One Way Dojos Collapse
I was asked by a friend, “You said most of the top seniors you used to train with in your teacher’s dojo in Japan in the 1970s are no longer training in that teacher’s dojo. Why do so many top skilled students in the martial arts training hall so often leave the dojo once the dojo grows in student numbers?”
In any dojo you have:
- “A students” – the most capable and motivated members (20% of student base?)
- “B students” – the worthy and admirable, dedicated to learning (65% of the dojo?)
- “C students” – the “skill and motivation challenged” who train despite lack of perceived improvement (15%?)
- Some dojos even have “D students” – dark-hearted ones who perversely delight in staying around just to cause difficulties. This is a form of mental illness based on resentment of those who work harder and contribute more. Seems weird but is surprisingly pervasive.
When the teacher treats B students like A students, it makes B students think they are A students. B students then quickly grow an entitlement mentality. They forget they are indeed Bs and not As. They start to make opinion statements they have no right to make. They judge others they have no right to judge. As a result, A students then rightly feel disgusted and either 1. lose their motivation to strive for higher mastery, or 2. leave the dojo.
When the teacher treats C students like Bs by giving Cs all the same belts as A and B students – despite their lack of advancement in skill and leadership – A and B students will be demoralized.
When the teacher tolerates D students, As and Bs perceive the teacher as weak or foolish, and Cs are often seduced by Ds into degenerated D-supporting behavior.
When I was a young teacher, I was guilty of not understanding the truth of A, B, C, and D perceptions and preferences. I optimistically maintained a “Golden Rule” approach where I treated all students as I wanted to be treated myself – as determined to strive to become the top A student.
My own teacher teased me as being majimesugiru – “too sincere” or too serious. He felt the way to build a big dojo was to reward each student with exactly what he or she wanted. Some wanted knowledge. Some wanted skill. Some wanted belt rank. Some wanted an identity. Some wanted a father figure. Some wanted to feel more important than those better than them. Some wanted techniques for navigating daily reality, and some wanted escape from reality. Like the magical little man behind the curtain in the Great Oz throne room, my teacher happily gave out whatever his student came to him to find. It was just that easy for him.
I suppose I differ from my teacher on that point, even as I acknowledge his warning of my being too serious about maintaining quality in the belt ranks. I do agree with him though on finding the familiar Golden Rule as usually inappropriate for the dojo. You cannot ascribe to all students an assumed similarity of motivations and willingness to commit. Not everybody truly aims at full martial mastery.
Therefore, as a best practice, a teacher needs to maintain a genuinely fair and transparent program for training advancement, and reliably reward and recognize people legitimately based on their performance in:
- Skill – “How good are you, compared with all others?”
- Advancement – “How much have you grown beyond where you started?”
- “Nobility” – “How much benefit have you brought to others above you and below you?”
(Watch for a future blog wherein I pose an opposite argument. There is of course no contradiction, just a bigger view of the fullness of reality.)