This is my follow-up article to Sensei Kruczek’s “School Loyalty” article, and it comes only from the point-of-view of a mudansha (under black belt) student. Loyalty is a common concept within the martial arts and is generally expected, but how it is defined and to whom that loyalty is given varies. As a student below the rank of black belt, whether you are a white belt or a brown belt, I believe that you must first hold loyalty to yourself. This is a very difficult thing for most people to do, and it tends to offend people when I say it because it is generally expected that students should be loyal to their instructor or their school. The most important thing to remember when I say that, however, is that it is not meant to offend anyone at all.
Loyal to Yourself
What if I said that you can be loyal to your instructor by being loyal to yourself? What if I said you could be loyal to your instructor and your school by being loyal to yourself? At face value the concept of being loyal to yourself seems to be selfish and conflicting with the other concepts of loyalty, but in reality that may not be the case. For instance, if you practice Shorin-Ryu and enjoy it the way your instructor teaches it, then it benefits you to hold loyalty to your instructor. Or perhaps you practice Shorin-Ryu and find a lot of value in the curriculum, but not the instructors teaching methods, in which case it benefits you to hold loyalty more to your school or organization than your instructor.
It can be true, however, that being loyal to yourself can result in being “disloyal” to your instructor or school. For instance, let’s say you practice Shorin-Ryu and enjoy it for a while, but eventually decide you would rather expand on the grappling concepts you learned and pursue a grappling art like Judo or Jujutsu. In that situation it would not benefit you to stay with your instructor or school if they do not offer classes in those arts, so you would likely begin training somewhere else with someone else. What people worry most about when this happens is offending their instructor or the people from their school. This is a very common and understandable concern but martial arts are about personal development and if you find that what you are doing is not benefiting your personal development then you need to change what you are doing in some way.
Something else that I want to mention is martial arts politics. As a mudansha student you will most likely not be involved in martial arts politics on a personal level, but it will likely trickle-down to you at some point, and I have always done my best to stay out of them but it is not always possible. Let’s say, for example, that someone your instructor knows leaves the style because of some sort of political issue within your organization. You may want to attend a seminar with that person sometime down the road, but in order to not get involved with any arguments between that person and your instructor you would likely not attend. This situation is a double-edged sword and unfortunately there is no good solution without a good student-instructor relationship, so it is something that I strongly advise students discuss with their instructors, and I hope that instructors will be loyal to their students enough to allow them to do what they think they should to continue developing their martial arts, even if it means going to a seminar held by someone the instructor doesn’t like, or if it means going to another style completely.