Tuesday, April 26, 2011


A very good friend and training partner told me once that because he was a bit of a bully growing up, his mom wouldn't let him study martial arts as a child. Now 40, he's forging his path by preparing to test for his 6th kyu in USA Goju, training also in Jujitsu and Muay Thai and hitting the mat or gym six days out of each week. He also thinks martial arts would have helped him a lot when he was younger, not turned him into a thug.

Soon after our dojo's last promotion in January, we noticed that one of our 9th-kyus - a seven-yr-old with severe ADHD - hadn't been to class in a while. When I called his mom to see if everything was OK, she told me that she'd decided to stop bringing him to karate because her son was beginning to use his knowledge of strikes, blocks, kicks and kata to terrorize (her words, not mine) his class- and school-mates. She thought it best to give him a little time to mature before returning to the mat.

A few weeks ago, my sensei and two of my training partners visited his instructor's dojo (it was opening night of my son's school play, so we couldn't make it). At the very next class, my dojo-mates were all aflutter about one of the new white belts in the class who was very mouthy to her instructors. She questioned why she had to do certain things instead of just doing them. My dojo-mates were as shocked by her lack of knowledge of how things should be done in the training hall as they were by the fact that not one of her dojo mates pulled her coat to tell her to tone it down or sit down until she could.

Last weekend, I was ALL OVER one of our 12-yr-old 6th kyus because he was blatantly disrespectful to one of the adult students he out-ranks. Although he is one of the highest-ranking kids in the class, he usually acts like he is doing everyone a favor when he falls in at the start of class and gives less than a half-assed effort in kihon, stance work, kata and sometimes kumite. An only child who is used to being coddled by mom (she actually helps him take off his sparring gear when she's in attendance) he just never seems to do much of anything with fervor or enthusiasm at all. The week before, when I found his belt in a tangled heap in the middle of the floor shortly before a demonstration we were about to do at a local community center (he had run off to play basketball), I stuck it in my gear bag. Training partner Ed and I discussed it and decided that he won't get it back until his attitude adjusts - which means he will be forced to line up in the back of the class for a bit. Because we've seen him step it up for grading and competitions, we know what he's capable of when he wants to put forth a little effort. Time will tell if being away from the front line for a bit will be the spark that ignites his enthusiasm.

But back to last weekend: when I called him out for being so ugly to his dojo mate, the room got pin-drop quiet as I'm not a screamer on the mat unless I'm kiai-ing during kata and my usual way to handle protocol breeches would have been to pull him to the side and reprimanded him privately. But because of the level of disrespect (he actually told an adult who reminded him not to show the bottom of his feet while sitting and waiting for his turn to present kata that because he wasn't his father, he didn't have to listen to him), it seemed like a good idea to assist him with pumping his brakes post haste. Recognizing "the look" as I prepared to speak to the 6th kyu, my 17-yr-old son adjusted his posture and stepped back to allow me room to pass. He told me later that he was actually scared for the kid, having been on the receiving end of "the look" so often (perhaps there is something to be said for the "kiai of the eyes" after all :-). And I did let the youngster have it by letting him know that the next time he parted his lips to speak to anyone in the dojo in such a manor, he'd be immediately asked to change his clothes and sit and watch the class until his mother could get there to pick him up. Next came the "But what did I do?" stuff, which I absolutely have no tolerance for at all. His aunt, who'd witnessed the situation at the demonstration, said she'd speak to mom and have her give me a call. Seriously, I'm pretty sure his mom already knows what's going on because if we're seeing that behavior in the dojo, I'm sure his teachers are seeing in school and she's probably witnessing it at home as well...

All the ads for area and distant dojos that I've ever seen talk about how discipline and respect are a few of the main benefits of karate for young people. As my 40-yr-old training partner, my seven-yr-old student's mom and my dojo-mates would probably tell you, it extends well beyond standing in yoi for what seems like an eternity, or addressing your instructor as "sir/m'am" or even rei before, during and at the end of class. They get that budo dictates both must be present not only during training, but outside of the walls of the training hall, too. But what about those you train with who don't?

For those of you who teach or train with different age groups and ranks, how do you handle disrespect in the dojo?


  1. Depends. Just like in self-defense, the situation dictates the response...depends on who is doing what, when, etc.

    I understand 'the look'...

  2. While I am not a teacher, I have seen similar issues with respect and behavior in students in our dojo from time to time. We even had an incident where boys were peeing all over the bathroom and each other after class. (What is with kids these days!?!?)

    I'm not sure how parents deal with this kind of behavior, but our Sensei are very good about 'laying down the law'. I have seen them administer push ups for disrespect to both children and adults. In the children's classes they will give push ups, strong verbal reprimands in front of their peers, have children sit in the corner for part of the class and things like that. After class if a child has misbehaved you can guarantee the instructor will talk to the parents, explain what the child was doing and what the instructor did in response.

    I know Sensei Nick has actually kicked kids out of class and told their parents not to bother bringing them back.

  3. I understand "the look" too, David. My mother was an absolute MASTER at it, LOL...

    We generally don't have many issues with students acting out too much (great LAND - kids PEEING on each other?!? WTH?!?), SGS - but this kid is unique. He's just got no umph. He cannot do a proper pushup - and he's been training for three years (he started elsewhere). He is not even embarrassed that 7-year-old girls who started training a month ago can knock out 10 or so and he can barely do one. (I've been working with him - he's now doing them on his knees and focusing on keeping his back straight so his obi touches first - but it is like pulling teeth.). He really, really NEEDS to be there, so we are super leery of kicking him to the curb, but I'm now not so sure he WANTS to be there. Or anywhere for that matter...

    Spoken with mom. We'll give it a few weeks and go from there...

  4. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Good luck!

  5. I guess I don't teach young adults yet being the hard nosed person I am, dismissal from training. Tell him/her to please change, turn in their belt, and when Mom/Dad arrive leave and don't return until it can be demonstrated to your satisfaction they have actually learned to be human and decent.

    It would be apparent by talking to their school and other dojo mates who know them, etc.

    But then again, maybe why I don't instruct or run a dojo anymore.

  6. Great topic of interest here. I've often find the alignment of the parents to be crucial in developing the child.

    If the parent has your back and supports the discipline you demand, the child can be improved. If the parent's personal ego is insulted or in some way he/she believes you have no right to correct their child, then of course no improvement will be made and the student will likely leave.