Each martial art and each instructor have their own way of testing, grading and preparing their students for whatever it is they train for, be it fitness, competition, self defence, etc.
Students and/or parents of students often do not know what to expect when starting at a new school and so may not always ask questions when they see things that do not seem right. In my previous article, Martial Arts Fairytales, I highlighted this fact – people are often drawn to the mysticism of martial arts and accept things for granted, even things that defy all logic, like masters who can knock people out with a word, or accepting given techniques as ‘realistic’ simply because someone told them to.
In the past week, I have seen two strong examples of what can only be described as bad martial arts instruction and I feel like I should share some of those examples in the hope that people looking to start their martial arts journey know what not to accept.
The first is a video that has been doing the rounds on social media of a boxing instructor that got his student to line up by the wall, and keep their hands down while he walked from one to another and punched them in the head repeatedly, to the point where some of them dropped or broke into tears.
The second was a review of a school - the father of all McDojos – where girls preparing for their black belt grading have their belts tied around their necks like a leash on a dog, walked around, humiliated in public, spat on and more.
In the first example, the instructor might have said something along the lines of ‘this will toughen you up’, and people bought.
In the second example, the instructor apparently said it was part of ‘humility training’ and teaching ‘traditional values’, so some such nonsense.
Needless to say, I was horrified. Why would anyone allow a teacher to treat him or her this way? Even more so, how can anyone who calls himself a teacher and role model act in such a way?
Unfortunately, without experience of training in different schools or doing appropriate research, people can be mislead into believing that what their master teaches is the way everyone does it or, even worse, only they do it because their way is the only right way.
So for those of you who are thinking about starting your martial arts journey, or for those of you who have started but have ‘that feeling’ about something in your dojo, please keep the following points in mind:
1. Most schools will say their way is the best way – it will be a silly business strategy not to. But at the end of the day, Krav Maga is Krav Maga and MMA is MMA and Judo is Judo. There are only so many ways the human body can move, and they have all been explored thousands of years ago. Chances are that if something feels suspicious, untrue or unreasonable then it is. Are other clubs that teach the same style do the same things? If your school is the only one that does something, it’s either very, very good or very, very bad. Ask around, question things and do research – don’t just take somebody’s word for it!
2. Martial arts training is meant to develop character. This is well known and reinforced by most schools and teachers. Instructors are meant not only to teach you the skills you want to learn, but also to inspire you to be a better person and act as role models in and outside of the dojo. Yes, all instructors are humans and will make mistakes from time to time, but if you find yourself repeatedly questioning the ethics, honesty or character of your instructors, whether in the way they do business, treat students, treat others, etc., then my recommendation is to get the hell out.
There is a saying, which I strongly believe, that we are an average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. If you are dedicated to your training, your instructor and training partners are people you will be spending much of your time with. Senior students are a great way of seeing what you are expected to behave like in the future.
Apart from their skill set, are they people that you want to be around? Are they people you will be proud to associate yourself with? Are they people who inspire you to follow their lead and example? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’, then you are not training in the right place.
3. Many such instructors ask students to follow their instructions simply because tradition dictates they should – ‘I am the master and you are the student, and so you will do as I say’. Being a sceptic in nature, I always ask why things are done in a certain way. It helps me have abetter understanding of the technique and its application, but also allows me to activate my ‘bullshit detector’. A couple of answers you should be very wary of are:
- ‘Don’t ask questions, just do it because I tell you to’. There’s a good chance the instructor doesn’t know why, or doesn’t have a good enough explanation for, doing what you are being taught, other than that’s all they know.
- ‘Because that’s the way it’s always been done in our system’. Tradition is a fine thing, but fighting is dynamic and evolves and there is nothing wrong with questioning tradition in order to understand it.
Being able to deal with bullying is often one of the most important reasons for martial arts training, especially with kids and teenagers. But dealing with bullying on a daily basis in training will not solve the problem! It will only make it worse, and make more bullies – even worse, bullies who know how to fight.
If your instructor is repeatedly humiliating you or hurting you, something is not right. Ask around, find another place to train and do not stay in an environment that encourages negative behaviour.
Stay safe, stay tuned.