Industry Regulation - Intrusion on Artistic Freedom or Catalyst for a Martial Arts Profession?

Welcome to Dodge City. Enjoy your stay… and check your guns.
Freedom. For many Americans, that word conjures images of steely-eyed, self-reliant pioneers taming the Western frontier; of Captains of Industry binding a young nation together with ribbons of steel while wresting wealth from its land and forests; of wide-eyed entrepreneurs destined to make their mark in the world.
While all that may be accurate, few people seem to make the connection with the other side of the coin — like why Wyatt Earp had to forcibly trash the Second Amendment in order to bring civilization to Dodge City.  Or the reasons Jesse James felt it was ironic justice to lighten the purses of Robber Barons. Or the underlying necessity for agencies such as the FDA.



The truth is, when entrepreneurs make their mark, it all too often turns into a scar. It’s been that way since the Stone Age. In fact, the basic purpose of civilization is to enable us get on with our lives somewhat free from the excesses of any overly ambitious neighbors.


More to the point, all businesses, even illegal ones, are regulated by something or someone that fits into one of three categories: Market forces. Industry influence. State regulation. How this all works is, of course, as obvious as what happens when the system fails.


My contention is that the system always fails in a particular circumstance, and that the field of martial arts instruction legitimately qualifies as an example of it. That circumstance is the birth of a new profession.


Now, this term shouldn’t be confused with occupation or trade. Instead I’m talking about what are known as “true professions” — medicine, engineering, law, etc. —  all of which have several traits in common:

  • All involve special knowledge not readily available or understood by consumers
  • Only fellow practitioners are properly equipped to assess another’s service quality, conduct, etc.
  • All once had a less than stellar history regarding consumer responsibility.

In 1847, Nathan S. Davis, MD founded the American Medical Association amid concerns over patient care at the hands of quacks, patent medicine peddlers (the infamous Snake Oil Salesmen) and the nostrums rendered by the local community shaman. Prior to the AMA’s eventual influence, the entrepreneurial spirit in medicine reigned supreme throughout the land of E Pluribus Unum. How many died, were crippled, or went blind is anyone’s guess. How many bridges collapsed, or lives ruined, through simply incompetent engineering or law?


I’m not suggesting that martial arts training represents anywhere near that level of risk and importance. However, the dynamics are the same, consumer abuse is a matter of record, and, at the moment, there does exist another negative aspect: Lack of industry maturity results in underdevelopment of its potential for societal contribution. In other words, and to put it bluntly, 90% of what passes today for martial arts training is only about 10% of the story it has to tell.


So now what?


Initially, professions get regulated like everyone else, by market forces. Once it becomes appear that consumers aren’t up to the task of protecting themselves or demanding enough, that’s when one of the other two forms will usually kick in. The emerging martial arts field is on a point along that spectrum where some folks are beginning to realize things aren’t quite right in Dodge City.


The question, in this case, is will the martial arts cowboys collectively take it upon themselves to cool it before they wind up facing the lawmen at the Legislative OK Corral?


I’ll hope for the best, but, if it comes down to it, my money’s on the Earp boys.





© 2005 Salvatore T. Musco. All Rights Reserved