It is currently finals week for many colleges in the country, including mine, so my apologizes for the lack of updates the last few days. Today I want to offer my opinion on school loyalty. Over the last decade, my school has reorganized multiple times. The head instructors have been asked to step down, the junior instructors have changed schools, and at one time, half the school was split between instructors and unsure who to take classes from.
If You’re an Instructor
First, if you are an instructor, do everything you can to keep your students out of this game of picking sides. We all hold some loyalty to a good instructor, regardless of anything else. If your students are unsure of where they want to learn from, give them some time to figure it out and do not shun them if they do not choose you. Karate is often ingrained with politics and things will change from year to year. There is no reason to lose a friend because of a difference in Karate. It would be much better to stay in contact and try to setup joint seminars or tournaments for some group learning or friendly competition.
Now should you be on the other end as the student, like I was, you have to make the decision of where to go. For me, this was always an easy choice. My loyalty remained with the school. If a teacher left, I stayed. If someone knew took over, I stayed. If the school changed styles, I stayed. My school even moved locations four times, and I followed along every time. My situation is not always as easy as some. I have been gifted with a set of amazing teachers who were all junior black belts when I started at their school. I have watched many of them progress towards the status of Renshi over the last decade and their individual methods have all influenced my teaching. With that in mind, I was happier at the school rather than following one particular teacher because I was always able to learn something new as the teachers rotated.
What if this choice isn’t as easy? This is when you have to weigh your options. I would never stay with a school when the new instructors do not care about their students. You have to give this a little bit of time or have already known them to pass judgement, but as I talked about in my Nidan Research Paper, Karate-Do is more about the character of a person than their technique. A teacher who cares about his students and doesn’t always have the best Karate skills will have my vote long before a skilled martial artist with no real understanding of how to treat people.
Another thing to consider may be politics, depending on your rank. If you are a brown belt (close to black belt) and want to be part of the national or international organization that your school was part of before the split, then you should make sure the teacher you choose to stay with is doing so as well. If both teachers are doing so, it may be best to stay with the one in better standing until your promotion. This isn’t how it should be, but in a global environment, a black belt (or future black belt) has to be mindful of organizational politics.
What I Did
When it was my choice, I chose to set aside organizational politics and stick with my school. When the school then decided to change organizations, I stayed with it because my instructor was the kind of person who always worried about his students first and his loyalties second. That fostered the kind of environment that keeps me coming back. I go home about twice a year for maybe a week or so at a time, and I spend every chance I have in the dojo passing on what I have learned while away.
I implore everyone to put their loyalties in this order:
- Students (If you have any)
Always do what is best for your students. They put their faith in you and you should not let it go unrewarded. After that, stick with your school. If there is concern that a change will make a negative environment, do what you can to correct it before changing schools. If there is no hope in fixing the school, stay with a good instructor, regardless of their affiliation (an obvious exception to instructors in cults and terrorist groups). Finally, if you can’t decide on which instructor, then you should stay with your organization. Never underestimate the breadth of an organization. It has been about four years since I considered myself part of Yamashita Shorin-ryu and it is only now that i started meeting Kyoshi from all over the world in his organization. People that I used to stand ten rows behind and glimpse at during seminars, now seem more like fellow karateka and less like demigods. Had I spent my four years ranting about how the whole organization can go somewhere unpleasant – I doubt they would be quite as kind towards me (although Ankon Itosu would advice to be anyway).
Please take all of this as some friendly holiday advice. I was presented the opportunity to go to a seminar in lieu of my schools Saturday morning kids class next week. While I see there being far more personal gain at the seminar, those kids, however goofy they may be, will all benefit from having an energetic 20 year old who wants to spar, if only for that one day. Being my students, or at the very least students of my school, that is where my loyalties lie. Where do yours?