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Old 04-07-2013, 03:59 AM   #1
Lorien Lowe
Dojo: Northcoast Aikido
Location: California
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 289
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dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

I have never experienced behavior from a coach or sensei that approaches the level of abusiveness described in this article, but I have tolerated (or even been amused by) behavior by both that I would not tolerate in any other context. I don't feel bad about doing so, and I don't think that the coaches/senseis in question were in the wrong; I also got right up in the face of a PE teacher in high school once when I thought that he was being abusive towards other students, so I don't think that I've just been a pushover.
I've also been offended by behavior in both coaches and senseis that no one would say even strays from workplace behavior norms, based on the underlying attitude that I felt was displayed.

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/05/why_...usive_coaches/

Another area where coaches are, shall we say, 'less than respectful' is in physical therapy. PTs can cross the line of outright cruelty at times, pushing patients until they're crying or screaming at them... and be thanked by the latter for it later.

For me, I think that the answer to the 'why' of the the article's title revolves around trust: even with behavior that is superficially outside of social norms, I have never tolerated anything that I did not feel, based on a long-standing relationship, was ultimately in my best interests. Honestly, I wouldn't want to train in a context where a coach or sensei felt like they couldn't occasionally break social boundaries in order to make important points.
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Old 04-07-2013, 04:59 AM   #2
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Dojo: Aikido of Northern Virginia
Location: Stuttgart, Baden Wurttemberg
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

I have been a drill instructor for the military for Officer Candidate School as well as other type of military type training. I was charged at OCS to revamp the program, to keep it hard, but eliminate the hazing and abuse that was part of the program. I can tell you that some get it and some don't. There is a difference between pushing people, having high standards, not lowering them, and simple downright abuse and hazing.

You can maintain standards and push people to do things they did not know they can. There will be failures, disappointments, and tears from time to time, but it does not have to involve name calling, doing dumb stuff that has no purpose other than abusing someone.

People come to coaches and instructors etc for leadership and to be challenged. They expect to be pushed. However, the don't need to be abused. I am sick and tired of the unhealthy co-dependent relationships that seem to develop in sports and dojos that alot of folks accept as acceptable adult behavior, but in other areas of their lives would be seen as a perversion and unhealthy.

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Old 04-07-2013, 08:29 AM   #3
Malicat
Dojo: Suenaka-Ha Aikido of Bloomington
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

Quote:
Lorien Lowe wrote: View Post
For me, I think that the answer to the 'why' of the the article's title revolves around trust: even with behavior that is superficially outside of social norms, I have never tolerated anything that I did not feel, based on a long-standing relationship, was ultimately in my best interests. Honestly, I wouldn't want to train in a context where a coach or sensei felt like they couldn't occasionally break social boundaries in order to make important points.
I feel the need to point out that college sports and dojos are two very different situations. While a dojo may have impressionable young adults who don't have the life experience to know the difference between hard motivation and abuse, those young adults are still free to leave. I would argue that college athletes are not. Most, if not all, of them are on scholarships that are dependent on their continued participation in sports. If you walk away from a coach and quit the team, you have also chosen to quit school. If the choice is, deal with it or lose any chance at a college degree, I would say that most students are dealing with it. The coaches also know this, and they get paid based on their winning record. The culture in America is that you must win at all costs, and to that effect, the coaches feel free to abuse their captive players if there is a chance it will get them to play harder, and the universities ignore abuse in coaches that have winning records.

The situation of abuse in a dojo is a bit different. I've personally never experienced it, as any dojo I have visited that made me uncomfortable, I have immediately left. From what I have read and heard though, it seems to be based on the idea that the dojocho has some sort of mystical knowledge, and every student should suffer abuse in order to gain his ability. I would actually equate abuse in the dojo to that of a cult, and abuse in college sports due to an obsession with winning and the fact that the players are not, in the strictest sense, free to leave.

--Ashley
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Old 04-07-2013, 08:07 PM   #4
Lorien Lowe
Dojo: Northcoast Aikido
Location: California
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

You make a good point, Ashley; I was involved in a sport (crew) for which no scholarships were awarded, so I was free to leave at any time if I didn't ultimately enjoy the practice.

I think the 'cult' aspect is important too, but I think that it actually applies to some college sports as well as to some dojos; football at Penn State, for example. Any time the authority figure is seen as somehow more-than-human, there's a possibility for serious abuse by that figure.
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Old 04-09-2013, 11:08 AM   #5
Dan Richards
Dojo: Latham Eclectic
Location: NY
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

Quote:
Kevin Leavitt wrote: View Post
I am sick and tired of the unhealthy co-dependent relationships that seem to develop in sports and dojos that alot of folks accept as acceptable adult behavior, but in other areas of their lives would be seen as a perversion and unhealthy.
Thank you, Kevin! Elvis has left the building.

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Old 04-09-2013, 11:44 AM   #6
Dan Richards
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

Quote:
Ashley Hemsath wrote: View Post
While a dojo may have impressionable young adults who don't have the life experience to know the difference between hard motivation and abuse, those young adults are still free to leave.
Ashley, I'd say you haven't spotted what could be determined, by some at least, to be abuse, because you haven't been in the "system" long enough. Usually by the time it becomes more apparent, people are nearing or at the shodan level, and certainly around the sandan level. By that point you have people who've invested so much of their time and effort learning an "art" that the idea of freely leaving often implies - at least initially - that their practice and progress would grind to a halt.

Some people do leave after shodan level. It seems to be a big exit point in not only aikido, but other martial arts as well. And perhaps those are people who really did want to go after the achievement - the metal - the trophy.

But there are other people who are overall more passionate about the discovery and enjoyment of it all. Where shodan is just the beginning, not the end. And it's in those people that you'll find a number of ways that they find - or discover - to continue. Some are in schools and organizations, and it works fine for all involved. Others may find that stepping out of the hierarchy and discovering the resulting freedom is their path. And often that kind of decision does not come quickly or easily, and often comes only after the cognitive dissonance - created within the student by the hierarchical organization - is resolved.

Ultimately, any study and endeavor is the sole responsibility, not of any school, but of the student themselves. And the interesting stage is when the student discovers the "center" that harmoniously exists between them and the school - regardless of where the artificial lines in the sand of the perceived, current hierarchy appear to be.

Last edited by Dan Richards : 04-09-2013 at 11:57 AM.

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Old 04-09-2013, 05:45 PM   #7
Malicat
Dojo: Suenaka-Ha Aikido of Bloomington
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
Join Date: Dec 2011
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

Quote:
Dan Richards wrote: View Post
Ashley, I'd say you haven't spotted what could be determined, by some at least, to be abuse, because you haven't been in the "system" long enough. Usually by the time it becomes more apparent, people are nearing or at the shodan level, and certainly around the sandan level. By that point you have people who've invested so much of their time and effort learning an "art" that the idea of freely leaving often implies - at least initially - that their practice and progress would grind to a halt.
Dan, while you are correct in that I only have 2 years of experience in Aikido, encompassing 3 dojos and 2 different organizations, I do have extensive experience in Karate. I have also done a fair bit of dojo shopping since I move around quite a bit, and I have seen many dojos that I would classify as abusive in one way or another. What I have is a firm grounding in what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in terms of my needs for study. I also have no problems with taking a few years off of martial arts because I am not willing to study at a dojo that is full of ego, or otherwise an environment I don't find acceptable. While I realize that some students may be willing to put up with abuse just so they are able to study, I am not that kind of student. And even those students are not in the same position at students in college sports. The student at an abusive dojo, no matter what their personal investment in that particular organization, is still free to leave with no consequences beyond their own desires. A student in college sports does not have the same ability to quit, because the fact that the majority of them are on scholarships and would otherwise be unable to continue their college education if they quit dealing with an abusive coach.

I will agree that both dojo environments and college sports can be fertile grounds for abuse, I think it is due to different reasons.

--Ashley
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Old 04-10-2013, 11:53 AM   #8
Dan Richards
Dojo: Latham Eclectic
Location: NY
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

Ashley, more people like you is exactly what aikido needs. You're passionate, enthusiastic, outspoken, etc.. You express yourself well. Stand up for yourself. You understand that your training and progress is ultimately up to you.

The kicker is, in many cases, that the very hierarchical structure of aikido will tend to attract and retain - and reinforce - more of a conformist mindset, rather than creative freethinkers, explorers, and innovators.

I count you among the latter, and wish you well on your journey.

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Old 05-13-2013, 11:25 AM   #9
JLRonin
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 27
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Re: dominance hierarchies and crossing the line

cudos Dan San. Love your mind.
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