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Old 09-23-2011, 03:46 PM   #67
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: verbal abuse from a teacher

Anonymous User wrote: View Post

I've been practicing Aikido for 6 years, every day, at the same dojo. It has been my goal to become Sensei's uchideshi, however as the years went by I realized that he is quite difficult to deal with. For 4 years I helped him with kids' classes, dojo maintenance, website building, and even babysat his son. In other words, whatever he asked, I did because I respected him and wanted to learn from him. He'd reward me sometimes, by giving me free uniforms or weapons, or letting me attend a seminar for free. (I should mention that I started when I was 13 and now I am in college, thus the money for Aikido was always tight for me)
However, amidst these rewards, he would frequently yell at me, call me dumb, or an idiot, tell me that I should be ashamed of myself, things like that... Sometimes he scolded me in private, and sometimes in front of everyone. Overall, whenever I made a behavioral mistake and did not live up to his moral standards for me, he would make me feel guilty and worthless. He tells me that it's because he cares for me that he is expecting more out of me than out of any other student in the dojo. He tells me that I have to believe him, and never discuss his ill decisions with other students. Other people in the dojo verify that he is very controlling and often treats me like crap. No one else treats me in the way that he does.

Because I want to be serious in my training, I was wandering if this verbal abuse is of any good. It really got to me during my senior year of high school and if it weren't for my school teacher who saw me change from a confident person into some miserable heap and decided to help me. From her standpoint verbal abuse is not right and she thinks I should find a different dojo because it might end up causing problems in the future. (For example, girls who were abused by their coaches then ended up marrying older, abusive men because that's what they were used to). But, I've read a few things about uchideshi and I know they were mistreated.

My question is, does this kind of verbal and sometimes physical abuse lead to any character building? If I decide to stay with my current Sensei, is there any chance I can become a better individual or will it destroy me? I've read that students often become like their teachers. I don't want to have the same personality as my Sensei, but I do love his technique... On the other hand, I would love to improve my own personality, but I don't know if standing verbal abuse will help me achieve that goal or not.

Any advice?
Get a new teacher... It is entirely voluntary to put up with anything from a teacher.

I will say that a bit of this is cultural... There is a whole "nail that sticks up must be pounded down" thing that exists with many of (not all by any means) the Japanese teachers. One simply has to decide whether a line is crossed as to whether it has become abusive or not.

To my way of thinking, it's abuse when it damages your spirit. So, it is my opinion that the whole "getting pounded down" thing tends to pretty much stop when you stop caring. The teacher looks at the folks that let themselves be cowed by it and decides that they weren't worth investing in, he looks at the folks who got pissed off and left, and decides the same thing. He looks at the folks who can take it and don't change what they are doing and he decides that they are the ones who are tough enough to stick it out and he stops pulling all the BS.

So, two things... If any teacher crosses the line, whether he be Japanese or American, you need to confront him with it and see how he reacts or simply leave. As I said, it crosses the line when it damages your spirit. Only you know what the line is. I have seen many folks quit over the years and I am still here. The "line" for them was quite different than the line for me. I have never been more than a bit temporarily annoyed by any of the "nail pounding" and I don't spend one iota of my time worrying about it. So, clearly for me, it has never come very close to crossing that line.

I would say that my tolerance of such things is somewhat dependent on whether the teacher is Japanese or American. For many Japanese this whole pounding the "nail down that sticks up" is automatic. Enough so that when I meet Japanese teachers who don't act like that, I really appreciate them even more. I don't put up with much at all along these lines from American teachers. Other than in the Marine Corps and other military groups, it really isn't part of our culture. There are coaches who act that way and I wouldn't have ever let one of my kids train with one of them. People internalize this way of looking at things and the next thing you know, they are treating their kids like this or their spouses like this. I have much more of an expectation of positive attitude and positive feedback from the American teachers. While for many Japanese teachers some of this is simply built into the teacher student relationship, almost on an unconscious level, when an American teacher acts this way, it's usually just a power trip. I wouldn't give anyone that much power.

When the line that gets crossed is physical, that's also something you need to decide. Did you get scared? Did a technique hurt more than you wanted? Or did you get injured? The first two constitute hard training for many folks (although even that may cross the line for many people). But the last, if it happens with any frequency in a dojo, constitutes abuse. I wouldn't train with any teacher who acted that way.

In your own case, I would tell the teacher the next time he is being abusive that he needs to stop, he needs to treat your respectfully, period. If he pulls that crap that it's for your own good etc and it's because he cares for you, call him on it. He is perfectly capable of giving you feedback about what you need to change without being rude or demeaning. If he's not, you really need to get a new teacher, sooner rather than later. If he gets physically abusive after you say something, you walk out right then and there and don't go back.

That my take on it...
- George
- George

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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