Sunday, October 30, 2011

Martial Arts Leadership - - vs. - - Cult

My first year of karate training was sometime in the 1975-76 school year, when I was a Freshman at college.  The style we were studying was Shorin-Ryu and my instructor was a state policemen.  He focused on the effectiveness of the art, and had a fair amount of traditionalism in how he ran class.

We did not want to be him.  We did not want to be like him.  We just wanted to learn karate, and we trusted him.  Further, he did not want us to be him or like him, and he said so, over and over again.  We were in college to develop knowledge and become ourselves, not  to become him.

Yet, if you were taking karate in the 70's or 80's, or you were alive in the 70's or 80's, you remember the movie "Karate Kid."

The evil karate instructor, the Sensei of Cobra Kai, on the other hand, molded his students to be just like he was, only not as good.  His students looked up to him, and believed him, and everything he said and did.  They drank the juice.

My experience from the 70's through today has lead me to believe that many karate schools, and their instructors, wield an enormous amount of power.  I have seen very cult-ish schools, where they treat the master instructor as a God ... or, in other words, they want to be just like him or her.  This is not leadership, but rather charisma. I have seldom met a karate instructor who did not have charisma.  It is NOT a bad thing, but having it requires a large degree of self control, and checks, to prevent becoming the type of leader that leads people down the wrong path.

One of the ways we teach our instructors to prevent students from blindly following them, is the use of stories.  In particular, teaching stories.  If you use teaching stories that are personal (about you) and the errors and lessons you have learned, the students will see that you are human, and have clay feet too.  Then you can direct them to improve themselves, as you have improved yourself, with the goal of their attaining mastery of their own.

Imagine for a moment, that you want to teach someone to throw a side kick.  Surely, at some point, you want them to know the mechanics of the side kick.  How to chamber, what to hit with, how to re-chamber, how to move with distance and timing.  But what you really want them to know is the power of the side kick. So instead of having a student, or a heavy bad, kicked and fly across the room, tell them a story when you were the heavy bad that flew across the room, or when you used to blast your students into a wall, or when you or a student or a friend used the kick on the street.  Know they have a clear picture of the power of the thing, with out having a clear feeling that you are a demi-god. (Keep it short - around 30 seconds)

Credit: Free photos from
Example: " I have a friend who as at Big Town in Florida, and was being hassled by some pretty big dudes.  For those of you who do not know, Big Town is a giant amusement park.  One of the attractions was a heavy bag that you would punch, and it gives you a meter reading of how much power you delivered.  These guys were hitting it pretty hard, and registering about 50% of the meter's maximum power.  My friends was with another friend, and they were talking a little too loud about how much power they thought they had.  Well, since that was pretty stupid, what you would expect to happen, did in fact happen.  They guys punching took offense, surrounded him, pushed him a couple of times, and challenged him ... 'show us how tough you are" ...  Instead of kicking them, he side kicked the bag, popped the needle to 100%, and awed the punchers.  That is the type of side kick I want you to have."

Now they have a clear picture of what you see as a side kick.  It does not build your own image as a super man, and now they will accept instruction much more easily, since they get it.

Why take all this trouble to teach?  Because you are the leader already. If you were not, you would have no students. Your goal is to empower your students, not subjugate them.  If you don't take care, you will crate a cult like feeling in your school, which all of us have seen so much.  You can improve the world around you rather than making it worse.

Teaching Stories, one of the paths to excellence as a teacher.

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