Archive for association

A Question of Respect

Posted in martial arts, philosophy, teaching, training with tags , , , , on September 27, 2010 by serpentstaff

I’ve decided to post a question, because I’ve been too busy to write a good post in quite some time, and this trend might continue. It’s on one of my favorite subjects: Respect- what it is, what it means. Here’s the question:

Who shows greater respect for a superior–
1) a person who keeps quiet when he disagrees with important statements or decisions; or,
2) one who speaks up for what he believes is right?

[Note: I originally said “speaks up to defend an opposing view” — see comments.]

By ‘important,’ I mean to suggest issues or matters of principle that most people would consider worth speaking up about under ordinary circumstances. But in an authoritarian, hierarchical organization like a dojo or martial arts association, circumstances aren’t always ordinary.

Context matters, of course. I’m not talking about disagreeing with a superior when they are teaching class, because I think it’s clear in that context: Respect always requires keeping quiet unless called upon, and approaching the disagreement, if it’s really necessary, by asking polite questions, perhaps after class.

Let’s limit it to things like policy decisions or personnel matters, at the dojo or larger organizational level. If the boss makes an official statement or decides to implement a policy you believe is badly mistaken, is it respectful to speak up or to keep quiet? What if the boss has made it clear they don’t really care for advice?

I look forward to your thoughts.


On the difference between “friends” and “family”

Posted in martial arts, philosophy, teaching, training with tags , , , on May 9, 2009 by serpentstaff

Members of shared-interest groups and organizations often speak of themselves in terms of family and friendship. You might hear references to “the dojo family,” or “the [style] family” (fill in the name of yours). Attendees at annual trainings or tournaments look forward to seeing old friends (people they might know only through these events), and may describe the event as resembling a family reunion. It’s not uncommon to hear people say their dojo mates and training partners are their best and truest friends.

Shared interest, and especially shared long-term struggle, foster closeness. It’s entirely understandable when people come to speak and feel this way—and not at all wrong. But I want to point out a difference between friends and family; and I want to say that in my view, while family might be an apt metaphor for a dojo or style, no martial arts organization has any business being based on friendship.

Friendship is a fine thing, of course, and my argument is not with friendship, only with its being used as an organizing principle in dojos and other martial arts associations. I’ll admit up front that many if not most of my closest friends, at this stage in my life, are people I’ve come to know through the martial arts, so I could hardly be attacking the idea of dojo friendships.

The problem is, where friends are concerned, we’re selective. We include and exclude based on personal taste and whim. And that’s the difference between friends and family: We choose our friends. We don’t choose our family.

A family reunion is a place where all the kin are welcome—not just your favorite kin, but also the weird uncle, the drunken aunt, her son the parolee, the nieces and nephews screaming and fighting, and your great uncle with the offensive political views. They may sometimes be hard to take, but they’re family, so you listen politely, stick up for them against outsiders, and help them out when you can. And in some crazy way, you love them all.

Among family, you may have some that are also friends. Those are the cousins you see socially all year round—and maybe you speak ill of your less-favored relatives when you’re together. But if the the group of you have a picnic, it’s not a family reunion. That venerable event must be open to everyone in the clan.

If you have a falling out with a friend, you may cease to be friends, but if you fall out with your cousin, you’re still family. You can’t just have him kicked out of the clan. You may both behave badly, but you’re cousins whether you like it or not. That’s a strong motivation, when there’s conflict and disagreement, to find a way to deal with it.

“Blood is thicker than water.”

In a dojo, the “blood” is the desire to train, and everyone who has it is qualified to be family. But they need not be friends. To require them to be so is to depart from the purpose of training.

I knew a dojo where the students were the main source of drinking buddies for the head instructor. It got to be where if a prospective student didn’t fit the mold, they’d be discouraged—one way or another—from joining. If a long-standing member made a change in their social life and no longer played along, they’d be pressured to leave. If two members had a falling out, one would be “favored” and the other would be driven to quit. In my view, this was a social club, not a dojo, and had no business with its pretense to martial arts ideals, which include at a minimum respect for others and a dedication to the resolution of conflict.

I’ve seen cases in perfectly honest dojos where groups of students who enjoy each other turn against individuals they don’t like to train with, and pressure them in ways that make them want to quit. (Does it sound like I’m talking about children? I’m talking about adults.) A good instructor who sees this going on can take measures, but it’s subtle and can go unnoticed until it’s too late.

I’ve seen martial arts associations that have been—for periods of time—not meritocracies, but “amitocracies” (my term), ruled by groups of friends. The result was that favored people rose in stature, the disfavored were disrespected, the ambitious connived to make powerful friends, and the majority simply felt ignored and powerless. Good people left in frustration, and important organizational decisions were made with insufficient input.

The organizations I’ve described were acting on the wrong principle; they were organizing based on friendship. A dojo or style is better thought of as a family, related by the desire and dedication to train. Its members need not like each other, but they must all respect each other, and find ways to work together. They need not resemble each other, but they must find ways to accept and learn from each other. If problems arise, they need to try to solve them with a minimum of damage.

There is so much to be gained from this approach. And isn’t it, on so many levels, a perfectly good metaphor for what we do?