On the radio, I heard Dr. Laura take a call about martial arts. The lady calling had just started karate. The head teacher was male, and the Sempai (second in command), a woman, worked with the caller a lot. She thought the Sempai got frustrated with her because of the look on her face, and because the Sempai said, “No, no no. Don’t do that.” Dr. Laura said the caller was being sensitive, but since she is “paying the bills” she could request from the head teacher that she have a male teacher work with her. The caller seemed happy with this suggestion.
“What?!” I said aloud to my radio. What kind of a solution is that? This request, if granted, will not help the caller to be more open-minded, or to respect herself in her own femininity. It will not help her learn what martial arts students learn most – about her own attitudes, inclinations, and weaknesses. Instead she will think teaching skills are based on gender, not on the individual teacher. If the student does persevere and one day becomes a karate teacher, what will she think about her own ability to teach, being a woman?
If the dojo (organization) grants her request for only a male teacher, it will hurt the dojo as a whole if they think they have to assign a specific (fitting) teacher to each student. Students are going to have preferences and favored teachers – it’s human nature. But they will be better served by doing their best as they learn from a variety of teachers. That teacher you’d rather not work with might be the one who teaches you the most about discipline, respect, or a specific technique which would have been weak if you only learned it from your favored teacher.
The Guiding Principles we teach in our traditional Okinawan karate at East Valley Martial Arts Kenshin Kan would be helpful to this caller, and to any student who wants to work only with “that” teacher. Guiding Principle #1 is: “When asking to be taught, be submissive and free from prejudice, accept the teachings as shown. In this way you will not establish your own peculiarities or bad habits.” We come to the mat with plenty of garbage: negative history, and subtle but ingrained prejudices. Through an open-minded pursuit of martial arts, we can free ourselves from that nonsense.
If the head instructor takes the caller-student’s request at face value, it will not help the Sempai to become a better teacher, a skill in which she is poorly lacking. We all have our bad days, and karate teachers are human too, and we can get frustrated. But for a teacher to show frustration with a new beginner, and use mostly, if not only, negative instructing phrases is unacceptable.
There is one way this situation could be helped by Dr. Laura’s recommendation. Hopefully the caller’s dojo has an open door policy like ours, and the head instructor will dig a bit deeper into the student’s request and realize that the Sempai’s teaching is sub-par. Then he can train and instruct the Sempai in her teaching skills, including not teaching women in a different manner than how she teaches men. If the Sempai is a good martial artist, she will always be open to ways of improving herself, her attitude and her instruction technique. Then the caller-student, Sempai, head instructor, and dojo as a whole will all grow, learn and improve together, which is how it should be.