5 Sociopathic Martial Arts Instructor Personalities

5 sociopathic martial arts instructors

No matter what anyone tells you, this is a personality-driven business. For that reason (and in light of recent events), I think it’s time to discuss sociopathic martial arts instructor personalities…

Although I’m sure you can come up with dozens (nay, hundreds) of horrifying examples based on your own experiences (every black belt has a crazy instructor story, it seems) I have narrowed the field down to just five sociopathic martial arts instructor personalities that you should never emulate.

Obviously this article is satirical in nature, but seriously – if you catch yourself even remotely emulating one of these personalities, please check yourself immediately. (In other words, we already have enough jackasses in this industry. So, don’t be a jackass, okay?)

Now, let’s examine the 5 sociopathic martial arts instructor personalities that will ruin your school, in the hopes that we can avoid becoming like (or becoming a student of) one of these jokers.

The Five Sociopathic Martial Arts Instructor Personalities

The Vituperator

crazy karate teacher

“Whatever you’re doing, just assume you’re doing it wrong and save us both some time, okay?”

Ah, The Vituperator. No matter what you do, it’s wrong, even if you’re most certain it’s right, and especially if you’re doing it better than your instructor.

A typical exchange with The Vituperator personality type might go something like this:

“Your stance is too high.” (Student bends knees more to get lower.) “Still too high.” (Student bends knees even more, until her belt tips are touching the ground.) “Are you lazy? Lower!” (Student bends her knees so low, she is now sitting on the floor.) “Too low! We’re not doing monkey kung-fu! Get it right!” (Instructor walks off, leaving student with a puzzled expression. She is now wishing she’d opted for the Zumba class at the Y.)

Incidentally, you will almost never see The Vituperator working out with his students. This practice (or lack thereof) often spawns the sub-class of The Vituperator, the Fat Master. And while benevolent Fat Masters have occasionally been found in the wild, they are to be avoided if possible.

The Disciplinarian

sociopathic martial arts instructor

“What is your major malfunction, white belt?”

Closely related to The Vituperator, The Disciplinarian hands out push-ups like they’re going out of style. Pacing back and forth in front of her class with her hands clasped behind her back, she adopts the demeanor and vocal expressions of GySgt Hartman from Full Metal Jacket whenever she steps onto the dojo floor.

“Are you eye-balling me? Don’t you eyeball me! Eyes front! Focus! Stop! What are you doing? Drop and give me twenty! Yes, the whole class – are you deaf? Let’s go!”

Watching her students like a hawk, she is always looking for something wrong or out of place, instead of reinforcing what her students are doing right. Along with The Vituperator, she turns out the worst students you’ll ever see compete at a tournament. However, her students always seem to bring home medals, since the other black belts are afraid she’ll cause a scene if her students lose.

The Badass

Master Ken

This specimen is something to behold when seen in the wild. Arms crossed. Eyes squinted. Slight sneer. Attitude aloof. Everyone on Facebook, YouTube, and fighting in the UFC is wrong, because that shit will get you killed on the street, in prison, on the elementary school playground, etc.

The Badass often will enjoy beating on their students in the sparring ring (“Gotta’ toughen you up – there’s no ref in the street!”), but a large number of Badass instructors exhibit Fat Master attributes and behaviors. Fat Masters who also exhibit Badass traits will often have stories of their earlier exploits that start with “Back in Bagram…” or “Back in the ‘Nam…” or “Back in the Golan Heights”, although some will favor the less specific but equally badass sounding “Back in the Hood…” as well.

Typically, these personality types have less than a dozen active students training with them, but the type appears to be cross-breeding with The Cult Master (see below) in recent years. This has led to the proliferation of large schools containing hundreds of students paying good money to have their groins kicked and eyes gouged during full-contact training with no protective gear (and that’s just during the warm-up).

The Nebulous Master

"What is the sound of one wallet emptying?"

“What is the sound of one wallet emptying?”

Student: “Sir, I have a question.”

NM: “Speak… or not.”

Student: “What would you do if you were attacked by more than one person?”

NM: “What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the woods, does a bear fart in response? Who can fathom the mysteries of whether MSG really causes migraines? These are all answers you must seek on the path to knowledge.”

Student: “Oookaaay… But about that multiple attacker scenario, I really want to know because we have street gangs moving into our area, and my neighbor got jumped a few weeks back. He’s in the hospital now. They say he may not come out of his coma.”

NM: Smiles beatifically. Sips his organic passion fruit green sibilant dragon tea. Wonders if he can get an early tee time after his tea time.

Obviously, The Nebulous Master has issues. Even so, any instructor who practices public navel-gazing and who can memorize a few fortune cookie sayings is guaranteed a steady stream of students, and income, for life.

The Cult Master

cult master

“Later, I will allow you make a nutritious soup from my perspiration. It’s full of my chi, you know.”

Thought to be extinct following the advent and ascendance of YouTube in modern culture, this instructor personality type has experienced a recent resurgence. Cult Master types are known to share traits with all of the above personality types and sub-types, making them incredibly difficult to identify.

However, one has only to look to the instructor’s students in order to identify The Cult Master. Observation of one or more of the following student characteristics are considered indicative of Cult Master status:

  • The instructor has a bevy of students teaching long hours at his or her school, for free; students also pay full tuition, and may be observed detailing the instructor’s Aston Martin, walking his bichon frise, or picking up his dry cleaning –
  • Students of the opposite (or same) sex are required to give the instructor “shiatsu massage” in the back office, or in the Cult Master’s hotel room when traveling –
  • If the student questions any of the Cult Master’s actions or behavior, the student is publicly berated and labeled with a suitably meaningless derogatory term (“negative person”, “97-percenter”, “truther/birther/conspiracy theorist”, “Nickelback fan”, etc.)  –

A surprisingly high percentage of these personality types either have a criminal record, or are known to associate with criminal types. Meaning that, if a potential student were only to do a background check on their instructor (or perhaps check their name versus the public sex offender registry for their state), they could easily avoid falling prey to Cult Master types.

Alas, most students who join the personality cults of Cult Master types simply assume that their instructor is acting in their best interests when they hand them their paychecks each week in exchange for a small subsistence allowance, or when the Cult Master has them ironing his uniforms, or while they’re giving their “master” his morning foot massage and pedicure. It’s usually only after the student catches their “master” sleeping with his wife (for the third time, because the first two episodes were obviously accidental) that they wake up and leave the cult.

– – –

Well, that wraps up today’s article…

Have a crazy instructor story you want to share?

Feel free to post it below!


  1. Jason Belisle on March 7, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Loved this. Actually made want to listen to some Nickelback.

    Actually, through my years, I have seen most of these personalities.
    For a comedic article, this one contained a lot of truths…

  2. Mike Massie on March 12, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Thanks. BTW, tried to go to your site, but it didn’t come up. Let me know when it does, I’d like to see what you’re cooking up there.

  3. Harvey on June 5, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    I was about nineteen when I encountered this disgusting so called teacher. I left my kenpo training, and I was looking for something different. Well came across this guy through a friend and he had friend seeing black cats that weren’t there. Extremely strange, he kept trying this on me, and i never saw the black cat. This meditation stuff I was never interested in, I just wanted to know how to fight. Shortly there after I left, then come to find out years later he went to prison for sexually abusing I believe his niece. I met that little girl too, so very sad. It’s beyond words. I have since then had very good instructors. Oss

  4. Mike Massie on June 11, 2014 at 11:53 am

    A sad story, Harvey. Glad to know you got away from that person (and I use that term loosely).

  5. Nicholas Case on November 7, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Funny stuff, yeah there are real instructors out there like this, but when I hear students whine about instructors it also peeves me. Most people have an unrealistic ideology that instructors (or college professors, leaders in military, government officials, etc for that matter) should be above and beyond normal human failings. Instructors are still human and just because they aren’t your “snatch this pebble from my hand”, Jackie Chan/Jet Li Forbidden Kingdom, Zen master kind of instructors doesn’t mean they are not good at teaching martial arts. Most American students I have met will always find something about their instructor to cry about…even if the teacher IS amazing.

    One part I especially found funny is when it was stated the instructor decries about arts not working on the street, but then it goes on to whine about how the instructor eye gouges and groin kicks the person until the want to pass out….hahaha, hypocritical is always funny.

  6. Roger on November 17, 2014 at 11:48 am

    All I’m going to say is if your not good at interacting with PEOPLE or the Masses you should not TEACH no mater how bad you want too. What it comes down to is Respect for people not abuse people are there to learn not there for you to break collar bones or elbows. They come to you cause they want INSTRUCTION and yearn to be taught not beaten, I understand you have to demo technique but hurting someone should never be the plan. i train with a guy who is a black belt and is younger and he is HORRIBLE with people I mean he terrorizes them he even went as far to say one session to the group he could make all your technques fail and it would make you wanna quit the collective group just look at him like “YOUR A JERK” begin better at people in an art does not mean you boast or glote or show off it means, you should be what a person aspires to become. This guy has no buisness teaching anyone I have a bet going he’ll end up getting assualt charges pressed on him, heck he even comes to class telling us how he almost got into a fight on the way to class we all look at him like your an idiot. Why do people like this instruct they have no buisness doing so.

  7. Dennis on July 8, 2016 at 11:49 am

    We are all human and have our faults. Masters/sifu are not immune to human failings. The master/sifu is in a position of authority and has the task of teaching.

    To have respect received from a student it must also be given. Then understanding of the art can take place in a give and receive flow.

    I am from a small town with only one school. The sifu is extremely experienced in his art. However, he has a tendency to being Dr Jeckel or Mr Hyde, Demonstrating both Vitupetator and Badass. This makes for a hostile learning environment, making it difficult to learn when Mr Hyde comes to class.
    My advice to the student. Know who you are and what you want from martial arts. Be aware and not let any authority figure move you from your center of calm.
    Learn what you can from them, and know they are also human.

  8. Deflector on March 28, 2018 at 10:57 am

    I had a sociopathic kung fu instructor. He was very skilled and had a very good understanding of the art but he was nuts. He would get jealous of his students’ girlfriends, and extremely jealous if a student got a compliment rather than him.
    I remember a girl in the class complimented me on how developed my triceps were, and here comes the instructor saying angrily, “You should see MY triceps. Mine look better than yours.”
    A female student once complimented me on a kick I threw and here comes the teacher, VERY angrily, “MY kicks are better than yours are. I’M the TEACHER…not you.”
    But I stayed because the instruction was the best I’ve had.

  9. Z on November 20, 2018 at 3:46 am

    …what about the Authoritarian? As a fairly liberal/progressive guy, I clash badly with this one Sensei/4th Dan in Karate [I’d prefer not to say which school]. I’ve never had a problem with anyone else. Just. Her. Most advice says “just leave”, however she’s only one of about a dozen or more senior black belts. She has no sense of humour [I joke around with everyone else-even the head of the dojo, but not her]; she’s straight up-and-down, black-and-white, no imagination, formal to-a-fault, authoritarian and you cannot talk back to her. Ever. Which of course I do from time to time-making her storm off ’cause she just can’t BELIEVE someone would do that, ’cause she ****** me off. She’s THAT family member; you never want to visit. And god help her children, I would hate to be one of them.

  10. Mike Massie on November 20, 2018 at 8:25 am

    Hah! For sure, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Martial artists who take themselves way too seriously are among my least favorite kind. Demand that I call you “shihan” or “master” and I’m definitely going to call you by your first name.

  11. Alan Cicco MA on January 12, 2019 at 4:13 am

    Sorry for being late to the game in just now reading this article. A friend just posted a link to it, but now I know your site and can follow.

    What I always love about articles like this that talk about a real topic but in a fun, if not an almost mocking way, is the excuse making up front. People will agree but start off with “people are human, etc., etc.” Funny how it already shows how folks are institutionalized into accepting these antics right off the bat instead of calling it out. A sad reflection of the level at which it happens. Yea people have personality quirks, but that is NOT what you’re talking about. This is blatant, up front narcissistic manifestations. You can really take these nasty traits and overlay them onto religious leaders in the same fashion. I actually did a podcast on this and explained examples using martial arts teachers and religious teachers because they cross so many similar grounds. It is that cult-like mindset that is formed with their personal fiefdoms and domains they create to be the “god” in.

  12. Mike Massie on January 12, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Agreed, Alan. There’s no excuse for this sort of behavior.

  13. Ericah on May 5, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    I can’t figure why my chief sensei dislikes me. He treats me differently from the other women in class. He is not nice to me at all. He makes comments like “I’m about to say something that I might regret”. Teaches in an angrily tone. I’m a 6th kyu and am training for 5th kyu. I struggled with my techniques to get the foot work “perfect” What really bothers me is this black belt has a friend that joined the dojo and she started January of this year and is now a 5th kyu. She got a one on one “personal training ” from her friend which is bullshit!! When I called it out the chief instructor in a email cuz I needed a break, he says I’m incorrect! I called out favoritism among a couple ranks! How can people be so blind as to what goes on? If you want successful students offer equal help or have some type of advocacy among them so they don’t quit! Now I know why they can’t keep 6th kyu.

  14. Mike Massie on June 20, 2019 at 6:17 am

    Find another school. If you’re not clicking with your instructor, it’s time to move on.

  15. J.R. McClain on October 30, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    “Liberate Yourself From Classical Karate” by Bruce Lee

    I was going to write a personal anecdote but changed my mind to save time: IF YOU ASK YOUR SENSEI A PRACTICAL SELF-DEFENSE TEAM like “How To Stop A ‘John Wick’ Trained Bad Guy From Taking Out Your Family?” and his or her answer is “Do your kata,” then get the hell out of there and join MMA or Jeet Kune Do.

    You’re Welcome.

  16. Andy on October 4, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    These are not the behaviors that make me wonder about karate cults. It’s when karate teachers try to intervene with who you are friends with or tell students they can’t post political opinions that are not there own. That seems right out of the pages of Sun Yun Moon who made his moonies campaign for the likes of Nixon. And while I wouldn’t want a kid training with a predator just because a teacher has a criminal background doesn’t mean they can’t teach. If someone steals cars at one time doesn’t mean they can’t teach. If someone was a predator or con man than I would agree they are to be avoided.

  17. James on July 23, 2021 at 11:46 pm

    I’m glad I found this article. I’m a bit more senior at age 39 and have been dipping into kickboxing, taekwondo and muay thai classes since I was 34. So, I’m not the best but I’ve trained in Italy, the UK, Thailand and once even in Vienna. As a result I’ve seen a few coaches from different martial arts. I’ve had ones I’ve chimed with and others that initially seemed a good fit but then over time revealed themselves to be lacking something either in knowledge or in their character. Currently, I’m training at a local kickboxing gym and I’m struggling to enjoy the instructors personality for a few reasons. I’m even considering moving on. Here are some of his red flags

    1. He has a sign up that prohibits the wearing of pink gloves in his gym. With no irony he flat out refuses to let people use gloves that contain any pink in their design. To me this is absurdly weird behaviour that possibly hides something either deeply insecure about him or worse, something traumatic from his past. Anyway, I’ll avoid psuedo psychological assessments for now. But, how does someone retain customers when certain colours are off-limits?
    In fact his obsession with what people are wearing even extends to passing comment on people wearing tight Under Armour-style rash-guard gear. This despite the fact this gear is widely adopted, normalised and optimised for all sporting endeavours. I once wore a sleeveless t-shirt that apparently revealed too much of my traps and sides, made only worse by the fact it was off-pink/beige. He was not impressed and cast aspersions about my sexuality. I said, “if you wanted a kiss, you just have to ask” with a smile. This left him a bit flailing and lost for a good comeback. I was left wondering if I wanted to give money to someone so – let’s just say it – so homophobic. Do I want to train in a place a potential gay customer would potentially feel shunned from?

    2. He contradicts his own technique advice. Now there are multiple ways to throw any strike and some will work better for certain body types. Others just need practice and the right application. Others are simply best suited for certain situations. This guy seems to contradict me just for the sake of being right all the time. “Place your front kick in the stomache. Don’t raise your knee. Just quickly jam in there”. Next practice, “your knee isn’t coming up enough. You won’t get any power like that.” Again, I think he just has to be right. He knows I have muay thai experience in Thailand and I think he’s a bit insecure. Either way, this has happened a few times with other techniques. I think I realised he was a bit full of bs when said he didn’t like MMA because there was “no skill in it. It’s just all this (mimics hammerfists from top position)”. That’s just the most crass assessment I’ve ever seen. He then said “I could teach MMA but I don’t want to”. I was left in stunned silence.

    3. Some of his non-elite students have poor technique. There’s one girl who’s been training with him consistengly for over a decade and she cannot throw a proper roundhouse. She can’t even switch for a kick. Now, I’m not the best at any technique. My flexibility is lacking and I struggle to land head kicks. But, a mid-kick should be there for anyone with even a year’s worth of experience. There’s no pivot or chambering of her kick. No power. No torque. It’s like a dying fish sliding off the side of a boat. This shows he only focusses on favourites or those he sees as worthy of his time and attention. For me, that’s unforgivable coaching or lack thereof.

    Okay, so those are some of the big ones but other things like not saying hello or goodbye back to me are big indicators I’m not gelling with this guy at all. I’m old enough now to trust my instincts on who is a good fit for me. And I’m not saying his sessions can’t be fun or instructive. From what I can tell he gets the most out of his students. He can def fight well. But, I guess I’m too old to put up with bad character. The bummer for me is I’ve got a choice to make. Do I put aside my misgivings and just enjoy the training/ignore his behaviour or just leave it and lose my martial arts fix? After all, theres only so many gyms in the area and I’ve already left another one for similar reasons.

  18. Enzo on August 1, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    I Trained with a Kyokushin Karate instructor who in fact is really good. Not much Kyokushin instructors around my way, and to be honest I’ve been training Martial arts for a long time. Primarily Muay Thai, Judo and BJJ are my main experiences also Shotokan Karate. I went to this instructor and he well known for being a knock down king. He was really weird towards me not sure why, for example he told all the students and myself to go as far as possible to do the split, (mind you I’m capable of doing a full split) as I did the full split and leaned forward comfortably he goes behind me and yanks my gi belt to pull me out of the split, felt like it was uncalled for if he did state in his instruction to go far down as possible. So after that we went on to do round house kicking drills. I’m not a know it all I performed many round houses in Muay thai just as well in shotokan karate, he was on me to correct my form, which I don’t mind I can take criticism well, but I did the round house no different from his brown belt and yellow belt students. Not sure what his beef with me was.

  19. Mike Massie on August 10, 2021 at 9:26 am

    He probably learned it from his instructors. Kyokushin can be a very militant style, so the mistreatment doesn’t surprise me. They turn out some excellent fighters though.

  20. Mike Massie on August 10, 2021 at 9:29 am

    The martial arts industry seems to attract people who are insecure. It sounds like this guy isn’t dangerous, just annoying. If it’s the only decent gym in your area, you might just have to put up with his quirks and character flaws to train. Once you get to a certain level, you can always find other serious martial artists to train with on your own.

  21. David on February 3, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    J.R. McClain on October 30, 2019 at 10:00 pm
    “Liberate Yourself From Classical Karate” by Bruce Lee

    I was going to write a personal anecdote but changed my mind to save time: IF YOU ASK YOUR SENSEI A PRACTICAL SELF-DEFENSE TEAM like “How To Stop A ‘John Wick’ Trained Bad Guy From Taking Out Your Family?” and his or her answer is “Do your kata,” then get the hell out of there and join MMA or Jeet Kune Do.

    You’re Welcome.
    I had to repost that early response because I fell out of my chair laughing. My old instructor, who was supposedly pretty good ‘back in the day in the hood’ used to say things like that: “If you want to be better at self-defense do your kata.” I was always thinking, “Wouldn’t picking up a brick or 2×4 or whatever be more effective?” I realized his claim of a ‘Self-Defense System’ (even though his style was considered a pretty tough training style) was a joke. But we left out one style: The Grandparent Instructor, you know, the one who gives out belts like candy to his/her ‘grandkids. “

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