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jonreading 03-14-2013 04:55 PM

An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I was listening to Hiyaa martial arts podcast a month or so ago. The guys interviewed Ryan Hall, an MMA guy who wrote an open letter to the martial arts community concerning conduct in the dojo. I believe it has already made some of the other forums. The letter was in response to a BJJ player being involved in a rape. Its a great read, albeit a little long. The link is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/121007439/...Arts-Community
You can also read it on Ryan's website:
http://livingthemartialarts.com/

A few weeks ago a conversation surfaced regarding sexuality and sexual conduct in the dojo. During that discussion, several posters implicated the aikido community was involved in [sexual] misconduct at the dojo. I think there is some great material in this letter that addresses that point and more.

Of course, preceding this letter was the story of Kayla Harrison, the female judoka who won the gold medal in judo in London. Kayla was abused by her former coach for a period of time.

As I said in my other posts from the thread I mentioned earlier, it saddens me to hear of bad situations in the dojo. I am saddened because someone who is supposed to be trustworthy is not and someone who is misgiving their trust to that person is hurt.

Lorien Lowe 03-15-2013 02:35 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
just off the top of my head, it seems like there are more women in aikido dojos (in general) than in other martial arts, but I haven't seen or heard about serious sexual misconduct myself. Other than, of course, the low-level, day-to-day harassment that we all occasionally get everywhere. My sensei is aggressively egalitarian, and has kicked at least one student down the stairs (literally, the story goes) for misbehavior towards women.

thanks for the post.

Lorien Lowe 03-15-2013 03:37 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
A few more thoughts:
Learning in any endeavor is easiest when we have a teacher. If the teacher knows a great deal more than we do about the subject in question, it's easy to get into a habit of accepting what they say; moreso, perhaps, when the subject is a physical art than an academic one, as questioning the teacher's ideas, in order to better understand them, is more intrinsic to academic study. In academics, though, as well as in crew and in martial arts, it's easy to let the love of learning and the love of the subject bleed over onto the teacher. Likewise, as a teacher I've found that it's easy to allow a student to show too much respect at times, because it can make it easier to teach. We have to guard ourselves against both impulses: to accept without questioning, and to teach without encouraging questioning. We can't let ourselves be too much defined by others, regardless of the reasons, even though it appeases our inner social primate to fit neatly into a slot labeled 'student' or 'teacher' and be accepted and welcomed as such.

Budd 03-15-2013 11:38 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I think the importance of this open letter cannot be understated. The student that is serious about training may often have to compromise in order to get access to good training, but I'm in full agreement that there are some things that can never be excused or advocated.

SeiserL 03-15-2013 12:06 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Predators and opportunists are everywhere.

We must never accept it and stand-up against it.

Dan Richards 03-15-2013 01:11 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I think Ryan has some really good points, and probably the least of which is sexual misconduct. It's going to exist in isolated pockets, but it doesn't speak for the overall martial arts community or the aikido community. I've been in many dojos in the US and Europe, and trained with thousands of people from all over the world. In my experience, I've actually seen women within aikido being treated more on an equal footing. I personally think women in aikido are - as a whole - better than men at really getting into the essence of things.

I think something that Ryan brings up in his letter, that's not only more important, but is also more of an umbrella for a lot of the other issues, are the points about cults and the points about teachers. I have seen way too many times teachers holding back students - and this was usually a combination of the teacher and the organization they're within. I've seen too many dojos get people to volunteer. I've seen community car washes and bake sales that were "for the dojo," when what really happened is the money went into the pocket of the sensei/dojo-cho to supplement what they couldn't cover from what is essentially their martial arts business.

Quote:

Teachers
: A true leader creates other leaders. He desires not to dominate those around him, but to uplift them. Not to uplift them for his own benefit, his own aggrandizement, but because it is the right thing to do. A real leader doesn't want disciples. A real leader hopes for friends who respect him for being adecent human being above all. After all, what other reason is there to follow someone?
There is not a single thing about martial arts or aikido that's any more special that any other type of activity in which someone learns a skill: knitting, cooking, music, woodworking, kite flying, bicycling, rollerblading, snowboarding, writing, baseball, surfing, bowling, sailing, basketball, skating.... All of those activities require skill, and skill tends to increase with the amount of time invested. Aikido is no different. But in none of those other activities does anyone have to sign up for a particular school or organization or teacher, and expect to have to remain loyal or pledge some sort of allegiance - and only have the opportunity to practice at the school in a formalized class setting.

I'd like to compile a list of relevant questions for martial arts teachers. And I'd also like others - students, family, friends, communities - to look at these types of questions as well. I think that cultish behavior - whether towards the art itself or the personality of the teacher/s - is more prevalent in martial arts than in almost any other type of activity. And I think a lot of these points get to the heart of questionable behavior in and around dojos, and as to why there seems to be a milieu of expected entitlement within martial arts. I'll throw out a few:

==========================================================

If you're a martial arts teacher:

• What makes what you do more special than someone who has developed musical skills or years of cooking experience?

• How much of what you do and teach is relevant in your current society?

• Do you refine your teaching methods, do you examine what you do - freely?

• Are you 100% free to teach, and examine, and run things the way you want? If you're a martial arts teacher; are you 100% free to grade your students? And if you have a network of teacher/students of your own, are those people 100% free to grade their own students?

• Do you think that what you do and what your students do is actually any more dangerous than other highly-physically-challenging activity, such as surfing, bicycling, rock climbing, hiking?

• Is what you do of any more importance to your community than any other business or service, and can you manage to run your business without enlisting volunteers and donations? If not, why is that what you do is so special that your community has to supplement your activities?

• How much do you realize that your students are your teachers?

• Given that a student is enthusiastic, participates regularly, what is the time frame that you, as a teacher, would need to train that student to shodan level?

• If you can't train a student to shodan level inside of 2 years; why?

• Could you train a dedicated student to sandan level in 5 years? If not; why?

==========================================================

My 2¢.

Lorien Lowe 03-16-2013 03:02 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I disagree in that I do think that martial arts training is more likely to induce cultishness than, say, knitting. As Mr. Hall noted, we literally place ourselves in each others' hands every time we train, and this is particularly true with out teachers. That experience alone leads to a depth of emotional response that learning how to make really cool socks does not (I do both, by the way).

Cady Goldfield 03-16-2013 07:50 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I agree with Lorien. Martial arts, by their very nature, place an individual, usually male, in a leadership position. His skills - or perceived skills - imply great physical and mental power, particularly over his less skilled students. If he is charismatic, his influence will be even greater.

Note how frequently the topic of "I have a crush on/am in love with Teacher" comes up both in the MA world and in academe, for another example. Predators exploit that, and even when the student isn't overtly attracted, being singled out for attention by a powerful individual is often hard to reject, with all of the conflicting emotions. Add to that the mystique of the traditional Eastern-style teacher-student relationship, and you have the "perfect storm" for abuse if that teacher is inclined to such behavior.

It's a way larger issue than Aikido; it's part of the human condition. Human behavior includes various ways and degrees of expressing the instinct for power and control, and sexuality. One extreme of that spectrum involves predatory behavior, which most of us consider to be the lowest end of the range of our nature. And just as in all other areas of society, in my opinion it's incumbant on we who do not subscribe to that extreme of human nature to monitor and prevent such behavior in others, in order to protect the wellbeing of those who may not be able to speak for or defend themselves.

Mary Eastland 03-16-2013 07:54 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I agree, Lorien, that is why it is so important to learn about the self- defense aspect of Aikido. We can't blame others for our choices. Each choice for me needs to looked at and made consciously.

We are adults. If women or men don't like how they are being treated they can make choices around the circumstance each time it happens.

Life is not fair. We all have to live with situations that we may not love...yet we can examine our choices and make empowering decisions.

Malicat 03-16-2013 08:24 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Dan Richards wrote: (Post 324680)
• Given that a student is enthusiastic, participates regularly, what is the time frame that you, as a teacher, would need to train that student to shodan level?

• If you can't train a student to shodan level inside of 2 years; why?

• Could you train a dedicated student to sandan level in 5 years? If not; why?

2 years to shodan? While the rest of your questions seemed interesting to me, this one really confused me. I have been in Aikido for about 2 years now, and for a year of it, I trained with my Sensei twice a week, and drive an hour 3x a week to train with his instructor at a different dojo. I would say that my level of dedication ranks fairly high, and right now I travel about an hour and a half twice a week to train with my Sensei. I've also attended seminars as well as the week long summer camp we have every year. With all of that in mind, I am not even remotely good enough to be a shodan. This has nothing to do with my level of dedication, or my level of training. I have seen huge improvements in my technique and my ukemi, and I am not even remotely up to the level of the shodans I saw test last summer camp.

--Ashley

SteliosPapadakis 03-16-2013 11:36 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Ashley Hemsath wrote: (Post 324717)
2 years to shodan?

Family and relatives of the teacher may need even less than that.
From my personal experience over the years...

lbb 03-17-2013 05:40 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
For "shodan", substitute "purple hat". There, it all makes sense now, doesn't it?

Belt_Up 03-17-2013 01:16 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Jon Reading wrote: (Post 324648)
A few weeks ago a conversation surfaced regarding sexuality and sexual conduct in the dojo. During that discussion, several posters implicated the aikido community was involved in [sexual] misconduct at the dojo.

What, all of us?

This is part of the problem, that even extends to Hall's letter. There's a strange reluctance in the MA community to name names, no matter what is being talked about, whether it's money, internal power, misconduct, etc.

I had to spend time googling to find out who exactly was being discussed. Lloyd Irving, who was implicated in a rape decades ago, has two students at his dojo, Matthew Maldonado and Nicholas Schultz, who have been arrested and charged for raping a fellow student. What is everyone scared of?

Quote:

2 years to shodan? While the rest of your questions seemed interesting to me, this one really confused me. I have been in Aikido for about 2 years now, and for a year of it, I trained with my Sensei twice a week, and drive an hour 3x a week to train with his instructor at a different dojo. I would say that my level of dedication ranks fairly high, and right now I travel about an hour and a half twice a week to train with my Sensei. I've also attended seminars as well as the week long summer camp we have every year. With all of that in mind, I am not even remotely good enough to be a shodan. This has nothing to do with my level of dedication, or my level of training. I have seen huge improvements in my technique and my ukemi, and I am not even remotely up to the level of the shodans I saw test last summer camp.

--Ashley
Some people are just better at it than others. It's pretty disheartening, sometimes, to see someone pick things up immediately that you struggle with, but there is always someone who either has trained harder or is more naturally talented, and sometimes both.

hughrbeyer 03-17-2013 02:56 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Jeez, Geoff, way to make someone feel bad about themselves. Personally, I think the "2 years to shodan" metric is off the mark, if you can even say anything useful about shodan as a level.

Belt_Up 03-17-2013 03:56 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
I was talking about myself, not Ashley.

Surely it depends on how you train in those two years? I'm sure it takes longer on average, but if you're training very intensively, and you have the benefits of excellent instruction and skilled aikidoka to train with, I wouldn't be surprised.

Malicat 03-17-2013 04:28 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Geoff Byers wrote: (Post 324754)
I was talking about myself, not Ashley.

Surely it depends on how you train in those two years? I'm sure it takes longer on average, but if you're training very intensively, and you have the benefits of excellent instruction and skilled aikidoka to train with, I wouldn't be surprised.

Of course every one is different, but my point is that the list of proposed questions made it seem like all instructors should be able to train a dedicated student 2 years to shodan on a regular basis, and I think that is a bit ridiculous. If I lived near my hombu dojo, and was able to do 2 classes a day every day, I'm sure 2 years is a perfectly realistic goal. However most Aikido students aren't able to give up their life obligations to do nothing but train, even if they are dedicated and wished that they could. I feel 2 years to shodan seems to be an unrealistic goal in general, and having to come up with an explanation as to why they are unable to take every dedicated student to shodan in 2 years doesn't seem helpful in the terms of having instructors take a hard look at themselves and the environment they are creating in their dojos.

--Ashley

hughrbeyer 03-17-2013 04:36 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
... and different organizations expect different things from a shodan. I'm just saying 2 years is way off on the short end of the range. But then what do I know, I took 20 years to get to shodan... ;-)

Belt_Up 03-17-2013 04:49 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

I feel 2 years to shodan seems to be an unrealistic goal in general, and having to come up with an explanation as to why they are unable to take every dedicated student to shodan in 2 years doesn't seem helpful in the terms of having instructors take a hard look at themselves and the environment they are creating in their dojos.
I agree, for most people it is a very short time, but it depends on how you read the question.

Quote:

If you can't train a student to shodan level inside of 2 years; why?
This is easily answered with a short list of factors, top of which would probably be "Not enough training time available." A good instructor could take a dedicated student to shodan in two years under ideal conditions. It usually doesn't happen because conditions are not ideal. I don't think it's necessarily going to be unhelpful and have people rending their gi. Perhaps I'm just looking at the question differently. :-/

Dan Richards 03-17-2013 09:20 PM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Ashley Hemsath wrote: (Post 324756)
I feel 2 years to shodan seems to be an unrealistic goal in general, and having to come up with an explanation as to why they are unable to take every dedicated student to shodan in 2 years doesn't seem helpful in the terms of having instructors take a hard look at themselves and the environment they are creating in their dojos.

Ashley, that's based on your expectations. But what if those expectations were changed? What if teachers took a serious look and totally reexamined how they're training students? What if the methods used hamper the student's progress? I think it's totally helpful to have instructors take a hard look at themselves and the environment they're creating.

I know a dedicated student - with a job and a family - can train an average of three times per week for an hour and a half, plus their own "homework" on their own time at home, and reach shodan level in less than two years. I know because as a teacher, I've done it. Getting students to a good solid 3rd kyu in six months is a piece of cake.

Actually, if we're talking "ideal," that would be a teacher and students in a closed dojo, and they did nothing but eat and sleep aikido. Under those circumstances, with the right kind of instruction and conditions, you could have shodan level students in 90 days.

Aikido has been overdue for an overhaul. And whether some people want to see it or not - it's already underway. Even Yamada, a top shihan, is finally coming out and publicly speaking out about not only the lack of quality in aikido, but also organizational responsibility towards that. He went so far as to call the top brass at Aikikai "clerks." You have to understand, this is jaw-dropping stuff.

Here's a quote from George, where he's not only totally reexamining how people are taught aikido, but he's also making a drastic adjustment in terms of the time frame and expectations for levels people could reach. Interestingly, the time frames and grade levels he arrives at closely reflect hombu during aikido's formative years.

From Perhaps the tide is changing.
Quote:

George S. Ledyard wrote: (Post 323522)
If I were to be left completely to my own devices, I would have the student do static technique, and basic connection exercises of the type one would do with Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei (or any of the internal power teachers) and spend 3 - 5 years getting the body / mind properly programmed. Than I'd start doing more technique in a dynamic fashion. I would not have the student do anything resembling what folks often refer to as "resistant" training until they had been training this way for 5 years or so. I would also teach the ukes to attack using the same principles used by the nage. Right now we have one person attempting to do very sophisticated technique against an attacker who is totally remedial.

I think at the end of 8 to 10 yrs of training properly, we could end up with someone who currently operates at a fairly high Dan rank. In other words, after 8 - 10 years of training we would have someone who functions at or better than what passes for 6th dan at this point.

I wouldn't do any "mixing it up", or sparring before five years or so. Before that the student will fall back into old body habits in order to "win".

If we zoom out a bit; a level of 5th dan is essentially the equivalent of a PhD. From an article in the NY Times, it states the average student takes 8.2 years to earn a PhD. And that's average. And that lines up with George's calculations.

Let's play a little more. 3rd dan is right about at a Master's Degree. So, 5-6 years would be about right. 2nd degree would be a Bachelors. I'd consider a shodan to be on the level of a college-entrance exam - maybe we could call it a high school diploma. You need that to get into college. That's essentially what a shodan is; you're in the "school." Before that you're a guest. So, attaining shodan in two years, another year for nidan, and then another two or three years for sandan.

Aikikai's grading system currently requires a total of 300 "days" - whatever a "day" means to them, in order to qualify for shodan. A student averaging 3 classes per week is knocking out 156 classes per year. Two years of training 3 times per week arrives at 312 days of training. So, even by Aikikai's standards, shodan is completely attainable in two years - even for an average student. And let's say a student wants to immerse themselves, and go every day. 300 days of training should get them to shodan in less than a year.

Back to the 3-times-per-week student. Shodan in 2 years, Nidan in 1.5 years, Sandan 2 years, Yondan 2.5 years. That's a total of 8 years to Yondan. We're not that far off. And why that's important is that after Godan, 5th dan, that's when the student really begins to examine and explore and develop their own expression of aikido. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuhari

These numbers all line up. My numbers. George's numbers. Aikikai's numbers. Academia's numbers. Old-school hombu's numbers. And that's just dealing with the time frame.

So, we absolutely need ask teachers who are taking 5+ years to train their dedicated students to shodan level to reexamine what they're doing. Because, either they're stalling, or don't have effective pedagogical methods, or their umbrella organization (pyramid-shaped) is bloated. And if we look, it's really a combination of all of those.

We've also got to take a serious look at the level of competence and understanding within those levels. I totally agree with George, that there's no reason really good solid 5th and 6th dans could not be brought up at around the ten-year mark. And the environments for them to do that need to be created.

Carsten Möllering 03-18-2013 05:02 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Dan Richards wrote: (Post 324765)
... reach shodan level

How do you define "shodan level"?

Belt_Up 03-18-2013 05:06 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Getting well off topic here.

jonreading 03-18-2013 07:10 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
On of the things I liked about this letter was it addressed the roles of the student and the teacher. As a consumer of aikido, students can be better prepared to deal this misconduct and look for symptoms of misconduct. As a disseminator of aikido, teachers can look for feedback to [more] successfully disseminate aikido.

As pointed out, the martial arts seems to be a good combination of authority, fantasy and charisma that makes it susceptible to romanticism, if not abuse. And I would agree, that environment is more susceptible than, say, knitting.

Second, abuse it one of those things that hangs in the shadows, we do not see it until "we see it." It is important for abused to step forward and identify improper behavior so it may be stopped. It is also embarrassing and scary. I think crafting environments where we minimize the fear and embarrassment is necessary to addressing the issue. Everyone knows a "creeper." Some guy who is "over-friendly" with women on the mat and is studiously avoided by all women. The problem is that we do not approach that guy and say, "hey, stop creeping." We all just ignore him and hope he'll change; maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. Maybe not before he abuses someone. At some point, polite ignorance does not solve the problem. I have said this before... Humans are the only species that will identify danger, then pretend it isn't there. It takes a good deal of courage to walk up to your instructor and say, "that guy creeps me out. Can you talk to him? It takes a good deal of courage to walk up to that guy and say, "you're creeping people out. We do not accept that behavior on the mat. Thank you for stopping/leaving." You ask me, I don't care what belt you wear, if you have the guts to say either of those things, you are more courageous than most.

Some of the questions Dan brought up start to establish goals. I think we can argue which goals are better or worse, but I think goals are important to creating a clear path of instruction and learning. Deviation from that path should indicate deviation from what [you] want out of aikido. 2 years to shodan? Maybe, but more importantly, a clear path of instruction for 2 years of training. 2 years to shodan? Maybe, but more importantly, a clear path of commitment and expectation of training.Often, abuse begins with a shift of expectation. "Oh, that's just person X, he hugs all the women. You'll get use to it." We have many friendships in aikido. It is important to distinguish slight changes in expectation to understand what relationship your training partners [really] expect. Clear, concise and open expectations help define behavior. Now, if your claim is 2 years to shodan, you better back up that expectation or your students have a right to say, "What's going on? You said two years and I am a black belt."

I am not 100% in agreement with George Sensei. He is not the average instructor. I believe George sensei to probably be the best teaching aikido instructor that I have ever seen. He is working on a teaching method that works for him; I don't think most people could even teach the way George Sensei does, let alone transmit aikido as well as he does. Maybe in a couple of generations if the competency level is raised we'll talk again... (or in December when he comes to our dojo).

Ultimately, I think Mary's point is the best advice - buyer beware. The problem is that the dojo environment also contains this psychological pressure that sometimes students are not aware of as impacting their decision-making process. This is consistent with psychological pressure that can also accompany more traditional abusive relationships.

lbb 03-18-2013 07:16 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Geoff Byers wrote: (Post 324768)
Getting well off topic here.

No kidding. It is germane to this thread if and only if you presume that an instructor is a charlatan unless proven otherwise, and if you view "time to shodan" as a useful metric. (I don't. I've done enough gardening to know that you don't go from seed to tomatoes in a week, no matter how many times you visit the garden and no matter how excellent your cultivation skills.)

With regard to the subject of this thread, I think this thread makes it clear that we've got a ways to go before most people find balance. Whereas people in positions of authority were often trusted despite evidence of wrongdoing, now it seems we automatically suspect them in the absence of any such indication. I don't believe that either extreme promotes safety of students and ethical behavior by instructors.

Demetrio Cereijo 03-18-2013 08:41 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Mary Malmros wrote: (Post 324770)
Whereas people in positions of authority were often trusted despite evidence of wrongdoing, now it seems we automatically suspect them in the absence of any such indication.

Power corrupts.

BTW, years ago Ellis Amdur adressed this issue in a clear and concise manner:

http://shindai.com/articles/amdur/

lbb 03-18-2013 09:04 AM

Re: An open letter to the martial arts community about conduct in the dojo
 
Quote:

Demetrio Cereijo wrote: (Post 324773)
Power corrupts.

100% without fail? So 100% of aikido senseis are corrupt and abusers of power?


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