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Perplexed 03-15-2006 10:04 AM

Religious Restrictions on Training
 
A man has visited my dojo and is interested in practicing. His religion prohibits him from touching a woman who is not his wife. My dojo is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) educational organization, and thus may not discriminate based on religion.

Has anyone else faced this issue? Any suggestions?

jonreading 03-15-2006 11:25 AM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
??? You're kidding?

I've had some mild experience with this sort of thing, but not exactly. My issue was a student that refused to speak Japanese or participate in any "Japanese rituals." I explained that he would not be comfortable practicing, given his constraints. After a few classes, he realized that fact and left. If you are worried about legal liability, you should definitely get a lawyer.

That said, the issue appears to be whether or not the student can participate in class based on his religious beliefs. I would begin by stating that while a student may request special needs to participate in class, you cannot absolutely guarantee that his requests can be honored. Your student needs to know that he may (intentially or unintentially) come into contact with a female student during training. There are some alternatives that may be available such as solo training (sote waza) or only working with male students, but you have to be sensitive not to degrade your existing students' training quality to accomodate a new student...

If you student is uncomfortable with the possibility of contacting a female student, you need to be prepared to opening admit that the environment may not be conducive to his special training needs. I understand that I likely will not drown when I swim, but I also understand that I will get wet. Some expectations are more excessive than others, and I would consider an aversion to contact during a contact martial art to be an excessive expectation.

BC 03-15-2006 12:01 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

His religion prohibits him from touching a woman who is not his wife. My dojo is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) educational organization, and thus may not discriminate based on religion.
You might point out to this person that your dojo probably is also not allowed to discriminate based upon gender.

Perplexed 03-15-2006 12:07 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
He is aware that my dojo admits women. He and his wife watched a class.

Steve Morabito 03-15-2006 01:00 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Here's my smart ass reply:
Instruct him in "no touch throws" only, with a female uke every time.
Here's my sincere reply:
Yes, as Jon says, consult a lawyer first and foremost. I'm not a lawyer, but I would suspect that a lawyer would say you may be required to provide him with a reasonable accommodation that doesn't present undue hardship or burden to your organization. In my opinion, it's not reasonable, (and actually disruptive) to alter the co-ed class. This person (as Jon implied) would come into unintended contact with a female eventually, so I think it is not reasonable to allow this individual into the co-ed class. I think you would be justified by saying, "this is how our dojo and most other dojos practice aikido...and altering the way we practice conflicts with its intention." Is it reasonable to hold private lessons for an additional fee? Is it reasonable to have a guys class AND a gals class IN ADDITION to the co-ed class? You might want to be prepared to support your answers to these questions if there is a lawsuit.
Good luck, this is a tough one.
Steve

Steve Morabito 03-15-2006 01:09 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Jon Reading wrote:
I would consider an aversion to contact during a contact martial art to be an excessive expectation.

Very nice choice of words, Jon, I agree.
Steve

Eric Webber 03-15-2006 01:33 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
We had the same issue several months ago. My answer to the gentleman was that everyone is expected to practice with everyone else, and he would have to decide for himself if he is willing to accept that, coming into our space. He did not return.

Mark Freeman 03-15-2006 02:04 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Eric Webber wrote:
We had the same issue several months ago. My answer to the gentleman was that everyone is expected to practice with everyone else, and he would have to decide for himself if he is willing to accept that, coming into our space. He did not return.

Well done Eric! :)

Chris Li 03-15-2006 02:15 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

A man has visited my dojo and is interested in practicing. His religion prohibits him from touching a woman who is not his wife. My dojo is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) educational organization, and thus may not discriminate based on religion.

Has anyone else faced this issue? Any suggestions?
I taught an orthodox Jew who didn't feel comfortable bowing to a picture, so he didn't bow - end of problem. Why not just let him come and just train with men? As long as everybody understands the situation it really shouldn't be disruptive (or a major issue) at all.
This issue came up in the New York Times - see

http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/article/529/

and

http://yucs.org/~dwallach/serious/ethic.htm

Best,

Chris

Michael O'Brien 03-15-2006 02:53 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
I'm not exactly sure on the discrimination laws so I agree consulting a lawyer is a good idea. Do the laws state that you have to modify your training to accomodate him? If so, then I guess you have to let him train. If not, then you have to decide if you want to make an allowance to accomodate him and run the risk of "If you make an allowance for one then you have to make an allowance for all".

eyrie 03-15-2006 04:01 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Simple answer to simple problem. Ask him what would he do if he was unarmed and attacked by a woman who was not his wife....

Chris Li 03-15-2006 05:31 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Ignatius Teo wrote:
Simple answer to simple problem. Ask him what would he do if he was unarmed and attacked by a woman who was not his wife....

Probably a non-issue. AFAIK, both some sects in both Judaism and Islam prohibit unnecessary contact with the opposite sex, but the key word is "unnecessary" - there are any number of circumstances in both religions that allow for exceptions.

Best,

Chris

Chris Li 03-15-2006 05:42 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Michael O'Brien wrote:
I'm not exactly sure on the discrimination laws so I agree consulting a lawyer is a good idea. Do the laws state that you have to modify your training to accomodate him? If so, then I guess you have to let him train. If not, then you have to decide if you want to make an allowance to accomodate him and run the risk of "If you make an allowance for one then you have to make an allowance for all".

Is what we're talking about (normal practice, but pairing with men only) really such an onerous accommodation?

Accommodations for special situations are made all the time. People with bad knees don't do suwari-waza, people don't participate in certain kinds of vigorous training for various reasons (physical condition, youth, or age), people come late or leave early to accommodate their work schedules. Nobody blinks an eye as long as there is some kind of reasonable explanation. Is adhering to your religious beliefs (and these are well established religious beliefs from well established religions) really such an unreasonable explanation?

Best,

Chris

Michael O'Brien 03-15-2006 05:46 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Christopher Li wrote:
Is what we're talking about (normal practice, but pairing with men only) really such an onerous accommodation?

It depends on the factors involved; For instance in the only class I'm able to attend right now in our dojo on Tuesday and Thursdays it averages between 2-4 people in the class. In that case, yes, it is a huge accomodation.

What happens when a girl comes in and says "I don't feel comfortable training with guys, I only want to train with girls and you let him train with only men so you have to let me train with only women."

Then someone else comes in and says "I want ..."

When you start making accomodations people will find a way to take advantage of it in most cases.

Just been my experience in life.

eyrie 03-15-2006 05:48 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Well, most martial arts involve some sort of contact, unless we're talking about weapons or taiji for health. Aikido certainly requires some contact unless we're doing "no touch" throws. ;)
Whether that's "necessary" or not is the precise issue. I don't think you can learn aikido without some contact. And by extension, what is the point of learning a semi-contact martial art then if one's religious beliefs deems it "unnecessary"?

For starters, I don't think the religious beliefs issue should be brought into the dojo. It should be left outside the door, together with one's shoes and ego. If one cannot relinquish any of the above, then they should remain outside the dojo where they would be more comfortable in their own insular world.

Chris Li 03-15-2006 05:59 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Michael O'Brien wrote:
It depends on the factors involved; For instance in the only class I'm able to attend right now in our dojo on Tuesday and Thursdays it averages between 2-4 people in the class. In that case, yes, it is a huge accomodation.

What happens when a girl comes in and says "I don't feel comfortable training with guys, I only want to train with girls and you let him train with only men so you have to let me train with only women."

Then someone else comes in and says "I want ..."

When you start making accomodations people will find a way to take advantage of it in most cases.

Just been my experience in life.

Since accomodations are already commonly made in dojos, the slippery slope argument made above is fairly weak. The key here is whether or not a request for an accomodation is accompanied by a reasonable explanation. Opinions may vary, but in my book it seems that adherence to the established beliefs of a well known religion is on a very different level of explanation than the one given by the girl. Even in a small class (and I train in some very small classes) I don't see it as that much of a problem, but I suppose that YMMV.

Best,

Chris

Chris Li 03-15-2006 06:07 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Ignatius Teo wrote:
For starters, I don't think the religious beliefs issue should be brought into the dojo. It should be left outside the door, together with one's shoes and ego. If one cannot relinquish any of the above, then they should remain outside the dojo where they would be more comfortable in their own insular world.

All sort of things get brought in the door - as I noted above, accommodations are commonly made for all kinds of situations. Personally, I don't think that a person ought to be made to abandon their religious beliefs in order to practice Aikido unless there is a clear and onerous burden on the other participants. Now, people may have various opinions, but I would say that the burden incurred here is more of a molehill than a mountain.

As a parallel example, I discussed the case of the student that I mentioned above (the orthodox Jew who didn't want to bow to the picture of O-sensei) to more than one of O-sensei's Japanese students, and their reaction was uniform incredulity that the question even had to be asked - the gist of the answers was "if you don't want to bow then don't bow". This was also the attitude generally adopted by the Japanese people that I discussed this with. Interestingly, more than a few American Aikido students and instructors were of the opinion that the student should be either made to bow or not allowed to participate. Maybe people should just relax a little bit and ask themselves whether small accommodations like these are really worth the trouble of working up such a sweat.

Best,

Chris

cserrit 03-15-2006 06:14 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
[quote=
Then someone else comes in and says "I want ..." [/QUOTE]

As a woman who deals with a wide variety of abilities, ethnicities and religious groups on a daily basis...I would have to agree with Michael. There are times when I have to say enough is enough.

Aikido taught me that if I have a problem with someone (for whatever reason) then I need to learn how to work with them to create the harmony that is a part of Aikido and my life outside the dojo.

While I understand the situation, I would be frustrated in my training and assisting if I were "not permitted" to train with someone because of their beliefs on how women should or should not be treated. There is a possibility that this could be a problem in the dojo (by reading the other posts), especially if there are women in there who have been practicing for a while and wish to assist others in improving their skills.

What if the teacher one day was a woman and she had to show him a technique? Many times my sensei has to perform a technique on me before it would click. That would be a problem for him in terms of how effective he can learn a technique.

Being honest with a person about general expectations is not a bad thing and it could prevent problems in the future.

Just my humble opinion :)

Did his wife want to train as well?

-C

MaryKaye 03-15-2006 06:15 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
It would be, practically speaking, a major issue in my dojo. There are frequently only 2-4 students at a given class. A class with one male and one female student who cannot work together is going to be frustrating. The instructor will have to split his time between them. (And a hypothetical class with a man who won't touch women and a woman who won't touch men can't be taught at all, unless you can bring in a second instructor.)

Additionally, some of our instructors, including our head instructor, are female. Because we are a Ki Society dojo, physical contact (in ki tests) between instructor and students is continual and centrally important. There is not always a senior male student present who could substitute in giving ki tests, and omitting the ki tests would, in our style, be a major detriment to the student's training. Not being able to take ukemi from the head instructor would also interfere with our aikido test protocol.

Finally, during the larger classes it is impossible to completely prevent physical contact between non-partners. The dojo is small and collisions just happen. There is no way to have a "males only" section of the small, square mat we use. Even trying to enforce this would likely leave the women on the mat feeling cramped and intimidated.

The alternative would be an all-male class with only male instructors. As we have no "spare" instructors this would mean that women like myself would have to give up 1/4 of our current training hours to free up an instructor for this student. I know in my case this would cause resentment.

I won't commit one way or another to the question "should this be done?" but factually it would be very hard to do. It's not like omitting the bow to the shomen. It would interfere, in a small school with a female head instructor, with a large proportion of what we do in class.

Matters could be quite different if the dojo were so large that offering male-only classes was relatively easy, or so male already that they tended to occur anyway. It would be easier in a dojo that did mostly pairs and not lines, circles, or randori. And it would probably be easier in a non-Ki Society dojo. I think this one has to be up to the individual dojo.

Mary Kaye

eyrie 03-15-2006 06:25 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Christopher Li wrote:
Personally, I don't think that a person ought to be made to abandon their religious beliefs in order to practice Aikido unless there is a clear and onerous burden on the other participants.

I'm not suggesting that one's religious beliefs should be adandoned. I'm merely suggesting that they leave it outside the door along with their shoes, ego, and other personal, emotional, mental, religious, spiritual and sexist baggage.

Whilst, I agree that minor exceptions can and should be easily accommodated, I'm also suggesting that some give and take works both ways.

Josh Reyer 03-15-2006 07:01 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
I seriously doubt the problem here is inadvertant contact, such as collisions and the like. The man lives in the real world, no doubt he has inadvertant contact with women all the time. The issue here is simply one of training with women.

If there are no female instructors, and class size is not an issue, then I'm with Chris Li on this. If there are female instructors, or classes do tend to be small, then obviously his special needs are not within the dojo's ability to accomodate.

6th Kyu For Life 03-15-2006 08:18 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
I'm strongly in the "let him train" camp. It's an issue of ideologies bumping heads with each other. So don't let them bump heads. He will learn to train within his limits, as we all do, and the rest of the dojo will adapt. Both he and the women on the mat will be disadvantaged by not training with each other, and there is undoubtably the potential for problems. But you could say the same about any new student, that they are a potential for problems, and also a potential benefit to the dojo. Be grateful you know what kind of baggage this guy is bringing on to the mat, so you can anticipate how to deal with it.

Maybe after some time in Aikido, he will be able to leave his religion off the mat for a few hours at a time, but isn't asking him to do this as a condition to training imposing your ideology on him?

Clearly, it's not an easy situation, and maybe I'm too idealistic, but I think you should take this an instance to excercise peace. Don't fight, don't back off, engage and move on.

Peace,
Tom Newhall

giriasis 03-15-2006 08:47 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Our dojo has recently been making accomodation to some muslim aikido practitioners that visit our dojo. They have their own dojo where they do most of their training, but will come to classes with one of our assistant instructors. Pretty much they just don't bow or train with women.

I know my sensei has chosen to make this accomodation to support their practice of aikido. (Heck, he accomodates students with disabilities and keeps a watchful eye out on how the women/ "scared-in-the-headlights" beginners/ elderly are treated in class -- often times correcting a too rough partner.) But at the moment there just happens to be no women taking the classes our muslim aikido brothers take so it really is a non-issue at this point.

However, I can see Mary's point if you only have 2-4 people a night I can see where accomodating someone would be too much of a burden. Where I train we have the opposite situation, it is rather large and we offer three classes a day M-F and two on Sat/ Sun and a "small" class is having 6-8 on the mat. We have on average about 12 people on the mat so it can be very easy to not train with someone for whatever reason.

Also, I want to add there are times I prefer training with another woman. Us ladies at the dojo will grab each other for techniques like koshinage/ maki otoshi/ jujinage, etc as we serve as each other's safety net when doing techniques that require breakfalls since most of us ladies at my dojo have a hard time with them but at the same time encourage each other to do them. While this isn't a religious reason, it is a decision based partly on gender. (The other part is that we're friends and because of that we trust each other more.)

RebeccaM 03-15-2006 09:35 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
The degree of problem really depends on the gender ration in the dojo. I have yet to train regularly in a martial arts club where women were not a very definite minority, and, given the typical class size at my current dojo, it would be easy to just avoid women. I'd say let him train.

It might also be a good idea to find a discreet and polite way to educate other dojo members about the situation. Otherwise people might start thinking he's a real jerk because he won't train with women. Assuming they notice...

Chris Li 03-15-2006 10:45 PM

Re: Religious Restrictions on Training
 
Quote:

Mary Kuhner wrote:
It would be, practically speaking, a major issue in my dojo. There are frequently only 2-4 students at a given class. A class with one male and one female student who cannot work together is going to be frustrating. The instructor will have to split his time between them. (And a hypothetical class with a man who won't touch women and a woman who won't touch men can't be taught at all, unless you can bring in a second instructor.)

In a class with three people somebody's going to be resting part of the time anyway, so it's not really a problem, it just takes a little more thinking. If there are three people and two of them are women then they can train together and he can practice ukemi, weapons, or other solitary practice - that's the way it goes, no major problem.

Quote:

Mary Kuhner wrote:
Additionally, some of our instructors, including our head instructor, are female. Because we are a Ki Society dojo, physical contact (in ki tests) between instructor and students is continual and centrally important. There is not always a senior male student present who could substitute in giving ki tests, and omitting the ki tests would, in our style, be a major detriment to the student's training. Not being able to take ukemi from the head instructor would also interfere with our aikido test protocol.

It's entirely possible to teach someone without touching them, or without even getting on the mat - Morihei Ueshiba did it all the time. If that's not the usual way that you do things it may take a little thought, that's all.

Two of the morning classes that I do have regular participants in their 80's. Naturally, they can't train in quite the same ways that other people do, and a number of accommodations have to be made. Years ago I taught someone who was paralyzed from the waist down, and more than a few adjustments had to be made. Anyway, in everything and anything that you do that involves other people accommodations and adjustments have to be made - that's life. In the end, I get more than I give.

An instructor that won't put some effort into trying to instruct a student with special circumstances is not, IMO, much of an instructor.

Quote:

Mary Kuhner wrote:
Finally, during the larger classes it is impossible to completely prevent physical contact between non-partners. The dojo is small and collisions just happen. There is no way to have a "males only" section of the small, square mat we use. Even trying to enforce this would likely leave the women on the mat feeling cramped and intimidated.

As someone else mentioned, it's unlikely that this kind of accidental contact would be an issue.

Best,

Chris


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