Rape and Martial Arts Culture

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community recently had to deal with one of the biggest nightmares any martial arts organization would ever have to deal with: Two senior students raping another student. It brings up a million questions, but I think it’s important we take this event as an excuse to closely examine what happens in our own schools.

Ryron and Rener Gracie posted up the excellent video at the end of this post, and I think it’s important for every teacher of any martial art to sit down and watch the whole thing. It’s thirty minutes and it’s not exactly engaging…so pour a cup of coffee, and make sure you are paying attention. Don’t skip any of it, and listen to every word. They talk about mindset in schools, and what martial arts training should do for students. They talk about how to balance competitive spirit and intent with concern and care for your fellow students. Most importantly, they talk about having an air of what they call “service” in the school, that comes from the instructor down.

And they talk, frankly, about what goes wrong when you don’t encourage and enforce that mindset. They put the onus where it belongs, on the instructors, to avoid creating an atmosphere that fosters, or even permits, evil. They talk about competitiveness and hierarchy, and how that creates an atmosphere of evil. They explain their approach to teaching students to be world-class competitors without tainting the environment. It’s one of the best talks I’ve ever heard on the subject. And it’s timely right now, with the WMA community starting to move out of the wading pool of competition, and grappling with the implications of teaching a real-world martial art.

We have the opportunity now to clean up our different approaches and make sure we are fostering the right kind of competitors going forward. Lurking on the various forums related to our different arts, I can see there are a percentage of people already leaning towards, and arguing for, the worst possible interpretation of competitiveness. Some of you might even be students of schools that promote this kind of behavior. It’s a seed that needs to be eradicated.

You can’t stop an individual from following that path downwards if they are really intent on it, but you can make damn sure your environment doesn’t support that choice. And you can make damn sure that your environment doesn’t let that person infect the rest of your school. And if your environment actually fosters that thinking? Change it. It’s never too late. Change it…because for every story that makes the headlines, there are a hell of lot more that never do, and that’s a lot of your students you are putting at risk. Are you losing a lot of female students already? Ask yourself why, and honestly. They might be sensing a danger you aren’t aware of, or are dismissing.

It’s easy to assume that your personal feeling as an instructor will somehow be magically transmitted to your students. You might think that because you would never dream of doing such a thing, that your students won’t either. You might think your teaching prevents such thinking…but it’s only too easy to create an environment that goes counter to your own beliefs, and lets bad students teach their own lessons for others to follow. I know. I’ve done this. I’ve watched classes be infected and wondered where I was going wrong, while my class structure just continued to enforce the problem.

This video opened my eyes, and let me see what I had done wrong, and what I was now doing right. Watch the whole damn thing, and maybe you can skip that painful lesson. Or more importantly, you can make sure that your teaching is really doing what we always say martial arts training does: making better human beings.

3 thoughts on “Rape and Martial Arts Culture

  1. Hugh Wallace

    Thank you for sharing that video and your own thoughts on the subject. While a martial art starts and finishes with its physical techniques I can’t help feel that they are also the least important aspect of training but the reality is that most students are not interested in learning the deeper things, unless you can encourage them to be. Too often instructors give students what they ask for rather than what they need. Obviously, if you don’t give them what they ask for they stop training so the trick is to give them what they need while appearing to give them what they want.

    As the instructor you have to watch everyone like a hawk and assume the wost while encouraging the best. One student with the wrong attitude can destroy a whole school and it doesn’t have to go to the extremes of gang rape. I have seen this happen up close and personal and I still don’t understand the motives or intentions behind the actions that played out. Sadly a larger group of very nice, very pleasant students lost out because various people in a position of authority failed to see or address the actions of this one student. But then again, perhaps because some of those people in authority were not of the best character either…

    Reply
  2. Robin Schaechter

    Similar issues and ideas are looked at beautifully in this book:

    Dueling with O-sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage

    by Ellis Amdur

    Reply

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