of an online karate course and the seller of that course. The buyer was asking whether a special deal could be made by buying the 2nd and 3rd degree black belt courses together. As I remember, his desire was to get his 4th degree black belt certificate as part of the bargain by paying an extra fee, or through some similar exchange. In the discussion, he made various references about the certificate looking cool to his friends. I say he, assuming that the buyer was a young male between the ages of 13 and 30.  My friend and colleague, Associate Master of the Art, Mr. John Ward, posted this discussion with his comment - A Cancer of the Martial Arts.

This exchange reminded me of an article I read recently. The article was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1999. Two researchers, Dunning and Kruger, determined the following through their experiments – “people who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. We attribute this lack of awareness to a deficit in metacognitive skill. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s.” In other words, incompetent people think they perform much better than they actually do.

Can a person learn martial arts exercises from a video? Can, through repetition and a desire to push beyond perceived limits, anyone become better at some skill? Of course, this can happen; even without direct coaching. The issue here is twofold. First, the seller shows a lack of concern regarding the implications of selling this product. Will the buyer injure himself or others with this product? Will he place himself in a precarious position based on his illusion of competence because he bought some videos and a 4th degree black belt certificate? The seller has no concern for the buyer’s welfare; only for the exchange of money. Likewise, the buyer has no responsibility to do “the work” of learning the martial arts and earning the recognition of a black belt certificate – he has already purchased it.

Part of our job, as martial arts instructors, is to battle the Dunning-Kruger Effect noted above. During our workouts, we push ourselves and our students to gain real competence in martial arts skills. The collective environment of the studio allows realistic comparisons about levels of skill. He’s better at kicking; she’s a better fighter, etc. The honest feedback we offer each other builds “the savvy necessary to recognize competence” in ourselves and others. Any exchange of value (money for lessons) is based on that honest interchange.

The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests a large inconsistency between the way incompetent (or foolish) people actually perform and they way they think about or experience their own performance. In our studios, we create training experiences that destroy any false illusions of competence. This fulfills the centuries old requirement to protect our students with the truth. In the case noted above, the buyer is allowed to keep his illusions of his martial arts competence as part of the fee he pays. The psychologist, Ronald D. Siegel, of Harvard Medical School, refers to this illusion as “The Homer Simpson Effect” – where Homer goes off on his adventures with complete confidence, but then, Dooh!!! He finds himself in trouble because he lacks the necessary skills. As martial arts instructors, will we choose to turn out more “Homer Simpsons”? No, we must choose the essential truth of the significance of hard work over easy money. Or, we endanger our students, our Art, and ultimately, our world.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

Other Articles by Dennis Lawson

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