Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beware of martial arts politics!!

It is a sad truth that some of us have been the victims of martial arts politics. It is a hurtful and disappointing experience which can destroy friendships and damage organizations. Below I will document some of the literature and information that helped me personally make sense out of some of what I was seeing and how best to make the right decisions. If I came away from my experiences learning one important lesson, it was “judge people by their actions, not their words.”

Ego and money--pride and greed--are the very roots of politics in the martial arts. --- The Evolution of Martial Arts Politics by Gary Gabelhouse

Comments: If I had to choose the words to best describe the origin of the politics I personally witnessed in the martial arts: they would be EGO and MONEY. Beware of instructors that: 1) too often ask for extra cash beyond the normal tuition and expected equipment/testing fees – and 2) seem more focused on jockeying for position, recognition, and rank/status within the organization than the instruction and growth of their own students. If you ever hear your teacher say about himself, “A man of my stature…” or “I am such a humble person….” then I advise you to kindly walk away.

Some groups only want people that are needy and naive, so that the teacher can be kept up on a pedestal like a cult leader. --- Martial Arts Pros & Cons 1 by Terry Pollard

Comments: A good teacher, truly interested in the growth and well-being of his pupils, should always want his students to succeed. He should support and encourage them, especially once the students become teachers themselves in order to spread the art. If you encounter an instructor that continually fails to maintain a healthy relationship with his own black belts/teachers, then I advise looking elsewhere for instruction. It usually indicates an ego problem with the head instructor – one that is threatened by his own student’s successes and growth.

Heavily intertwined with martial arts cults is demanding that you adhere to either other culture's standards of behavior or to a "warrior ideal." In the more common cults it is a combination of both… What is important to notice is what is being demanded is that you adhere to the Master's interpretation of those standards, not the actual standards themselves. --- Martial Arts Cults: Authoritarian Personality by Marc MacYoung

Comments: (The above quote comes from a very enlightening article.) Beware of teachers that continually tell you what the headmaster wants or thinks – or what a person that truly understood the “Way of the Warrior” would do. Very often, such instructors are using their rank/status and connection to the headmaster to manipulate you into doing what THEY desire (often for very selfish reasons involving their ego and/or greed). If something doesn’t seem morally right (or legal for that matter!) then trust your instincts and do the right thing (which might mean saying NO to your teacher). As they say, the truth has no agenda and will set you free.

Not all instructors deserve loyalty. GIRI (Japanese for sense of duty) is a reciprocal obligation, a two-way street. Although you carry your instructor’s ON (obligation) for the training he provides, he carries your ON for your unwavering loyalty. When an instructor dishonors himself and his students, that cancels their obligation to him. --- Living the Martial Way by Forrest E. Morgan.

Comments: Beware of instructors that feel the need to repeatedly announce that students must respect their teacher and be loyal. You see such instructors often ingratiating themselves with their teacher (in order gain favor) or setting up their own students to repeat such behavior in front of you so that you will learn the “proper” way to revere and worship your instructor. True leaders serve others and therefore gain loyal followers and respect. Demanding respect and loyalty and the brainwashing, bullying, and manipulation that often accompany such acts are something you should expect from a gang or a cult, not a martial arts school. Do not let your teachers take unfair advantage of you or warp you into a dependent and weak-minded individual by perverting the concepts of respect and loyalty. True loyalty and respect requires a sincere and mutually beneficial exchange.

The Martial Arts politicians hate the very idea of “Jita Kyoei” (which can be translated as ‘you and me shining together’). They despise those of us who believe that we can live and let live, be fair, and shine together. They don’t want to live together, they want to CONTROL OTHERS. --- We Should Remember Judo Philosophy by Phil Porter

Comments: Having grown up in the environment of higher education, and having been a college teacher and administrator myself, I can tell you that a good professor wants his students to succeed and make advancements in the field of study. A good professor doesn’t try to control his students and demand that, after graduation, they send a percentage of their earnings the professor each year to show respect. He also doesn’t tell the students where they can or cannot work, who they should and should not communicate with, or restrict what they are allowed to teach and research in their own name and career. Good professors don’t do that…And neither should good martial arts instructors.

The student can learn karate from his teacher, and at the same time the student can learn a lot about life. The student should try and listen to the lessons his teacher shares, but the student needs to understand he must find his own path to enlightenment. Trying to copy his teacher too much, trying to walk/talk/live/do karate/think/etc. exactly like his teacher, can only lead to the student either repeating his teacher’s mistakes, or becoming heartbroken when he realizes his teacher isn’t perfect.

It is like a finger pointing at a beautiful sunset. The teacher is the finger – not the beautiful sun. The sunset is the principle, and that is what the student should try and see. To only look at the finger means the student will miss the best part.

The teacher can teach karate to his students, and at the same time the teacher can continue to learn as well. Just as the student should not copy the teacher, the teacher must be able to allow the student to grow and understand in his own way. The student can only find enlightenment by following his own path. If the teacher focuses on teaching and learning the principles, then his goals are pure and he never feels lonely. If the teacher focuses too much on controlling the student, then the teacher limits his student’s growth and he risks being hurt and feeling lonely when it is time for the student to seek their own understanding.

It is like a student looking at his teacher pointing to a beautiful sunset. The teacher needs to let the student turn his head and look at the beauty of the sun when he is ready, and the teacher should not feel hurt or lonely when the student is no longer looking at his teacher. If looking at the beauty of the sunset is the goal, then the teacher must let his student look away and see for himself. Then the teacher can look back at the sun again and they can enjoy it together. If the teacher continues to look at the student, the teacher will also be missing the best part. --- The Teacher and Student Relationship by Robert Knott

Comments: In struggling with a deeply troubling situation and discussing it with one of my teachers, I wrote the above essay and presented it to that teacher to use on his website. I was attempting to make sense out of what the instructor was saying to me about the student and teacher relationship, and I was inspired by the scene in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon where Lee’s character is instructing his pupil and tells the young man to look at the moon --- not the finger pointing to it.

Closing comments: Studying the martial arts is a choice we make. We can choose the schools and teachers we desire to learn from. You will NEVER find the perfect teacher or style; but you can indeed find a dojo that is right for you. Studying the Martial Way is about becoming a better person – and my advice to you is to avoid teachers and schools that have forgotten this important lesson.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Developmental Diary: Part 3

Opening the dojo!

In March of 2009 we decided to open our dojo and begin offering classes in the martial arts. Although we offer other kinds of classes now (like English conversation classes), Black Belt English first began as a karate school. As any new business owner must feel, we were anxious on opening day. Would anyone come? How would people in Japan feel about an American teaching karate in their country? Would the students understand my directions in class since I will be speaking in English?

To let people know we were open, we placed some colorful flags out in front of the house near the driveway. We then hung a simple banner displaying our website address; but we soon found out Japanese people usually don’t search for anything by directly typing in an address like that. Following this revelation, we placed a larger banner on the long stretch of bushes indicating we were open and accepting applications and we also placed ads in the phone book and local paper!

I can’t tell you what it meant to us when our first family of three signed on as karate students. We were overjoyed and so thankful for their enthusiasm and desire to be a part of our new program. These people, and the others that followed in the early months of our opening, showed great courage in my opinion. They were willing to try something new … They were ready to try something different. It is because of these “starter students” that we were finally able to begin making our dreams of running a business and teaching martial arts in Japan come true.

At first, I taught the martial arts classes in much the same way I had in the United States. One immediate change was that I was only speaking English, so I had to work hard to refrain from directing students in Korean like I had in America (since my main teacher instructed that way). Many students were lost at first, not completely understanding my directions. This led to them being a bit shy and hesitant, so the classes seemed to have low spirit. They really did not look and sound like a good martial arts class – and this was my fault.

Listening carefully to my wife’s advice and continuing my research, I began to change my teaching style a bit. Less talking and more demonstrating. I also worked hard to keep my English simple and clear; and one of the best decisions I made was to start having the students repeat what I had just said so that they could retain the information.

In time, the Karate in English classes started to sound and look much better. Their confidence in their martial arts skills was increasing, and so was their confidence and ability in English. Our first ranks tests went quite well, and the students did a wonderful job of putting forth their best efforts during the examinations.

My school had started to grow…And I felt I was growing as a teacher…and as a martial artist!