Keith R.A. DeCandido (kradical) wrote,
Keith R.A. DeCandido

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cult of personality in martial arts

Sensei Jennifer Fremon is a martial arts instructor and student -- she co-owns one of the dojos in my discipline of karate with her husband, and she also studies jiu-jitsu -- and she blogs about being a martial artist and a mother and other stuff. Her latest entry is an excellent piece on the dangers of how being a martial arts instructor can turn ugly if you're not careful -- or if, y'know, you're a sociopath....

An excerpt:
Picture a "Kaicho Nakumura" in your head. Got it? Yup, what you are picturing is exactly what he was like. Japanese. Average sized in stature but huge in presence. Mostly soft spoken, except when angry. Occasionally grunts in Japanese. Has a bunch of black belts who follow him around doing his bidding. Gives speeches after class about the way you should live your life, how you should treat your family, and so on, while wide-eyed white belts look on in awe.

The thing is, Kaicho Nakumura was a nice guy. He had a good heart, a kind spirit, and the genuine belief that karate could change people's lives for the better. He was about discipline. And respect. And honor. And he was a no-joke karateka. The real deal.

He was no Lloyd Irvin, that's for sure.

Yet still, people would whisper his name in reverence Students would practically trip over themselves in order to pass privileged information to him, to gain his favor. If you were in his inner circle, you were worthy. If you were lucky enough to be in his class, you were hoping that some of the magic dust would fall on you, thereby transferring all the secrets of the ages into your soul. Students carried his bags. They brought him water. They didn't eat until he took his first bite. And some of them would sell their first born child if Kaicho Nakamura told them too.

Did this man actually have the balls to stand up there and demand that everyone worship him? No. He never even talked about himself. He was just being a karate teacher. He didn't ask for any of this? He didn't! It just happened! It just happened purely because he was the head of this karate organization and people were looking for a guru to follow. Can you imagine what would happen if the person in charge was actually trying to be God?

You get...well, you get Lloyd Irvin.

(For more on Irvin, here's a collection of links....)

This is something I've had to deal with only to a minor degree, as I'm pretty much just a glorified substitute, but I do teach classes solo occasionally, and I don't think I'm being immodest by saying that I'm good at it. (Mostly because if I wasn't, Shihan wouldn't keep letting me do it.) What Sensei Jennifer is talking about is a real danger. I teach little kids a lot, and there are parents who are very grateful to Shihan and to me and the other Senpais who help out. That level of respect and gratitude can very easily be twisted into something unpleasant. The Lloyd Irvin story is a brutal little cautionary tale......

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