You can’t train with them! You can’t be my friend if you’re their friend! This ex-instructor is stealing all our secrets! This ex-instructor is offering a lower quality product! You can’t train with anyone else but us!
It seems like it’s a playground out there. Not a nice one either.
What’s on my mind? I recently saw a letter that the JKA sent out to its members forbidding them from training with an offshoot organisation. A letter that also that also states that attendance at such seminars may violate their ‘ethics and discipline regulations.’
It’s not as if I haven’t seen this behaviour before though: across Karate styles, in other martial arts, and in the ‘Reality Based Self Defence’ community. For my own part I’ve had an editor remove my name from a karate article that recommended me and I’ve known one instructor to imply that my decades of knowledge (and magazine articles and the karate system name in use before we even met) are based on the little common material he shared in two weekend seminars. I find it a shame that people can be so insecure.
There are good ways to attract and retain students and there are bad ways. There are good reasons to recommend someone not train with another group and there are bad reasons.
Let’s start with cross-training, that training element that probably every style founder and good quality teacher has in common. That training approach of taking and adapting good information from multiple sources that is best practice in every single physical discipline and common to all top tier professional coaches. After paying attention and putting in effort, cross-training is probably the single most important thing you can do (whether that is in person, online or through wider reading and research).
The only really good reasons to recommend that a group or instructor be avoided is if you have evidence of poor safety practices, fake qualifications, or knowledge of inappropriate behaviour that may put trainees at other risks (which, if held, should have been reported for investigation if it breaches any laws). It boils down to ‘Is there a physical or mental health risk or risk of abuse to my student?’, if not, it’s none of your business.
Any other reasons are probably bad reasons. If what is being taught elsewhere clashes with your organisation’s approaches it is up to the student to rationalise or compartmentalise such differences and to be able to separate them. If the process of doing so slows their ability to perform appropriately for gradings, that is their choice. If they decide to continue their training elsewhere and no longer train with you, that is their choice too. Students are not serfs.
If an instructor leaves an organisation and chooses to teach under a new umbrella, that is their choice. If they have been awarded grades then they are a reflection of that organisation’s standards. Those grades are not automatically invalid; they will always be an accurate reflection of how their skills and knowledge were valued at the time they were awarded. Organisations also need to accept that they may not have been the only source of an individual’s knowledge. It may be that a departing instructor is actually offering a more appropriate different training opportunity for other people. It might be that their choosing to move on should be cause for introspection rather than isolation or insults.
If an organisation chooses to ‘kick out’ an instructor for any non-criminal activity, or suggests they move on, that does not remove their ability to teach what they know. When an organisation seeks to undermine the qualifications of any former instructor or student they are actually discrediting their own current students and teaching. The martial arts are no different from any other walk of life; you will get ‘bad eggs’ and sometimes these individuals are very skilled at concealing undesirable traits and actions, but how long they are able to do so and how much responsibility they are given also says something about the culture of their parent organisation.
Students pay for the training and knowledge instructors provide. That information is already in the public domain, across multiple martial arts styles and in multiple publications. The information is rather like food; all teachers, texts and styles do is create interesting menus and dietary plans and recipes of dishes, they are not bio-engineering new crops or inventing new cooking methods and their organisations cannot trademark their techniques or knowledge because it isn’t new. Non-disclosure or non-competition agreements have no validity given that the techniques and information that are passed on can already be learned elsewhere. There is nothing new under the sun in thousands of years of human violence. The only thing that can be trademarked are logos and any in-house teaching terminology devised to describe pre-existing (and often common) concepts.
So how do you retain students if they are able to train with whoever they want? The simple answer is you make your club or organisation a place where people want to train.
There are many different reasons why individuals may take up a martial art, and their interests and aims may change over the time they train, but there some aspects that encourage people to stay that I think unite most:
- good quality instruction in good quality material
- a welcoming and supportive training environment
- opportunities to progress
- to get fitter, stronger and faster and be pushed but also to enjoy the training
- good value for money
- safe and hygienic practices
- feeling valued and respected
These are not unreasonable expectations. It’s also not unreasonable for you to raise concerns about how you or anyone else are treated.
It is unreasonable to be told with whom you can or cannot train with in your own personal time. It’s okay for a supermarket to say that you can only use their rewards card to get discounts off their items, it’s not acceptable for them to attempt to forbid you from shopping elsewhere, from holding multiple reward cards, or to track your social media to see if you are shopping elsewhere.
Wherever I train I look first and foremost for the top item on the list above, but if the other items aren’t met then I wouldn’t stay. There is a world of amazing instructors out there that meet all those requirements. Find them and enjoy your martial arts journey.