“I got ripped off!!!….” – The Rest of the Story!

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After many years with no contact I recently sent a few old photos to a martial arts friend, posting them on his social network page. They were of him in the ring, in a tournament organized by me, where he was in a match against one of my

Shihan Pascetta - Chief Referee, World GoJu Cup NYC 2010

Black Belt students. The photo was about 25 years old and to me it brought back memories of the ongoing sports rivalry that existed between those two excellent athletes when they were both much younger.

My friend responded graciously and we shared a brief chat online chat with some very positive interaction. It seemed like a breath of fresh air to interact with such an intelligent and accomplished individual.

I knew from other sources that he was quite accomplished in his professional life outside the martial arts. I also knew from observing him so many times in his youth that he was an extremely talented athlete with excellent skills and was a very spirited young man. It was even more encouraging to see that he had kept up with his regular and dedicated martial arts training and activities.

The following day I began receiving notifications from the social website of “comments” added to the photos I had sent. I was quite saddened and disappointed with what I read, by what had been written by him and some of his admirers. The comments were quite negative, quite involved, so I felt motivated to take the time here and address some very relevant issues that he had brought to light.

I deliberately choose not to use his name or those of his colleagues here because my intent is certainly not meant to attack or disparage him personally. However, the mindset that appeared to be displayed in those writings and responses, in my opinion, are like a cancer that has plagued the martial arts for quite some time. I take this opportunity to speak out about them and perhaps present a different perspective that may help to influence some positive change.

The Comments and Responses

The initial comment posted on the photo was actually from different friend whose reaction when observing the photo was simply, “The good old days.”. The response from the original recipient of the photos was that he did not see these as “the good old days” and further continued, calling them “The Wasted Opportunity Days”. He went on to lament on how the martial arts in this area would have been different (much better) if “if it was governed under more enlightened leadership”.

This was only the beginning of a tirade of criticism accusing the “powers that be” (specifically, referees, organizers, and/or leaders) for a multitude of unethical infractions starting from blatant cheating to conspiring to suppress him and the very talented clique of fellow martial artists that he associated and trained with. All these standing in his way for valid recognition and depriving him and his clique from “winning” those matches that, according to him, they had legitimately won.

This series of comments set off further responses from his admirers reinforcing this horrible and pathetic story of victimization. Another interesting comment made by my martial arts brother was: “No one likes to discuss that history, but it is relevant because our area fell way behind the rest of the country in sport karate as a result of the things this sanctioning body did.”

In my opinion, if we are going to learn from “history” then at least let’s have a fair and objective account of more than one perspective of what “history” actually occurred. What is more important is that we use the experiences of the past, both good and bad to advance both our present and futures.

Since I was a direct witness and participant to many of the meetings, decisions, rules discussions, the training of referees, and administration of the same, I am in a unique position to provide inside information regarding these very issues. I was also one of the primary individuals who was part of “leadership of the sanctioning body” that they were so critical of. So, here is a part of the “The Rest of the Story”.

What is “Truth”? – What is “Love”?

My martial arts (and very sincere Christian) brother paraphrased some Scripture and made reference to Pontius Pilate asking JESUS CHRIST, “What is truth?”

First, allow me to address that initial question. We can only be certain that real “TRUTH” is what only GOD sees; not your perspective, nor your opinion, nor mine. At best we see obscurely and at worst we see what is actually more of a reflection of our own heart and mind than actual “truth”.

Opinions are like armpits, we all have more than one and they can become very smelly at times! Even those who sincerely seek the truth must first scrutinize their own hearts, minds, and the very process they use.

Second, my dear friend also made reference to “…speak the truth in love….”, another Biblical tenant.

According to Scripture, in 1 Corinthians 13:4, the LORD through the Apostle Paul describes “love’ in this way:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (NKJ version)

Third, I would also like to make reference to another Biblical “truth” that stands out in my mind as I read these many judgmental comments. When the woman caught in adultery was dragged and placed before JESUS by the “righteous” men of the community, after some time writing in the dust of the ground, HE raised HIMSELF up and said, “…He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7 – NKJ)

Before I proceed further, please allow me to clarify my view that I believe that referencing and the study of the scriptures is best applied by each individual to himself, first. By faith, if we are lead by the HOLY SPIRIT, then we are first convicted to apply such TRUTH and scrutinize of our own actions before burdening our neighbors.

I am not a preacher, nor a religious person, this is simply my conviction. Apply it as you see fit, however, since my friend has used the Scripture as a reference, let’s be clear on where we each stand concerning this, as imperfect men. Perhaps if we are going to site Scriptures we might each consider appling them to ourselves and our own actions first.

“The Rest of the Story!”

In fact, the “leadership” (imperfect, to say the least), of the “sanctioning body” that you lament against for “oppressing” you, was very busy working to provide an opportunity that was far outside the reach of those who could not travel “the national circuit”.

While your individual perspective may view it differently, I personally spent many hours, days, weekends, weeks, and months traveling around the country and literally around the world drawing from ideas and observing other martial arts groups in order to bring back what most of the “leadership” viewed and attempted to institute as “best practices” for our local athletes.

Further, I personally influenced and made significant investments to attract some of the best national and international fighters from outside our region to compete in our Delaware Valley events. In addition to this I also brought in international teams and organized and sponsored teams using athletes from our local area to travel overseas multiple times to compete with “the best of the best” there.

These efforts provided an opportunity to be exposed to a level of competition they would only experience through extensive traveling for all of those local athletes who were willing to participate.

And lastly, I personally invested my time, resources, and money to televise numerous events: sport karate and full contact kickboxing providing local athletes with exposure that was rare for our sport anywhere. Perhaps the critics  here have overlooked the numerous hours in meetings. negotiations, scheduling, and  implementation with community leaders, businessmen, venue executives,  media, and so many other non-martial arts entities required in order to organize and convert these visions into reality for all the martial artists involved.

All this work, these accomplishments, along with a commitment to contribute far beyond my own students and school certainly does not qualify me as the “all knowing authority”, nor does it make all my actions perfect. It does, however, give me a unique perspective based on first had experience and personal participation. It should also give a more accurate glimpse of my personal, underlying intentions to seriously contribute to all those martial artists in my home area, not solely my own students or myself.

Whatever the opinion is about my motivation, intentions, or integrity, the bottom line is that I saw, participated in, and contributed directly to the very actions that this group of “victims” has made such inaccurate assumptions about.

The perspective that certain rules were changed to benefit only the students of the leaders of the sanctioning group is quite biased, inaccurate, and unfair, at best. The one example given, concerning the rule change described as one that “… was basically an attack on Tae Kwon Do…”, is particularly mistaken.

Let’s put things in perspective. The movement in the USA to develop the sport aspect of Karate, went through many transitions. (Perhaps you may not fully understand this because you were not around to experience this part of “history”) Originally, when karate and Tae Kwon Do began to be taught in the US, there was little or no inter-style competition.

Typically, many of the biases and prejudices held by our Oriental predecessors were passed down to the students. Many prominent American martial arts leaders began to realize that that whatever happened in the Orient between certain cultures and societies had nothing to do with us or what style of martial art was available to us as Americans. Subsequently, many instructors began to consider the potential benefit gained through inter-style competition and interaction.

Unfortunately, even that realization didn’t stop the common pride and prejudice that often times occurs between many groups of human beings. After the Korean war there was a huge influx of servicemen who began martial arts from what they learned in Korea.

In addition to that significant influx was the practice of many of the Korean “Masters” of promoting students to Black Belt in a rather short period of time. Eventually the shear number of people teaching a Korean based martial art increased. Many of the American Black Belt students broke from their traditional roots and Americanized their martial art.

This is significant because many of those same instructors became some of the most active promoters of sport Karate and contributed significantly to the development of inter-style sport competition. As would be most likely, the “rules” used at many of these events gave preference to the techniques emphasized the most in Korean styles, hitherto, the kicking techniques. In many competitions of that era, there were actually more points awarded for a kick than for a strike.

In reality, the statistics show that in full contact competition the number or knockout blows by coming from strikes by far surpasses those by kick. On the other hand, the people who practice and develop excellent kicking skills have many arguments to justify why they should have the rules that favor them.

Logically speaking, in “open competition”, why wouldn’t all participants expect for there to be a fair and balanced set of rules that gave all styles a more realistic and fair forum to compete in. The advantages and disadvantages of emphasis on paticular types of techniques are evident to most martial artists. Although there is great respect for those who develop incredible kicking techniques, there are also legitimate tactics that can be applied to capitalize on the disadvantages.

Those tactics include: grabbing, sweeping, and low counter-kicks. It is interesting that relevant to our friends comments, how these techniques were the ones restricted prior to the “rules changes”. I hear no complaints from this group of how “unfair” that was to other athletes of our region or how many “opportunities” were lost by those other athletes due to rules that favored styles of fighting that emphasized kicking.

The “rule” changes referred to as unfair or prejudiced against TKD were actually an effort to balance the playing field for athletes of all styles. How interesting that the very people here accusing others of wanting “…to make sure that certain people would not win their Grand Championships…” appear to have little concern nor awareness of the lack of fairness that they had already enjoyed as long as it gave them an unfair advantage.

What seems even more apparent is the statement that clearly demonstrates the malicious reaction by these “oppressed victims” to such rules. By their own statements, they did so by attacking the groin of their opponents excessively.

Please let me reassure you that the change of the rules back (eliminating groin kicks) had nothing to do with how “successful” this clique of fighters were or were not. It had to do with the safety of the players they were attacking with excessive contact to the groin area. In addition to that, this group of participants and their sympathizers made such vocal and persistent complaints about this rule, that ultimately the rule was changed, again eliminating low kicks.

The sad fact was that the “leaders” in favor of the more fair and balance rules on this subject simply got tired of the whining, complaining, and distortions perpetrated by this group of “kickers” against the fairer set of rules.

“I was ripped off by the referees!”

Welcome to the “human condition”. Is there any sport that has “fair referees”? What an interesting question. If you win, even if the call was questionable, then the referee was a “great ref”! If you lose, it couldn’t possibly be because the other person just did a little better than you in that match, could it? Please spare us all the arrogant attitude that you were such “Superstars” that you only lost matches because you were “ripped off”.

The fact is that there do exist some referees that are either; dishonest, incompetent, biased, or even influenced to perform in a less than “fair” manner. Unfortunately, in Martial Arts the challenge to have unbiased judges has been and still is a major part of the culture. It should be obvious why and how this occurs. It certainly has very little to do with “victimizing” any one group of martial arts athletes.

Again, examine the “history” of sport martial arts. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Inter-school, intra-organizational, and inter-style competition came long before any standardization of “rules” and/or “procedures” for sport competition. To this day there are still significant variations between rules from one  organization to another. Regardless, even standardized rules do not insure or substitute for trained, qualified, independent, unbiased, and professional judges/referees.

Further, in earliest competitions the original “judges” and/or “referees” were volunteers and/or were interested individuals available, taken from the groups participating. Those were typically the Black Belts or advanced participants from the schools in attendance. This same  practice endures even to this date in most tournaments even after 50+ years of inter-style competition. Subsequently, why would anyone not see the conflict of interest inherent in this structure? Duh!!!!!!!!

Although there are some organizations (such as the “sanctioning body” so unfairly maligned in the comments by our friends) that have worked hard to administer, train, and supervise such judges and referees, this is quite a daunting process. This is further complicated by the fact is that not all Black Belts possess the characteristics necessary to be a “good” judge or referee.

Second, the politics of any inter-style organization makes it particularly difficult to exclude those who do not have such characteristics even after being trained thoroughly in concepts, rules, ethics, and procedure. There continues some illusion that along with “Black Belt” comes some inherent infusion of all these talents, characteristics, and the awareness necessary to become a good judge.

Consequently, at best, the leadership of any organization can only take reasonable steps to help provide a level playing field for all athletes involved.

The “sanctioning organization” criticized here made serious attempts to address these issues. One of the ways that partially helped was a rule that disallowed any Black Belt from judging students from his own school. I am personally aware of this because I was one the most active initiators, supporters, and promoters of this practice. It was, however, disgraceful to see how many “Black Belts” found whatever means possible to thwart this rule.

In my recollection of the “history” under discussion here, our friends making these critical comments seemed to be some of the worst violators of this attempt toward fairness. As they openly acknowledge, they all trained together as a clique of friends and their loyalty to each other is quite evident. However, since they were from different schools, the rule disallowing them to judge one another, or students of one another could not be applied. As an interesting side note, some of the photos posted on the social network page that sparked this discourse actually show a close training buddy of the athlete functioning as one of the judges for his match against my student.

Further, some of members of this same clique at times attended tournaments with a large group of supporters that didn’t hesitate to surround a ring shouting and posturing in an attempt to influence or intimidate some of the judges. These disrespectful, disrupting,  hoodlum-like assaults lead to further, common sense organizational practices such as restricting access to the rings by anyone other than officials and participants. Again, this type of procedure/rule was not instituted specifically for this or any one particular group. It was instituted in general to maintain order and control of the sports activity by the judges and referees, not by the athletes and/or spectators.

The obvious question that comes to my mind is, how many other athletes experienced “Wasted Opportunities” due to this “cheating” perpetrated by the very self acclaimed “victims” here? Draw you own conclusions.

Get Over It!

As the one critic accurately stated, “It was what it was”.

If I had a dollar for every time I felt a judge made an inaccurate call, a biased call, or outright cheated against me, then I could take this entire group out to lunch and we could enjoy a hearty meal while lamenting together. My personal disappointment comes from reading this “romanticizing” of the “victims/heroes” here who allegedly overcame all odds to become “Superstars”. Take note that this particular “romanticizing” is all while the primary critic here is stating that he was “not going to allow anyone to romanticize that period of arrested development to me.” My further surprise and disappointment is in hearing this same nonsense again after 25 years.

In my opinion, what is even worse is that such successful, talented, and intelligent men continue to pass on this culture of “victimization” to the present generation of sutdents, particularly since there many time they were the most blatant perpetrators of questionable actions themselves. I can’t help but wonder how many young athletes who look up to them for inspiration and guidance yesterday and today yet have been prejudiced and poisoned with this “victim” mentality.

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

If you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. It is my opinion, that instead of “taking your ball and going to play in another playground”, if these men had put the same amount of effort and sacrifice to contribute constructively as the “leadership of the sanctioning body” in question had, then perhaps there would have been a greater success for all athletes in this region, not only themselves.

At this point no one knows whether that would have made a significant difference or not. However, to disparage those who invested and sacrificed so much of their time, efforts, and fortunes for others in our area is a travesty. Further, for the record, there are numerous other athletes from this area who went on to both national and international acclaim. There are also many who appreciated the opportunities that were provided by the diligent work of such “sanctioning bodies” that this clique of friends has been so quick to disparage.

In fairness, my critical friends here do deserve acknowledgment for continuing forward to find ways to develop themselves in spite of the reasons for their discouragement whether it was legitimately justified or simply misunderstood. Unfortunately, their decisions with regard to this situation appear to be self serving, focused on primarily themselves, or their immediate clique. This is evidenced by their own statements.  There is no need for proof because their own words and attitudes convict them.

Illusions of Central Position

It is not unusual for any of us to view our personal experiences from a somewhat myopic perspective, especially when they affect our emotions, and even more when we are young and impressionable. None of us, however, are the Center of the Universe”.

When we are no longer children it would better serve those who come after us that we present both the short comings of the past along with the advantages of the past viewing both as a “school master” to help us understand life better. If any of us continues to propagate this culture of “I was the victim”, and of romanticizing our own role by portraying ourselves as the “underdog/superstar that prevailed against ‘the establishment’, winning against all odds”, then we do a disservice to both ourselves and those who follow after us.

The fact is that life is not “fair” and everyone of us will face some level of bias, prejudice, and/or unfair treatment from others in one manner or another during the course of our lives. This human condition has existed from the dawn of civilization and despite efforts to the contrary will continue until the LORD returns. Subsequently, let each us search for more reasons to be more understanding where needed, forgiving where warranted, and move forward with hope, inspiring those who follow to become “Champions of Life” rather than merely “Champions of Martial arts”.

I sincerely believe that my dear Christian friend owes an apology for his inaccurate assumptions, unfounded judgments, and unfair comments to some of us who gave so much. Perhaps he may consider searching his own heart and reexamining those emotions that seemed to have affected him so strongly. Regardless, I sincerely wish him and those who are close to him all the best.

So now you have read “The Rest of the Story”.

Take notice and govern yourselves accordingly.

“….AND THAT’S THE WAY I SEE IT!”©

Copyright 2010, R.V.Pascetta, all rights reserved

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3 Comments

  • After receiving a gracious phone call from my friend who inspired this article, I am pleased to have had the chance to exchange views candidly and honestly. In fact, I can better understand now his initial reaction to comment, "The good old days.", along with the emotions that it brought back due to his personal experiences.

    It is interesting how easily we can misunderstand each other without clear and honest communication. There is a saying: "The knife cuts, but it cannot cut itself; the eye sees, but it cannot see itself." We are truly not able to see things through another persons eyes, nor can we even see ourselves as others see us. So, if we sincerely look to grow as individuals and value our friendships and other positive human interaction, then it is important for each of us to listen with our hearts, not just with our ears and minds.

    I think that it is warranted to apologize to my friend for not being more aware of his difficult experiences back when he was very young and when I was in the position to help improve those situations for him and all the young athletes in similar circumstances. We can't go back in time but we can gain insight and wisdom from both our shortcomings and our accomplishments.

    I am encouraged and positively motivated to find that my friend is anything but a "victim", as it had seemed to me at first. That he continues to be a such great martial artist and a great individual. It is inspiring to see that he has taken even the situations that he found challenging and used them to motivate himself toward very positive goals. The successes of his life are clear evidence of that. These are all the markings of a true "Champion", far beyond any tournament or sport competition.

    As I stated at the end of my article, I wish him and all those who are close to him all the very best. Now, this is truly, "The Rest of the Story."

  • Mel Roberts says:

    For most of us back then, the UMARA circuit was all we knew, the competition level was high and often fierce. Some of us may have felt we didnt always get a fair shake at times but it was the "nature of the beast" of tournament competition, as some of us later learned and that it wasnt personal for the most part. I'm sure someone can bring up a certain horror story from their own perspective. As a competitor I would often be also called upon to judge and referee and I quickly learned the difficulties of that position, perceptions of me by the competitor's teachers/coaches, the competitiors themselves and their parents when the point didnt go their way, often let their opinions known in no uncertain terms. I certainly wasnt a member of the "Inner circle" but how quickly the roles have changed. From accuser to accused.

    Sometimes I just plain blew a call, my score range wasnt consistant with the rest of the judges or I just didnt like what I was watching. There were missteps in judging made to me as a competitor and made by me as a judge during my tournament period. It was a learning and growing period for all of us. Later when I ventured out to test the waters in other venues and circuits I realised my prior experiences proved valuable in doing well and that "Home" wasnt exactly the worst place to be after all.

  • Thanks, Junie. for your candid and honest input. From my perspective, I also experienced much of the same. After somewhat “suffering” some inequities as an avid competitor on the open circuit in the USA and other foreign countries I realized that many of the same fallacies of sport karate existed wherever I traveled to one degree or another.

    Like you and many other athletes I attempted to develop strategies to counter-balance those negative elements. In our own area, rather than focusing on the negative I sincerely attempted to influence change so that the next generation of competitors would have a better experience. To some degree I believe those attempts (with much help from many others) were successful. Obviously, none of it was anywhere near perfect, regardless of our good intentions. Like you stated, the was the “nature of the beast”, and the real “beast” simply being “humanity”, sometimes at its best and sometimes at its worst.

    Like you, I also found myself under some pretty harsh scrutiny, especially when I took a strong stand and was in a prominent leadership role. I am a pretty “hard-headed” individual so I stood up against most of it, but not without paying a price. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all so positive being the “target” for anyone who was disgruntled due to either a legitimately perceived error or simply because he/she had lost a match. Being in the role of judge, referee, Chief Referee, Arbitrator, or even Tournament Promoter certainly had i ts trying moments.

    With time I ultimately became “burned out” and eventually needed to take a break. So after 10 years of giving my best to UMARA, promoting multiple events, and attempting to bring cutting edge “best practices” back to our area, I resigned as Director for UMARA and gave my best wishes to all involved. I also stopped organizing tournaments and it wasn’t until many years later that I brought back the America Cup when there was an opportunity to do it in the Core States Center and have it televised on Comcast SportsNet.

    In my mind there came the time for someone else to take up the mantle of leadership and the tremendous workload/responsibility that leadership actually represented. You can evaluate for yourself if those who followed in my role did a better job to advance UMARA or not. Regardless, I can appreciate anyone’s sincere effort to serve others.

    On further reflection, one of the things that I believe made competition under UMARA unique and sometimes less appealing to some athletes during the era when I was one of the Directors was a strong attempt by us to apply the rules and procedures strictly and consistently. Although that was still done imperfectly, I found that in other areas of the country there was more of a tendency by the leaders to compromise and “adjust” to avoid conflicts with the participants. As a result it also made it less appealing to some athletes who were used to “negotiating” when they believed they were judged incorrectly.

    Again, that still doesn’t excuse actual mistakes or sometimes when a judge actually cheated or made a biased call. However, I do feel this set us apart. In my opinion, that was a more professional way of running competitions. Just like when we recently saw some pretty obvious mistakes by the judges in professional baseball and in World Cup soccer. It was sad, disappointing, and seemingly unfair to the athletes. However, you didn’t see any disruption of the sport, just an acknowledgment of errors and a commitment to try to improve the judging and/or judges. In martial arts, and in my opinion, we need to do more of the same.

  • Dave Pardue says:

    Hi ric, It's been a long time. I was reading your article on your site, amen brother nothing has changed but time… I remember those days its what i call the "me me people" it's all about them. I hope all is well with you im living in north carolina now. I hope to talk to you soon.

    your friend,
    Dave Pardue

    • rpascetta says:

      Hi Dave,
      It's great to hear from you again. I'm hope all is going well with you. I will send you and email with my direct email address and phone number so we can catch up when you have the chance. GOD bless and take care.

  • Dr. Zulfiqar says:

    Hi, Master Ric,
    I have read your articles it was nice, Dr. Zulfiqar (Chief Editor & Publisher International Martial Arts Times Magazine)