This forum has been extremely quiet for a while, but the episode of Edward Karaa and the 4th Dan has raised a general, and pressing, issue. Basically, the issue is this: if you are the witness or the victim of violence in the dojo, which, in your opinion, goes beyond the boundaries of hard training or what could be explained by the parameters of the master-student relationship as you understand this, what is the best way of making a complaint? I have tried to make this as general as possible and make no judgment whatever, either about Edward himself (with whom I have had some private correspondence on the matter), or the organization of which he was a member.
I think it has to be understood that the master-student relationship which is at the core of aikido training and the organizational structure of the dojo are two different things and do not always smoothly coalesce. An instructor might be an excellent teacher, but the organization of the dojo, or the persons with whom the instructor surrounds himself/herself, might, in the opinion of the dojo rank and file, leave much to be desired. My own experience leads me to think that this situation is more common than expected.
1. First, there is the violence itself. I think we would all claim to draw the line between rough training (possibly resulting in unintended injury), and deliberately going out to punish, through techniques, someone for slights or wrongdoings, real or imagined. I have seen this done quite often and put down such behaviour to lack of maturity, on the part of the instructor or senior students. However, I think it is easier to delineate the black and white here than to deal with the multiple shades of grey and wonder whether we could do this in a ‘universal' way, i.e., one that does not depend on a particular context for interpretation.
2. Then there is the organizational context. It is a fact that the average dojo has more than one power centre. In other words, the shihan or instructor does not run the dojo single-handed, but entrusts the organization and also some of the instruction, to other individuals, who, willy-nilly, derive power from this: power which can always be used well or less well. Depending on one's definition of violence, the setting up of dojo groups or cliques by power holders might also be grounds for complaint by rank and file members.
3. Then there is the method of complaint itself. In the recent case the person doing the
complaining wanted to canvas prevailing views anonymously and so chose to portray himself as a witness. The general reaction was strong support, but more recent posts in the forum suggest he lost some credibility here, since it was only later that it was revealed that he himself had been the victim and there was another viewpoint as to what actually happened (which relates to Point 1, above). However, the incident also revealed that the Internet is a very powerful medium. Even during the process of establishing what had actually happened, I was requested to drop the matter and the final episode was a lengthy telephone conversation with the shihan involved, at the latter's request. An unfortunate consequence was the break up of dojo friendships and the decision to stop practicing aikido. My own feeling was that possibly a genuine complaint should not have led to such results.
Thus I am interested in hearing the Voice of Experience here, since the matter will certainly arise at the next IAF Congress.
Best regards to all,
Complaints should be brought directly to the head instructor of the dojo.
I should point out that our dojo is located in rural western Massachusetts where small towns are the rule and the largest city has a population of only 40,000 or so. There are only about 100,000 people in all of Berkshire County which covers roughly 800 square miles. As such, we may not experience the same problems that occur in dojos located in more densely populated areas.
Regarding the relationship between master and student; I was taught that the instructor is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the mat. This is how I was brought up and how I run my school.
Because I accept full responsibility for what occurs on my mat, I have no trouble expecting my senior students to treat less experienced students with respect and consideration of their rank. Conversely, beginners and lower ranked students are told not to "test" higher ranked students by trying to resist the application of technique in practice. Resistance plays a part in practice of advanced students who have attained the necessary skill level in order to avoid injury whether uke or nage. Violence in any form on the mat is not tolerated.
Organizationally, the dojo is co-owned by my wife Mary and me. All classes are taught by either one of us. She is my most experienced student, having studied with me for over 15 years. We share common views regarding violence on the mat and our responsibility in providing our students with a challenging but safe environment in which to discover their Aikido. We believe that we have made our dojo into something special and unique (don't all school owners feel the same way?). We have avoided the cliques and power centers that tend to form in larger dojos and nurturing is far more prevalent than posturing on our mat. Perhaps the fact that our student body is about 65% female has something to do with this. Students with axes to grind tend to weed themselves out and move on to other things.
In large dojos with many instructors a formal system for handling complaints should be established. Perhaps incidents like the one that was aired on these boards can then be avoided.
Re: Handling Complaints
It seems to me that within large modern organizations, there should be some process in place for reporting such things as abusive behavior and mishandling of funds. Especially since most of these organizations are operating as not-for-profit.
As those of us know that have been around for some time, there are leaders that provide healthy, challenging environments for learning and there are others that have condoned abuse and looked the other way when there were problems.
In the organizations that are not public corporations, it seems that it is up to the individual to make their own choices about who they choose to follow and take part in an association.
We are a small dojo and I insist that everything is laid on the mat so that everyone can see it and understand what is happening at all times. That said, anyone having seen me angry does not willingly place themself in a position to invite my anger.
It works here. If I think something is going on in which a personality or power struggle is developing I ask in front of the entire dojo, and if it is, the entire dojo weighs in. I really treat this group like they are family.
I have thrown my senior instructor out of the dojo for treating other udansha like punching bags. Unforgiveable. Thrown other senior instructors out for other reasons. Always publicly, always out in front.
The rest is just normal human interaction. I believe that the more you keep things quiet and behind closed doors, the more things fester and grow foul. I don't care if people are publicly embarrassed. Aroound here, by the time you get to shodan - if you haven't been, you don't feel like a part of the family. But then, my guys actually wear failed kyu and dan tests as badges of honor.
Re: Handling Complaints
Several times I have been sent out by a Shihan to investigate, decide on an action, and give advice to "rough" people. It usually meant I was hurt or injured in the process but was that not my job? Is it not part of the Shihan's purogative to send people out to do such investigations? It keeps things quiet and within the dojo. If you can change someone's behaviour without making the whole thing public, is it not better? It seems that making it public will cause the "rambo" person to fight back to keep from losing face. A private practice with the person or apparent "strong" public practice among close to equals would seem to be less of a situation where one person loses face and is less likely to change their behaviour. Of course, if a person does not change their "rambo" behaviour, it may require more upfront methods calculated for the person to lose face or not practice teaching again (in whatever manner is most appropriate for the case). Join, then Lead. Then, if they won't be led to a good conclusion, and continue to attack, crush as is.
I also assume it is the job of the Shidoin and Fukushidoin to keep track of such rumors as rambo instructors and report them to the Shihan for his decision to launch an investigation.
In my own dojo, I just kicked the people out and forbade them to practice Aikido with anyone other than myself or their closest friends, and not in a dojo, until I allowed them back into Aikido. Two that I did that to are now some of the best results I have had. One is at another friend's dojo and one is now the chief instructor of his own dojo. I let them cool in the wilderness for 5 years. They seemed to have learned during those five years.
I suppose these are part of the old ways but I have found them to work quite well for me. I am not sure all Shidoin really understand their responsibilities but it would seem to me that by the time they are Shidoin, they should understand or someone should tell them. In part, they are there to act as the Shihan's eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and body. They are his/her communications system and administrative information/investigative system.
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