On a forum I visit, a member posted his story of visiting another martial arts school. He speaks of asking the teacher a question only to get attacked as an answer. He didn’t understand the teacher’s reaction and asked if other members had experienced this type of thing. Personally, I’ve been there a number of times, both with instructors as well as students of the schools I visited. So here’s my response:
Sometimes the teacher has the ego problem but other times students are the reason why it degenerates to blows. The last time I trained regularly in a muay Thai gym, the teacher was great. He saw I’d trained before and was real neat in showing lots of details. But the students only saw me as a new heavyweight to pound on to see how I would react. Then they were surprised when I started hitting back and complained I was heavier and stronger than them… It’s not like they didn’t know that upfront.
Another time, a friend and I organized an open mat for shuai jiao and tui shou. We acted as referees and made sure everybody had fun training. The problem was a well known instructor who showed up with his two Chinese teachers He was arrogant from the get go and ended up telling my friend there was obviously nobody of any real skill present and he and his teachers should take over. My friend kindly told him no. So his shuai jiao teacher joined the session and tried to show off only to get tossed around for his trouble. They calmed down a bit. When my friend’s Chinese teacher arrived, they left in a hurry…
To balance things out, a positive experience: I was invited to a semi-private class by a student of a big name FMA teacher. I showed up and sat down on a chair. Waited until the teacher came over and introduced myself while thanking him to allow me to watch his class. After a while he invited me to share a technique if I felt like it. I did and he was very gracious about it. He asked if I wanted to join in a bit so I did. Everybody was very respectful and I tried to reciprocate as best as possible. We went for drinks after class and had a great time.
So I guess it is possible but takes some careful navigating to step into another school.”
These are just a couple of the things I’ve encountered while visiting other schools, there are more stories but let’s not go there today. Suffice it to say that my experiences are not unique, not by a long shot. Pretty much everybody who’s been training for a while has similar tales to tell. But there’s another side to that coin, not every teacher reacts this way to visitors because he’s a bully. Here’s another reply of mine:
“That said, as a teacher, how many times have you been forced to handle obnoxious assholes who come to test you or just stir trouble? Sometimes they come out aggressively right of the bat, others are sneakier and try to make you look bad in front of your students. I’ve had it several times and know a bunch of teachers who also had the experience. After a while, you tend to try and preempt trouble. Sometimes you can do it in a subtle way, sometimes not. And other times you just shrug your shoulders and turn away. We’re all just human.
The point is, if the teacher doesn’t know you and you act like one of those false humble guys who’ll sneak a shot in when you turn your back, or try to make him mess up in front of the class, he might act on it right away. Because at the beginning stages, your actions look just the same as the false humble guy.
I’m not saying this is the right way a teacher should respond. Only that it happens and is human but not necessarily done out of malice.”
There are definitely valid reasons for teachers to sometimes act decisively towards visitors. Whether the situation warrants it or not depends on too many factors to list here but that’s not the point. The key issue is knowing how to avoid these kind of problems before you find yourself smack in the middle of such a situation. Here are some ideas:
- If you plan on visiting another school, mail or call the teacher first. Ask permission to attend a class and let him know when you plan on passing by.
- Show up on time. Don’t walk into a class when it’s already well underway. Instead, come in early and wait for the teacher to arrive. More often than not, the teacher or a senior student will make contact first, giving you the opportunity to introduce your self.
- When you do that, be polite. Say “Sir” and let him do most of the talking. Clearly ask permission again to watch the class.
- Don’t recite your martial arts resume no matter how impressive you think it is. If you’re really interested in what the teacher has to offer, why would you go on about how awesome you already are? Empty your cup so it can be filled…
- During the class, sit down and don’t talk. Especially don’t let your non-verbal communication show what you think, good or bad, about the teacher and his students. Even if you don’t notice it, everybody will have his eye on you. Sitting there yawning or grinning whenever the teacher says something is bound to make things take a turn for the worse.
- After class, wait for the teacher to come to you or look for a moment when you he’s available. Don’t just walk up to him as he’s talking to his students.
- At that time, ask whatever questions you have but don’t grill the instructor. He doesn’t have to explain himself in his own school to somebody he doesn’t know.
Some of you might think this is a bit much and figure I’m exaggerating, which is fine; it’s your butt on the line when you go into a school and act without thinking first. The guidelines posted above don’t mean you have to grovel in front of the teacher and beg for the chance to study in his magnificent presence. Not at all. Just keep in mind that you’re stepping into unfamiliar territory with a bunch of people who might react differently to disrespect (perceived or real) than you do. You just might end up in a fight before you know it.
A more important point is that you could end up training at that school: As you’re watching the class, you conclude the teacher is a good guy and has an interesting style. Your next step is to try and enroll to attend regular classes. If you act in a way that is perceived as disrespectful, the teacher will perhaps flat out turn you down. Or he might let you join but his students could decide to “school” you a bit in the first couple classes. Either way, you don’t get what you want which is quality instruction.
Perhaps you can view these guidelines as a way to avoid problems and, at the very least, leave all your options open for the future.
In the next article, we look at some guidelines for your first training sessions in that new school. For now, feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section.