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Old 07-06-2003, 11:51 AM   #3
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Handling Complaints

Peter A Goldsbury (Peter Goldsbury) wrote:
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.

We are practicing an art which mimics violence. Occasionally the line is crossed and practice becomes violent. In my experience young, strong committed students often go through a period during which they are less than sensitive to their partners needs. This can result in some injuries. It has been my experience that the Chief Instructor is quite aware of what is going on. In the places where I trained, and in my own dojo, the Chief Instructor would step in and have a chat with the offending student about his attitude. In all but one case this was enough. In the exceptional case the student, one of the dojo seniors, was asked to leave.

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.

This can be both good and bad depending… On the one hand it is true that with some very high level instructors, you can find that they have surrounded themselves with students who insulate them from any meaningful contact wit the very junior folks in the dojo. The folks that form this "inner circle" reflect the culture of the dojo and it is very difficult, if not impossible for a junior student or a senior who was imported from another style or teacher, to have any real influence on the Chief Instructor. If the abuser(s) are outside this inner circle, then action will almost certainly be taken against someone who offends in the dojo. But if the abuser(s) are actually part of the inner circle, which is often the case because they reflect the violence which was modeled for them by their teacher, then there is really very little which will happen when complaints are made. Students who find themselves in this type of predicament need to leave and find another teacher. I know of no mechanism which exists that would cause these folks to change their behavior other than law suits and I am not a big believer in bringing the litigious environment we have in our culture into the dojo.

On the other hand, I find that no matter how available one attempts to make oneself to the students, there are always quite a number who will not talk directly to you, as the Teacher. This is where it is an advantage to have the multiple power centers concept. The differences between individuals makes it more likely that a student will find one the seniors to connect with. I find that if I stay in touch with my instructors I eventually hear pretty much everthing that goes on in the dojo. I am often surprised that a student hadn't felt like asking for something directly but I am used to it now. They will express their desires, upsets, etc. to the senior students but not to the Chief Instructor. So I have my yudansha keep me informed so I can be responsive. If any one of the seniors is misbehaving, I will hear about it from the others as students complain. Then I take action (this VERY seldom happens).

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.

What would be the medium for such a complaint process? We have seen the problems with using the ineternet to pass judgement... But what is the authority? In my own case the only people who have any direct say so regarding my Aikido would be Saotome and Ikeda Sensei (with certain others having strong influence). I suspect that most of the dojos we hear from on this forum are similarly connected in terms of some organization.

If a complaint can't be brought effctively within a dojo for the reasons mentioned above, I can't see any good end coming for a specific complainent by having a larger complaint process available. It's the whole idea of "going over someone's head". By the time it gets to the point that it goes to an outside adjudicator, even the internet, you have permanently damaged relationships.

I was once involved with trying to mediate a conflict between a dojo's board members and their Chief Instructor. Saotome Sensei asked me to intervene. By the time I got involved it was totally out of control. The dojo left the organization (the instructor was relatively senior in the organization), and fired the Chief Instructor who quit Aikido never to train again. Some students left to start their own place and the whole thing was a mess. This over what amounted to teaching style, nothing so emotional as violent behavior on the mat! I just can't imagine any complaint process that would keep the Teacher student relationship intact if that process went oustide the dojo.

On the other hand, although the student lodging the complaint might not benefit, it is possible that by having an organizational complaint process, you might find behaviors changing for succeeding generations of students (simply becaue the Chief instructor wouldn't want the embarrassment of having to be chastized by the organzation again). That's possible I suppose.

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,

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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