dojo wars…dont get any on ya. Pt.1

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I’ve been contemplating whether or not I should write this post for a while now. It’s been sitting in the “draft bin” while I’ve hemmed and hawed. Things have been going peacefully for me lately in the politics category and the AO has been quiet… so part of me is saying “just leave it be”, but I think that my experience could be useful for a person looking to start studying martial arts.

The thing people have to realize is that martial arts are a human endeavor and as such are subject to human weaknesses; ego, greed, envy, miscommunication, stubbornness and just plain old politics. Some of the people involved in this little story probably read this blog every once and a while so I am going to do my best not to offend anybody. I am only going to describe my understanding of the situation and my experience with it. I am going to leave any opinion on peoples behavior out of the equation.

Before I start let me say that I’m not claiming that this story is “common”, but from looking, listening and reading I am pretty confident that the reader can find similar situations nearby. And in the long run, my little part in this story is very tame. There have been situations involving lawsuits, violence and outright murder over similar events so this is going  to be sort of “milk toast” by comparison.

The names have been changed (or just abbreviated) to protect the innocent…the guilty…and myself. 😉

My experience with the martial arts began back in the early 1980’s. After years of fascination with the Saturday Kung-Fu Cinema, and playing “Ninja” with my good friend Paul (this was the height of the “ninja craze” 80’s mind you), I convinced my parents to enroll me in a small local Shorinji Kempo school. I attended regularly until my parents and I had a bit of a falling out with the instructor. In kind of “Kobra-Kai” fashion, the Sensei there had a bizarre rule that if you missed a class (as in one) and your excuse wasn’t acceptable to him that you would be “banished” for a month. Being in high-school at the time, I had to stay after school for an academic reason one evening (read: I wasn’t doing well in science class and needed some extra credit by volunteering to help at parent night). I told a fellow classmate and martial arts student to tell the instructor that I would not be able to attend and would bring a written excuse from my parents next session. Well that wasn’t acceptable..I was “banished” for a month after my very first missed class. Since that month was already paid for my parents went ballistic, made a big scene (and got their money back…good for them) and I never returned there.

1 to 1 1/2 years later, my uncle married a woman who was studying Chinese Kenpo at a local school that I eventually joined and attended into college. Well…my Uncle and her are divorced now and I think that part of the reason may have been “something going on” between her and one of the instructors. That school closed down after I achieved a couple of belts and I was a Ronin once again.

As I was going through college my buddy Paul decided to join Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children and on his worldwide tour studied a few various arts. Upon his return he decided to attend a local community college and this is when the main issue of this little biography began.

Paul saw that the college was offering a self-defense class and took it. It was being taught by a professor DB. DBhad a base in Chinese Kenpo and had brought a then little known Filipino master to the area, this master was teaching a “new” art that was then little known in the US. DB received an instructor level ranking in this art and was teaching a personal blend of it at the college. With the written approval of the Master.

There was another group of people in the area that started following this Filipino Master and DB began to meet and associate with them at various seminars, one of them was a man named TH. After a while, TH started proclaiming himself the “number one” man in the art around our area. This sort of perturbed DB, who had been running a successful collegiate program for a number of years and was never informed of his “subordinate” status to TH. This began a feud that lasted for years and currently seems to be in a North/South Korea style cease-fire.

Eventually, I began going with my friend Paul to weekly training sessions with DB. I attended seminars and assisted Paul with instructing various groups he started up after he attained his instructors certification. I bumped into THa few times, but I was not involved in any of the dojo politics.

The internet… being the gateway to hell that it is though that was about to change.

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15 thoughts on “dojo wars…dont get any on ya. Pt.1”

  1. Don’t get me started on this one! Integrity in the martial arts world is an endangered species!

    Will await Pt.2 with interest….

  2. KerryW and all

    I don’t think that ‘integrity’ in the martial arts is endangered as much as it has always been rare.

    Once martial arts left the ‘martial’ (as in soldiers training for the battlefield) and became ‘art’ (as in ‘masters’ fighting for patronage and appointments, prestige, and titles..) ‘integrity’ became a buzzword.

  3. I am fortunate in not having any politics at my gym, nor have I heard of our gym feuding with other people or gyms. It could be happening, but I don’t notice it, and I think I would. Then again, I am somewhat of a noob, only been doing Muay Thai for a couple of years now.

    I think that one of the reasons that I don’t witness the politics is that in my area there are very few gyms that teach MT, and that limits the strife. Just a WAG.

  4. Having witnessed these politics for many years in the FMA (has it been that long?), they never cease to amaze and repulse me. There is more incredulous head shaking nowadays than anger. The most common causes I’ve witnessed are money, jealousy, and pride.

  5. This sort of thing isn’t new nor is it just a non-Asian thing. A rudimentary look into the history of Japanese martial Arts in Japan going back long before the Meiji Restoration will demonstrate that this kind of human behavior has always been a part of martial arts culture. Probably always will be! “Bushido” is more of an ideal expressed in books, movies, and pop culture, than a philosophy that was actually lived to the degree many people fantasize about. The word “Bushido – 武士道” is modern term.

  6. I was thinking about this some more. Any instructor should consider that any student they instruct might just one day become an instructor themselves. If the personal character and integrity of the instructor is important, then all instructors shouldn’t teach anyone without a very careful consideration of the student’s character. The students are possibly future instructors. Seriously, who is to blame for instructors who are less than morally ideal or are people lacking integrity?

    If the martial arts are more about integrity or codes of behavior and “personal” development then they aren’t very “martial” and are then more schools of movement disciplines than they are about teaching a martial application of violence. If we expect Instructors to posses superior moral integrity, then isn’t it the responsibility of the instructor to pass that on the next generation? And shouldn’t that be more important then the effectiveness of the techniques that are being disseminated?

    It’s odd that we expect Instructors to be superior examples of humanity and above petty politics when we are talking about teaching the effective application of violence; injury, grievous bodily injury and possibly the dispatching of human life. If a person wants to join a club and be part of a group, that’s fine and very legitimate. But if you want to learn how to fight or if you want to learn self-defense (two different animals), then what should matter is how effective the techniques are, not how great a person the instructor is. The measuring rod of the instructor should be how effective a fighter (martial) the next generation is, not weather they engage in petty politics and squbles.

  7. “But if you want to learn how to fight or if you want to learn self-defense (two different animals), then what should matter is how effective the techniques are, not how great a person the instructor is. The measuring rod of the instructor should be how effective a fighter (martial) the next generation is, not weather they engage in petty politics and squbles.”

    From a purely utilitarian standpoint I’d have to agree. But there are more important things “worth believing in”…that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power (and fighting ability over character in this case) mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil….that vid is somewhere in this blog. 😉

    I also believe in the old saying that you are the sum total of what you read and who you associate with. I have a number of posts on this blog to that effect;

    I once got into a bit of a conflict (to come in the next edition of this post) over the subject of training with a famous martial artist who lied for years about his military and “secret agent” history. The debate went similar to what you are saying… “yeah he may have character flaws but he is a great fighter”.

    To each his own. Train with who you want, but in the grand scheme of life I’d rather side with people of good character. I’d rather learn solid martial arts skills from a “good example” than associate with (and line the pockets of) a person who may be a “better fighter” but a “life looser”. If the looser is the best you can find then I say you haven’t looked hard enough. For the average person studying martial arts, there is no need to “train with the best regardless of who or what he is”. I’d leave the best fighter in the world’s school in a heartbeat if I felt his character and morals were lacking. My personal honor and even my career would be at stake if I associate with the wrong people.

  8. As a LEO myself I understand that who you hang out with reflects on one personally and professionally. It appears I failed at making my argument.

    These things worth believing in, “…that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power (and fighting ability over character in this case) mean nothing…” are without doubt very much worth beliving in. Perhaps as close to the truth as one can come. But how does one marry the ideals of the “Warrior” and the “Warrior Path” with the reality of war? Going to War is going to kill, and society socializes its members not to kill. Soldiers, and Police are professional warriors really, the general public is not. Citizens who practice martial arts are not warriors. Police and Soldiers run towards the gunfire, 99% of the time citizens run away from it as they should.

    If the “Martial” arts teach these things worth beliving in, why don’t all martial artists exhibit these qualities all of the time? And when they don’t, is it the student to blame or does the teacher not hold some responsibility for not teaching these qualities or for taking on students who are not able to learn these qualities?

    Unfortunately, many martial arts teachers become cult heros of a sort to their students who often are unable to criticly question the behavior and talk of the instructor until the point where it become like your story.

    I am looking forward to the next installment.


  9. Fellow cake eater…. 😉

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going. You pose an excellent question:

    “But how does one marry the ideals of the “Warrior” and the “Warrior Path” with the reality of war? “

    And I have to honestly answer “I don’t know”…that very question was one of the founding issues that made me start this blog. That and addressing the “pedaling of warriorship” to the recreational martial arts practitioner.

    There are a number of posts that attempt to address some of these issues:

    These are a good place to start to see how my thoughts are starting to coalesce on this issue (military/LE “warriorship” and martial arts use of the term). There may be better examples in here somewhere, but these are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

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