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  • Dealing with kendo politics

    Hi everyone,


    I've been practising kendo for a couple of years now (still a novice) and I really love the technical aspect of it as well the great friendships I've formed. I've taken a short break due to some commitments and am considering returning but what has really stressed me about going back is the politics.

    By nature, I'm fairly reserved, self-conscious and perhaps a bit sensitive to awkward social situations. Harder than the kendo itself is trying to deal with behaviour I encounter in my club.

    I've come across several seniors at my club (and other clubs) who really try to pull rank on the lower grades and treat people very differently based on skill level (just automatically scornful and unfriendly towards lower grades). There's one senior who is always angry towards juniors and clearly shows disgust when you greet them but then will point out if you decide to not greet them (like a one way respect). Another senior seems to think it's okay to eye roll when you mess up a cut or just shoulder barge you without apology when walking past.

    I understand that seniors and senseis would be treated with higher regard but I believe that every member in the club deserves a basic level of respect and feel welcome. If I were to become good at kendo, I would never treat lower grade people with less respect (just like in my day job, I don't treat people with less experience with less respect).

    I also feel problems with behaviour are a lot worse in martial arts (compared to other recreational activities or even the workplace) since there seems to be a culture of just being compliant with everything and that the authority is always right. As such, problems which could be ironed out or nipped in the bud fairly straightforwardly end up festering unnecessarily.

    I would like to hear the thoughts of people who've felt the same way or understand what I'm talking about. Maybe I'm lacking perspective, am having the wrong approach or being a bit too soft? I really do want to practise kendo again but these things are spoiling it for me. I could try flat out ignoring the problematic seniors but then would this reflect poorly on me and show my lack of respect for kendo?


    Thanks for reading!

  • #2
    There's a saying in kendo (which has similar variations in other aspects of Japanese life): "Kendo begins and ends with rei (etiquette/respect)". It's sad that it sounds like this is not the case.

    It is true that kendo and other Asian martial arts have a culture of compliance with authority. But there is supposed to be a flip side to this: the authority figure has a responsibility for the development of the underling. It is not supposed to be one sided. Asymmetrical maybe, one-sided no. Also with a big organization like kendo, there is a degree of quality control that is typical of large Japanese organizations.

    I have maybe practiced with one sensei who abuse this authority (a Japanese high grade) in the sense that he expected submission to his rank and not much else. However, I am glad to say that the vast majority of sensei I have come across are simply genuinely interested in making other people's kendo better, even if they have to give a stern word or two occasionally to correct a mistake (or beat the mistake out of you).

    The earlier generation of sensei teaching in the West, if not of Japanese background, almost always had a Japanese sensei and had been taught first hand in the Confucian style of sensei-deshi. They developed that sense of responsibility they bore on their shoulders. I sometimes suspect that as kendo outside of Japan loosens its ties to Japan, in that the people who are in positions of authority no longer have a direct relationship to a Japanese teacher, the incidences where authority is not being exercised as an extension of responsibility will become more frequent.

    Also, this one-sided exercise of authority tends to happen more with immature sempai than with sensei. I did observe more of this in the West than in Japan but it still does happen nevertheless no matter which country. If your sensei isn't the problem and just the sempai, I would simply ignore the sempai and just keep greeting them as one decent human being to another. Their negative reaction is really their problem, not yours. Their ego will ultimately put a drag on their progression and given enough time and patience, you could eventually outrank them (they will typically quit when they start to see their kohai start to outpace them... that is what ego does).

    If your sensei however, is also a source of such dismissive authoritarianism, then maybe its worth looking for another place to train.

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks for your reply dillon, you’ve given me a few things to think about.

      I just want to conduct myself in a way that shows respect to the art and I think I do this partly by being as receptive as possible to the advice and actions of my seniors. I try to believe that they’re always helping me improve. It’s good to know that my feelings to some of the behaviour I encounter isn’t inappropriate or unnatural as it could very well be the case that the senior or sensei is immature or underdeveloped in some way.

      While I really don’t like the two-faced behaviour of some seniors in the dojo, I could probably just ignore them and keep in mind that the benefits of training there (friendships, quality of teaching) outweigh the negatives.

      Comment


      • #4
        Do you experience this behaviour from the sensei in the club? Or is this more a couple of bad apples. If the former, then the atmosphere is pervasive and there's nothing you can do. If the latter, then you have to decide if you can deal with it. If you stay, take the high road and show the same courtesy to everyone that you expect to be shown yourself. As you have been practising for a couple of years, you are now sempai to some junior people and have the opportunity to demonstrate proper behaviour by your actions.

        Comment


        • #5
          Yuch, politics. I 100% understand how you feel.

          Originally posted by nitro_rice View Post
          I really love [...] the great friendships I've formed.
          [...]
          I've come across several seniors at my club (and other clubs) who really try to pull rank on the lower grades and treat people very differently based on skill level
          [...]
          I also feel problems with behaviour are a lot worse in martial arts
          After reading your complaint, I am left with a lot of questions. From what you've said so far, it could be solvable within a couple weeks, or it could be completely unsolvable. So, here goes.
          1. All the complaints I read were with respect to seniors. What about the sensei? Is he just unaware of what's going on? Does he know, but refuse to get involved? Does his (her?) behaviour, implicitly or explicitly, actually encourage the bad behaviour you're describing?
          2. How many other clubs are available to you? If worse comes to worst, could just changing clubs solve your problem?
          3. How easy/hard is it to just ignore the offending seniors?
          And now for some personal anecdotes and general advice.

          You said that problems with behaviour are worse in martial arts. Allow me to quote Frank Herbert here:
          “All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”
          Any human organisation that allows people to have power over others is very, very attractive to those kinds of people. The only way to avoid this is for the people on top (in this case, your sensei) to take active measures to discourage them. That's why question 1 above is so very, very important: In a very real sense, the personality of the leader becomes the personality of the organisation as a whole. As Dillon said in his excellent post here: Do you trust your sensei?

          And now, a personal anecdote.
          About a year and a half ago, I was a private in the Engineering Corps. As I was walking in my camp, I realise that a three-star general's car was passing by. I stood at attention and saluted. Not only did that three-star general return the salute, he lowered the window so I could hear him shout "Good morning!" at me. After that, whenever some sergeant would barely acknowledge me when I saluted, I just chuckled internally.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for your replies, sorry I didn’t post sooner (the site wasn’t working for me the last time I checked).




            Originally posted by Neil Gendzwill View Post
            Do you experience this behaviour from the sensei in the club? Or is this more a couple of bad apples. If the former, then the atmosphere is pervasive and there's nothing you can do. If the latter, then you have to decide if you can deal with it. If you stay, take the high road and show the same courtesy to everyone that you expect to be shown yourself. As you have been practising for a couple of years, you are now sempai to some junior people and have the opportunity to demonstrate proper behaviour by your actions.
            This behaviour specifically is from only the bad apples. The sensei doesn’t exhibit this kind of behaviour but I think is aware of what’s going on. I can’t help feeling that maybe the sensei silently approves of the behaviour because it’s the kind of politics that would be in their favour (feeling more important?).




            Originally posted by Anorymous View Post
            Yuch, politics. I 100% understand how you feel.










            After reading your complaint, I am left with a lot of questions. From what you've said so far, it could be solvable within a couple weeks, or it could be completely unsolvable. So, here goes.
            1. All the complaints I read were with respect to seniors. What about the sensei? Is he just unaware of what's going on? Does he know, but refuse to get involved? Does his (her?) behaviour, implicitly or explicitly, actually encourage the bad behaviour you're describing?
            2. How many other clubs are available to you? If worse comes to worst, could just changing clubs solve your problem?
            3. How easy/hard is it to just ignore the offending seniors?

            And now for some personal anecdotes and general advice.




            You said that problems with behaviour are worse in martial arts. Allow me to quote Frank Herbert here:

            “All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”

            Any human organisation that allows people to have power over others is very, very attractive to those kinds of people. The only way to avoid this is for the people on top (in this case, your sensei) to take active measures to discourage them. That's why question 1 above is so very, very important: In a very real sense, the personality of the leader becomes the personality of the organisation as a whole. As Dillon said in his excellent post here: Do you trust your sensei?




            And now, a personal anecdote.

            About a year and a half ago, I was a private in the Engineering Corps. As I was walking in my camp, I realise that a three-star general's car was passing by. I stood at attention and saluted. Not only did that three-star general return the salute, he lowered the window so I could hear him shout "Good morning!" at me. After that, whenever some sergeant would barely acknowledge me when I saluted, I just chuckled internally.
            To answer the questions -

            1. I can’t imagine that the sensei isn’t aware of what’s going on (one of the seniors is very blatant). I don’t find the sensei approachable at all since there’s almost a worshipping kind of thing going on at the dojo (who knows who started it but he seems to be receptive of the treatment) and I feel as though approaching him would be frowned upon and thought of as disrespectful or something.
            2. I could change clubs but I suppose I don’t have enough wisdom on the matter to know if this isn’t a part of kendo itself (maybe the same problem is everywhere). There are several clubs around but this is the main one in the area so if there was bad blood, I might be reminded of it more often than I would like.
            3. I could ignore people but that goes against my nature as a generally friendly person, so it’s quite difficult.



            Thank you for your anecdote, I think more people need to realise that being nice to others doesn’t necessarily make you lose respect. I should probably just stick with it, it seems like it would quite rewarding to be able to practice kendo at a high standard.

            Comment


            • #7
              My experience with kendo clubs is entirely in the US and Canada, but I have found them mostly to be not as you describe. Sure there are egos and politics, people are people. However most clubs that I know are friendly places.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by nitro_rice View Post
                I don’t find the sensei approachable at all since there’s almost a worshipping kind of thing going on at the dojo (who knows who started it but he seems to be receptive of the treatment) and I feel as though approaching him would be frowned upon and thought of as disrespectful or something.
                Whoah whoah whoooooooooooah. Back up there. This is way more worrying than the seniors being rude—as far as I'm concerned, at least.

                From what you have said so far, your doujou sounds like it enforces a vertical social structure; the people above do as they please, and the people below have to suck it up. What's worse, the power/benefits that the people above have do not come with corresponding responsibilities. Is that familiar to you? I have no words to express my burning, passionate loathing for that kind of subculture.

                Originally posted by nitro_rice View Post
                I could ignore people but that goes against my nature as a generally friendly person, so it’s quite difficult.
                Ah, well, see, about that...
                The line that separates "nice and friendly person" from "doormat" is kind of hazy. In my experience in the martial arts, there have been several (7-8) cases where I had to choose between being polite and being dignified—and that's counting just IRL occurences. The problem is, my dignity is waaaaaay too expensive to sacrifice for those [sound of train passing by], so after a point I decided to always, always choose my dignity over anything else.


                First things first: Talk to your sensei. If he, or anyone else, acts like the sensei is too good for you, run. Go find some other place to train. Just train by yourself if need be.
                Secondly: Cults can grow, and even flourish, in the martial arts. There's a site called No Nonsense Self Defense that has a dozen topics on them. Although it doesn't sound like your doujou is quite that bad, I'd suggest you take a look at the Authoritarian Personality article and see if it rings any bells. At the very worst, having an idea of what is dysfunctional will help you appreciate what isn't.

                Comment


                • #9
                  One morning I went to keiko at Noma Dojo. Five times All Japan Kendo Men's Championship winner Uchimura Ryoichi-sensei was there that practice and as I passed by him I couldn't help but have a good look at one of the heros of kendo. He must have sensed my gaze so he looked up, made eye contact with me, and said good morning while giving a nod (a kind of casual bow).

                  As amazing if not more, Uchimura-sensei lined up on the kamiza (student) side for keiko with the senior hachidans and had keiko like the rest of us mortals.

                  People with real ability have no need to put on airs.

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                  • #10
                    Sorry, I meant to write three times AJKC winner Uchimura-sensei.

                    Somewhere in my mind I was also remembering seeing five times winner Miyazaki Masahiro-sensei attending a taikai and that info got crossed when typing.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Still wrong, Miyazaki-sensei won 6 times.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Thanks for the correction.

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