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Old 11-25-2008, 11:26 PM   #95
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 950
Re: Another harassment question

Ron Ragusa wrote: View Post
I think the central issue here is whether a student who joins an Aikido dojo has a reasonable expectation of being treated with respect by the instructor(s) regardless of the students' gender, race, religion etc.

IMO the answer is an unqualified yes.
Ron, your 100% on target with what I am getting at on what this thread should be discussing in being a broader scope of a discussion. In that way it is not limited by, but deals completely with the whole issue. If you pull weeds from your garden you grab the whole plant and pull up the roots.

Is the Aikido instructor held to a very high standard of personal conduct with respect to his/her students?
We would hope so. We should hold everyone in Aikido to a higher standard. Problem is that not everyone has the same idea on what is said to be a higher standard of personal conduct. And a very higher standard of personal conduct is an unattainable idea. Sensei's aren't saints.

I remember my first year or so in Aikido, I put the sensei on a pedestal based on all the romantics surrounding Aikido I heard and created. On top of that the persona of O'sensei and his views being the model for every sensei, he set the ideal. As time went on and all my notions of what an Aikido sensei should be fell away the better I got to know the senseis. I realized the perpetuated stereotype of that wise, all knowing, introspective, moral sensei wasn't true. The ideal was shattered by reality. It was an unrealistic ideal because people are human. Humans, who pass skill tests earning rank of shodan who then can be a sensei. There are no tests or training of high personal conduct or the insurance that personal conduct will always be at a higher standard. And authority/power is very seducing, easily abused and not everyone can handle it, as there are so many examples. I realized that the title of sensei isn't synonymous with saint.

And along with the romantic ideal of Aikido the sensei being saints, there is also an unrealistic belief that Aikido the dojo is a utopia. For the same reasons I mentioned and more the ideal that the dojo is a utopia is very unrealistic.

Do our expectations of high personal conduct match-up to the reality that people can't measure up to that? Well at least we should expect something more realistic out of the sensei, right? We should expect the sensei should be respectful, law abiding, and of good character; generally a good honest person who respects others. There are those invisible unspoken rules that are expectations of a sensei that are not universal to all. But here again there are no training in these standards or guarantees of behavior. This makes it very difficult to navigate and no one should assume anyone's behavior or what they are capable of. As the old saying goes, you never really know someone, or what they are capable of doing. I think expectations of behavior can be a very dangerous thing, like in the Clint George case.

First off, do students have a right to hold an intervention and does it really work. Is this notion realistic or an unrealistic ideal? I remember someone saying a dojo is a dictatorship not a democracy. I find this to be true. Then there is what John Burn talked about in his post where his Aikido club turned on him because he did do the right thing, being the whistle-blower

The abuse of authority/power being the real issue here, whether it take form of prejudice, favoritism, sexism, harassment, abuse, unfairness, etc. Power seduces and can lead to all kinds and levels of abuse and an Aikido sensei isn't immune no matter what are expectations are. For a contemporary example of this it would be Clint George.

Then if an intervention takes place is it realistic to thing a person will change? Especially when that person is in a position of authority and power? More so when the dojo is his place and where he has the freedom to exercise himself as he pleases, as long as he doesn't break the law. If the sensei is caught breaking the law, no intervention then is needed. But the sensei hasn't broken the law, as it is our understanding, and it is an issue of the sensei's personality. A personality that Tom28 feels is disrespectful to someone else. Yet another poster felt the sensei may have a poor understanding of his behavior and his intention isn't disrespectful. I interpret what Tom28 quoted the sensei saying as bad pick-up lines out of the 70's. I wonder if the whole dojo is in agreement with how Tom28 sees the situation. If the dojo as a whole felt as Tom28 did why haven't they already intervened? Therefore, would an intervention be successful? An intervention (which I jokingly called a mutiny) is a complex and difficult affair. And does that right to intervene really exist in a dojo where the sensei is boss, leader, etc. There are a matrix variables and outcomes because we dealing with human behavior and trying to change it where the person at the center of all this doesn't see anything wrong with his own behavior. If it was easy to get people to change we would have less people in our prisons. And companies would have us working for nothing. Or employees of a company would be making as much as the CEO. I don't think intervention is this situation is realistic or would be effective. And this just occurred to me

Referring to the situation that occurred at Tom28's dojo, giving the instructor the benefit of the doubt and realizing that in the minds of some that times and therefore gender relationships have changed and gotten more liberal and less politically correct, pickup lines on the mat during class still qualify as unacceptable behavior for an Aikido instructor. The proper venue for establishing a personal relationship with a student is off the mat.
Not everyone holds the same standards for a sensei. You may feel it is acceptable for a sensei to be divorced, I may not. You may feel a sensei shouldn't ever drink, I may not. You may feel a sensei has no business inquiring (what ever the style maybe) for a personal relationship. I may say it is fine. We may even disagree if a law is broken and should the sensei go to jail. Or even if we agree there is guilt we disagree on the punishment. We may even disagree what is acceptable behavior and language of a sensei and what isn't. We may disagree whether or not Tom28 has any business posting this situation publicly on the net about what happen to someone else. The woman may feel it is an equal or not greater disrespectful thing to do. It would be ideal if sensei where saints. I would glad if that where the case, but it isn't.

I think no matter how hard we try and no matter how deeply we believe, we can't expect people to act the way the should. We hold them up on pedestals and expect high standards of personal conduct; we should be prepared for the disappointing reality that will come. I think that is what has happened with Tom28. He sees for the first time his expectations of his sensei not being met based on what he observed and was told about his sensei's behavior. For the first time Tom28 sees his sensei's human side and it was upsetting. He had told his woman friend before she started the he heard things about his sensei's alleged behavior; Tom28 didn't really want to believe that his sensei was like that. It upset Tom28 that his sensei was not meeting up to his standards of how a sensei should act. That it is unacceptable for a sensei to talk to a woman as he did. That is was disrespectful in his mind. We may expect our senseis to act at level of professionalism that is the same as what is expected in the work place. I agree it would be nice. But the dojo isn't a work place. Anita Hill wasn't in the dojo of Clarence Thomas. Clarence Thomas wasn't being appointed as sensei in a conservative political atmosphere dominated national politics.

What is the answer, well for you Ron it is one thing, and rightly so. I feel the answer for me is people have a lot of power, but they give that up to those they feel will lead them or teach them. I feel every sensei has a right to behave in their dojo as the wish as long as it isn't breaking the law. If a sensei wishes to be rude, crude, or insulting on the mat that is their right. But it is also the right of the students to leave if they are insulted etc. To render a sensei powerless there is no greater weapon then the sensei's students never coming back. If there are those who stay that is the exact place they belong.

There is no formal higher authority to rule over all the senseis monitoring and policing their behavior. I want that ideal that sainthood to exist. But it doesn't. Therefore, each student has the power if they choose to leave a dojo if they feel wronged, insulted, uncomfortable, etc, and that is very powerful and should not be overlooked, or diminshed. The worse thing to do is to take that power and have an unwritten rule that it's ok to walk out, but rather change the sensei's behavior. That is my suggestion for Tom28, to speak his mind and walk out under protest, rather then thinking of intervention that will more have little if any effect. Because, he really isn't going to be happy there at that dojo because of his views and under those circumstances. Should he take his female friend with him when he goes, no because it is her choose to stay or go, just as it was her choose and decision to stay at the dojo for what ever reason. That is her power, her right if she feels wronged. This is the issue. It should not be turned into anything else. That is my point.