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Old 12-04-2007, 09:14 PM   #111
Keith Larman
Location: California
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 1,523
Re: Religious Restrictions on Training

It is an interesting ethical question which was raised in our dojo a while back as a matter of fact. It was never resolved as the persons who said they wanted to train never got back to us after we were presented with their issues on bowing and training with women. But the issue has been bouncing around my head for a while.

So let me put on my flame-proof underoos... There, all set...

First let me say that I truly appreciate the various points of view. I am glad to see Aikido spreading and I think it is a great thing that it has found a way to be taught in many varied cultures.

But that said I don't think it is really so easy as some make it to be.

I think "reasonable accommodation" is a devilishly difficult concept which is itself firmly embedded in all sorts of cultural constructs.

So to create a sort of thought experiment... The original question was about a person wanting to train but not wanting to train with women. Let's focus on that part. But let's turn the question upside down and change it to the dojo in an Islamic state much as described above. What if a non-Muslim women applied for classes but wanted to train with both men and women as their goal was to learn aikido so they would be able to defend themselves from both men and women? Assume she is a staunch American feminist with deeply held convictions of the equality of the sexes.

So now the question is how should the dojo in this Isamlic state accommodate that need? She feels very strongly that gender should play no role in her training. And that she should be allowed to train with men as well as women. And that frankly the men should be bowing to her just as they bow to each other.

Frankly I don't think they have any sort of moral imperative to adjust their training methods to her strongly held beliefs and/or needs. It might simply be too far outside the local norm given the social and religious constructs of where the instruction is taking place. In my hypothetical I think the woman's expectation is unreasonable given the local values. Unfortunately for my female feminist friends in an Islamic country, well, they will have to find another way of learning aikido in the way they want to learn it. Or wait/hope/etc. that the social values will change in such a way that will allow them to train the way they want. Or maybe they'll need to relocate in order to do that. It is simply a reality of where they are.

The tricky part here is that the notion of "reasonable accommodation" doesn't exist as some absolute ideal outside of any other context. It is defined in terms of the culture, the location, the local religions, etc. It just isn't a simple issue. As I said, I think it is great that people have worked hard to spread aikido across the world. And I think it is great that it is finding its way into the Muslim community as well. And I think it is perfectly reasonable for those in the Muslim community to have different means of presentation which are compatible with their cultural imperatives. As a matter of fact I applaud it. But I would no more expect my wife to be accepted for training with men in a Muslim society than I would expect to have to *significantly* adjust our training to accommodate Muslim men who wanted to train here outside of a Muslim area. I would do what I could do within some sense of reasonable accommodation as I do believe there are probably some cases where we could make it work. But *if* it was too much of a problem, well, the answer is that maybe they would need to look elsewhere for their training. Just like that christian woman in a Muslim land who wanted to learn aikido to defend herself from men as well as women would need to look elsewhere.

Frankly I would do whatever I could. But the moment I felt the accommodations were an undue burden on the instructors or was resulting in lost opportunities for the other students (i.e., the female students), well, that's where I would personally draw the line. I see no problem in doing what we can. But for me, well, I have no desire to tell my female assistant to not come to class because there's only one other student and he happens to not believe in touching a woman who is not his wife.

If his religious restrictions are to have an impact on someone not getting training, well, he will be the one who will need to suffer that. I would do what I could, but if I felt it was negatively impacting my female students'/assistants' training, well, he's going to lose in the coin toss. Because where I am at women are encouraged to train with the men. That is our tradition.

All that said I have no problem with the notion of each group training as it sees fit. And I think we all have a moral imperative to reasonably accommodate as many people as we can. But there are still competing value systems in conflict lurking underneath. And sometimes what is "reasonable" in one place is totally unreasonable elsewhere. It just ain't all that easy...

I think it is a really difficult question with no easy universal answers. It is naive to say we *should* accommodate everyone. That simply isn't possible in all cases.

All that said... Everything I wrote is just my own 2 yen worth. I don't speak for anyone but myself...

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