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Old 06-28-2003, 11:03 PM   #1
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
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Handling Complaints

Hello Everyone,

This forum has been extremely quiet for a while, but the episode of Edward Karaa and the 4th Dan has raised a general, and pressing, issue. Basically, the issue is this: if you are the witness or the victim of violence in the dojo, which, in your opinion, goes beyond the boundaries of hard training or what could be explained by the parameters of the master-student relationship as you understand this, what is the best way of making a complaint? I have tried to make this as general as possible and make no judgment whatever, either about Edward himself (with whom I have had some private correspondence on the matter), or the organization of which he was a member.

I think it has to be understood that the master-student relationship which is at the core of aikido training and the organizational structure of the dojo are two different things and do not always smoothly coalesce. An instructor might be an excellent teacher, but the organization of the dojo, or the persons with whom the instructor surrounds himself/herself, might, in the opinion of the dojo rank and file, leave much to be desired. My own experience leads me to think that this situation is more common than expected.

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.

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.

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.

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,

P A Goldsbury
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Hiroshima, Japan
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Old 07-03-2003, 07:36 PM   #2
RonRagusa
Location: Massachusetts
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Complaints should be brought directly to the head instructor of the dojo.

I should point out that our dojo is located in rural western Massachusetts where small towns are the rule and the largest city has a population of only 40,000 or so. There are only about 100,000 people in all of Berkshire County which covers roughly 800 square miles. As such, we may not experience the same problems that occur in dojos located in more densely populated areas.

Regarding the relationship between master and student; I was taught that the instructor is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the mat. This is how I was brought up and how I run my school.

Because I accept full responsibility for what occurs on my mat, I have no trouble expecting my senior students to treat less experienced students with respect and consideration of their rank. Conversely, beginners and lower ranked students are told not to "test" higher ranked students by trying to resist the application of technique in practice. Resistance plays a part in practice of advanced students who have attained the necessary skill level in order to avoid injury whether uke or nage. Violence in any form on the mat is not tolerated.

Organizationally, the dojo is co-owned by my wife Mary and me. All classes are taught by either one of us. She is my most experienced student, having studied with me for over 15 years. We share common views regarding violence on the mat and our responsibility in providing our students with a challenging but safe environment in which to discover their Aikido. We believe that we have made our dojo into something special and unique (don't all school owners feel the same way?). We have avoided the cliques and power centers that tend to form in larger dojos and nurturing is far more prevalent than posturing on our mat. Perhaps the fact that our student body is about 65% female has something to do with this. Students with axes to grind tend to weed themselves out and move on to other things.

In large dojos with many instructors a formal system for handling complaints should be established. Perhaps incidents like the one that was aired on these boards can then be avoided.
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Old 07-06-2003, 11:51 AM   #3
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Handling Complaints

Quote:
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
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 07-06-2003, 07:05 PM   #4
Chuck Clark
 
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It seems to me that within large modern organizations, there should be some process in place for reporting such things as abusive behavior and mishandling of funds. Especially since most of these organizations are operating as not-for-profit.

As those of us know that have been around for some time, there are leaders that provide healthy, challenging environments for learning and there are others that have condoned abuse and looked the other way when there were problems.

In the organizations that are not public corporations, it seems that it is up to the individual to make their own choices about who they choose to follow and take part in an association.

Chuck Clark
Jiyushinkai Aikibudo
www.jiyushinkai.org
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Old 09-22-2003, 08:08 AM   #5
DGLinden
Dojo: Shoshin Aikido Dojos
Location: Orlando
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We are a small dojo and I insist that everything is laid on the mat so that everyone can see it and understand what is happening at all times. That said, anyone having seen me angry does not willingly place themself in a position to invite my anger.

It works here. If I think something is going on in which a personality or power struggle is developing I ask in front of the entire dojo, and if it is, the entire dojo weighs in. I really treat this group like they are family.

I have thrown my senior instructor out of the dojo for treating other udansha like punching bags. Unforgiveable. Thrown other senior instructors out for other reasons. Always publicly, always out in front.

The rest is just normal human interaction. I believe that the more you keep things quiet and behind closed doors, the more things fester and grow foul. I don't care if people are publicly embarrassed. Aroound here, by the time you get to shodan - if you haven't been, you don't feel like a part of the family. But then, my guys actually wear failed kyu and dan tests as badges of honor.

Last edited by DGLinden : 09-22-2003 at 08:10 AM.

Daniel G. Linden
Author of ON MASTERING AIKIDO (c) 2004
Founder Shoshin Aikido Dojos
www.shoshindojo.com
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Old 11-11-2004, 10:45 PM   #6
Rocky Izumi
Dojo: GUST Aikido Club
Location: Salwa, Kuwait
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Re: Handling Complaints

Several times I have been sent out by a Shihan to investigate, decide on an action, and give advice to "rough" people. It usually meant I was hurt or injured in the process but was that not my job? Is it not part of the Shihan's purogative to send people out to do such investigations? It keeps things quiet and within the dojo. If you can change someone's behaviour without making the whole thing public, is it not better? It seems that making it public will cause the "rambo" person to fight back to keep from losing face. A private practice with the person or apparent "strong" public practice among close to equals would seem to be less of a situation where one person loses face and is less likely to change their behaviour. Of course, if a person does not change their "rambo" behaviour, it may require more upfront methods calculated for the person to lose face or not practice teaching again (in whatever manner is most appropriate for the case). Join, then Lead. Then, if they won't be led to a good conclusion, and continue to attack, crush as is.

I also assume it is the job of the Shidoin and Fukushidoin to keep track of such rumors as rambo instructors and report them to the Shihan for his decision to launch an investigation.

In my own dojo, I just kicked the people out and forbade them to practice Aikido with anyone other than myself or their closest friends, and not in a dojo, until I allowed them back into Aikido. Two that I did that to are now some of the best results I have had. One is at another friend's dojo and one is now the chief instructor of his own dojo. I let them cool in the wilderness for 5 years. They seemed to have learned during those five years.

I suppose these are part of the old ways but I have found them to work quite well for me. I am not sure all Shidoin really understand their responsibilities but it would seem to me that by the time they are Shidoin, they should understand or someone should tell them. In part, they are there to act as the Shihan's eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and body. They are his/her communications system and administrative information/investigative system.

Rock
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