Wednesday, May 11, 2016

things that never end well

There are some things in the universe that are categorically wrong. Right/wrong or good/bad thinking is binary and more times than not - is is less than helpful. Defaulting into labeling someone, some thing, some construct as good or bad shuts down any continued dialogue. Words may fly but it won't be dialogue. It will either be a gaggle of conspirators supporting the shared belief or it will be a gloves - down fight.

There are things, however; that are just categorically wrong.

Martial arts instructors do not sleep with their students. MMA coaches, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, Judo - it doesn't matter. If you teach anything that remotely looks like self-defense and you move the chess pieces around so you accidentally fall into bed with one of your students - it's on you. If your student flirts and moves the chess pieces around - it's still on you. Self control, personal discipline, good tactical decision making under stress...remember those things? Those things you are supposed to be half-good at? Yeah. That.


If you are...stop it. Any excuse you give violates the skills you are supposed to be good at and are presumably teaching.

Don't date your students is a general rule of thumb for the international instructors in my system. It is also a first-order rule in a top tier Instructor Development Course taught across a couple of continents. This intimates it may be a relatively common instructor ethic. For some funny little reason, it doesn't seem to matter much.

It's possible there is a female instructor out there seducing her male students. I haven't heard of this scenario yet so I can't address it and it doesn't matter the gender - this is a do-not-pass-go hard line. The situations I know of are all male instructor-female student and so that's all I can speak to by evidence.

A friend, martial colleague and someone I consider to be one of my instructors asked me once how often I though this happened. I don't remember what I said exactly - something like a lot. In the last month, two more stories. Different training environments, different "system", different types of women. Same damn thing. The impact is deep.

Why does it keep happening? Lots of answers. Like power, convenient dating pool, instructors are usually deeply respected and students will have big blind spots, the student feels special (which always feels good), getting someone to bow to you on the mat and then again in a dimly lit room...

I know, it's not always that nefarious. Shared interests, common friends, a metric ton level of close personal physical contact - I get it. It's the perfect storm. We take shelter during storms for a reason.

When that perfect storm passes the student feels: used, betrayed, hurt, confidence takes a hit, etc, she may even feel violated. Deeper. That place where she is learning to own her personal authority and to own the truth that her body belongs only to her is no longer that place. The person who is teaching her to set and hold powerful boundaries has just taught her another lesson - if you are the guy in charge, her boundaries are a guideline not a rule.

For women who have come through a violent encounter, the self-defense or martial art program has the chance to do something for her nothing else can do. The dojo (or whatever you call it) should be the space where she finds a level power someone else has denied her. Taking that away is inexcusable and the behavior that gets you there is predatory. If she doesn't have violence in her history, she is still facing a world filled with social messages that tell her to take a back seat, be quiet and acquiesce her authority. And yes, if you date her, it's still wrong.

Theoretically it might be possible to date a student, have the relationship end gently and mutually and still have her successfully training as a student. I have yet to find a single incident play out that way. I am also keenly aware that if you are having an affair with your student and you are reading this you are certain yours will be that one case. There is no way it ends well. Your students are never your dating pool - swim somewhere else for that.

If you are a martial student reading this and you are dating (or sleeping with) your instructor you are swimming in dangerous water. You may feel you like you've got this under control. By the martial gods I hope you're right -

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