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Martial Arts Myths & Misconceptions

Black Belts Having To Register As Deadly Weapons

By Jonathan Maberry

This is one of the oldest American martial arts legends, and there is absolutely no basis or reality in it. First off, there is no department or process within the U.S. government to regulate martial arts, which means there is no instrument in place to identify persons practicing fighting arts, and no governmental method by which practitioners can be evaluated. Such a feat of regulation would cost millions, if not billions, and would be an invasion of civil rights. Actually there is not a country on earth where martial artists are required to register themselves as weapons, deadly or otherwise.

This myth has its roots in two different aspects of mid-20th century history. In post-World War II Japan traditional martial arts were made illegal, and records were kept of those persons who were experienced practitioners of the arts. This was a bit of anti-Japanese backlash following the war and lasted only a few years. It has not been repeated, and it never spread beyond the borders of Japan.

The other root is planted in the soil of the rich and often outrageous history of professional boxing. In the Joe Lewis era (the boxer, not the karate master), it was a common publicity stunt to have police on hand during a press conference to “register” the boxer as a deadly weapon. Understand, this was just a publicity stunt and carried no more legal weight than receiving the Key to the City actually means you can open any door with it and just walk in.

In court cases involving violent confrontations, lawyers and judges may advise the jury to bear in mind a person’s martial arts, boxing, or military combat training when evaluating the facts of the case. For example, in the Matter of the Welfare of D.S.F., 416 N.W.2d 772 (Minn. App. 1988), the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant, who had "substantial experience in karate," was aware enough of the potential of his blows to deliberately break the plaintiff’s jaw. But that is a lot different from legally stating that the person in question is a registered or licensed “deadly weapon”.

Pat Priore, a police chief from Pennsylvania and former SWAT team hand-to-hand instructor, remarked: “I have been in law enforcement for 16 years and I have never observed this practice in my department nor any other department. Occasionally that old bit of nonsense pops up...but we in the law enforcement community regard it as a joke. I’m amazed that so many people still believe it.”

What I find truly disturbing, however, is that I have encountered a number of students who showed me “registration cards” they’d gotten from their instructors. These instructors, mind you, charged them a hefty fee to be registered; and the students who, with good will, believed what their instructors had told them, completely believed that they were now registered as deadly weapons. Not only is this fraud, but it is dishonorable behavior as well.


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About the Author:

Jonathan Maberry is the award-winning author of over 700 articles as well as several books, including Ultimate Jujutsu Principles and Practices and The Martial Arts Student Logbook. He holds an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th dan in Hapkido, is a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and is co-founder of the COP-Safe program. Visit his website here.


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martial arts myths, martial arts history, black belts hand registry, registering hands of black belts


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