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Propaganda does not deceive people; it
merely helps them to deceive themselves.
                          Eric Hoffer

Cult: Master Claims "Superior Knowledge"

You should slam on the brakes when you see a combination of a) one ultimate individual, b) his supposed revealed knowledge on an obscure (and often unprovable) subject and c) that this knowledge supersedes everyone else's knowledge on the subject.

These are the foundations for the facade that the cult leader operates behind. Through his mastery of the subject, he is the portal to the TRUTH™ Whether it is because the guru had a revelation, or because he studied for years under an often obscure -- and more often dead -- grand master, the  nobody knows more about this subject than he.  

Now on the surface this doesn't sound unreasonable. Someone can be an acknowledged expert on a subject, usually of very small and specialized fields. But, when you compare how cult leaders make this claim with how it it done in a professional field is when you realize what is wrong. With cults it is a subject that nobody has ever heard of outside the cults advertising sphere. For example, while people have heard of the martial arts, this exact style was usually unknown until the Master brought it to this country. The problem with that is that it is difficult to check if is it known in the province, much less the country it is supposedly from. What's wrong with this is that it doesn't allow for other instructors within the same system (unless of course they don't teach the "true" system). Usually though, the more secret system the better, as it reduces that kind of competition.  

But even in a busy field, it is common to find this isolation. Something separates the cult's system from all others, usually by claiming it is a style founded by the Master,  or it is a family style his father/uncle and passed to the master or passed to him by the grandmaster in the old country . Although falling under the umbrella of a general style (such as silat or kali) this makes it special.

But let's look at what's wrong with this idea realistically. Let's use lawyers as a comparative example. First off, there are many kinds of legal practice. In fact, the different areas are each so big and complex that most lawyers only specialize in one, maybe two areas. You would not want a family law attorney defending you in a criminal case, nor would you want a criminal attorney to be doing the work of a patent attorney; each specialization has drastically different requirements. The field is just too large and complex for any one person to know everything.

The same can be said about the martial arts, the subject is just too big and diversified. However, with a cult leader, he is somehow magically endowed, not only with an understanding of his system, but all martial arts and anything associated with them. By knowing his unique art, he knows everything about martial arts, self-defense, fighting, legal aspects, history, training and psychology.  Furthermore he can -- and will --  tell you why his system is superior to all other martial arts. This would be like an attorney, claiming that he knew all about these other legal specialties and they were all inferior to his. A lawyer graduating from Berkeley would never claim that he was the only one who understood the true nature of his legal specialty. And yet such claims are routinely accepted in MA/SD/RBSD/WSD cults.

Furthermore, while there are different fields in law, nobody claims to teach their unique family style of lawyering. No one expects people to accept it, much less pay to be trained in that unique system. There are lots of lawyers in that specialty. And they do not all spring from the same lineage or splinter groups off it. Compare this to these family martial art styles that claim uniqueness.

Another  point in this analogy is that in the legal profession there are not only established standards for anyone in the profession, but there are multiple institutions of accreditation; not just one source. There are many prestigious law universities, but even non-ivy league schools have quality instruction and produce fine lawyers. Law schools do not sneer at each other and claim that they teach the only true version of the law. Nor would they claim their version of the law was better than others.

Whereas a cult leader not only dismisses other instructors/schools, but insists that his lineage/training is the true version of how it is done.(1) He will often claim other similar styles in a general category are inferior to his (e.g. his version of silat or wing chun is the ultimate and all others are inferior). Unfortunately such obnoxious behavior can, on occasions, result in the Master getting his ass kicked by someone from another cult (Remember Koln Germany?). Realistically though the old days of  actual "dojo wars" went the of the dinosaur in the 1970's. But in the 21st century version, most cult leaders encourage their students to do most of the badmouthing of other schools. They egg it on with comments in private to their "students" and then turn a blind eye to their student's conduct when dealing with other martial artists. This allows them to distance themselves from responsibility by claiming it is their students doing it all. When in fact they are orchestrating it.(2)

In super small, obscure arts with ultra-competitive marketing it is not unusual for Masters'  to even claim that other individuals -- who are capable in their own system -- got that way because they studied under the Master, or the Master's Grandmaster. This is a very ham handed attempt at undermining credibility of other instructors and adding to their own. Not only does it imply that the other instructor is only competent because he is of the Master's lineage, but it is a feeble attempt to place oneself higher up in the pecking order. As this would make the Master senior to the other instructor in that lineage. How ludicrous this approach  is can be demonstrated by simply putting it in the context of  law. It is like one lawyer claiming even though he is inferior, that the only reason another lawyer had any skill was because he had graduated from Harvard two years after the first lawyer did.

The final point about the difference between a cult expertise and legitimate expertise is that while there are people in the legal profession who are acknowledged as the leaders in a particular area of law, it is not self-proclaimed, nor is it exclusionary. Defense law is a broad category that many people also have experience in. Mastery is acknowledged from outside sources who practice the same profession. It is not just claimed by the individual. That is to say that other lawyers acknowledge an expert as knowing more about the subject than they do. What's more this skill is demonstrable and has a proven track record. For example, love him or hate him, Gerry Spense is acknowledged as one of the leading defense lawyers in the US, because he has never lost a criminal trial. That is not a self-proclaimed title, it is an acknowledged accomplishment among equals.

A very important consideration about this claim of mastery is that in the legal field you don't just claim to be the master, you prove it. Again and again (e.g. Spense's court record). That is to say in law, you step outside of the class room and into the court room. Where you will face an equally competent attorney.

Whereas cult leaders are very insular (which is a cornerstone of authoritarianism) and elite. Cult leaders never step outside the safety of their school to demonstrate their skills in actual situations. Oh there are stories of his great past victories, but he does nothing now except among his own people. This is why the Master proclaims himself Maha Twan Grand Guru of an obscure fighting form that nobody has ever heard of. The specific style is so obscure that there is no one else who can come forth and debunk his claim of mastery of this style. That is the beauty of secret, obscure fighting arts that have been handed down through families or secret warrior societies; although there is no historical documentation to prove they are legitimate, there is no real way that they can be fully debunked. Nobody here can definitely say it is false and the people who could say that it is false are thousands of miles away and speak a different language.

 It is important to realize the influence of "superior knowledge" in cults. It is a cornerstone of a cult leader's appeal . As pointed out earlier the initial information must be demonstrably effective on a basic level. This gives it credence. The grand master of an ancient warrior fighting system that nobody has ever heard of must have a degree of physical skill or attributes that give the impression of skill (e.g. speed, strength or size). Not to put too fine of a point on it, but if you have taught people how to attack in a certain way, there is a good chance you will be able to easily counter such attacks. So the ability to defeat one's own students is not a reliable measurement of skill.

The second aspect  of superior knowledge is that it appeals to a very specific type of mindset. That is usually someone who is seeking not to improve themselves per se, but who is attracted to the idea of being the elite. In many ways, being the possessor of superior knowledge is the easy way of being better than everyone else. Not that it is true, but to the mind that is unsure of its own value, it seems like a good way to boost your own ego.

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(1) An interesting secondary point to this idea is despite claims of massive training, actual documentation -- that is reliable -- is either lacking entirely or extremely scarce. For example despite a large number of supposed Ph.Ds in the martial arts, most of these doctorates come from defunct and/or unaccredited universities. Some groups are actually handing out Ph.Ds as though they were rank advancement. This lack of proof, other than verbal is a serious danger sign. Even a large collection of photos would help prove long association, but this is just as often missing. Someone who is claiming to have been adopted into the grandmaster's family -- which is where he received all these secret teaching -- ought to have years worth of photos of them doing mundane things family gatherings and holidays. Year of associating with someone tends to give you a collection of memorabilia and everyday stories. Despite claims of years of close association and training, these little proofs are often lacking. Return to text

(2) Perhaps the most subtle form of this "diss'ing" of other styles and instructors is, when someone mentions them, the response a sneering "If you want to waste your time learning that useless stuff instead of something that really works, go ahead"The contempt and dismissal of other systems is obvious to the student (as is what the opinion of the student will be if he does choose to "waste his time").What this approach has not done however, is crossed the line into interfering with another business, and by extension illegal/unfair business practices. This approach allows the cult to dissuade students from learning other information while still being able to claim that they "encouraged" students to go elsewhere. Although more subtle, it is still a form of coercion. Return to text



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