Thursday, September 16, 2010

Turning away students

This post is a bit of a thought in progress.  I've been pondering when you should turn away potential students from the dojo.

If a troublemaker shows up at the door, cocky and wanting to take the martial arts for the wrong reason, should you turn them away or try to work with them?  Movies are littered with stories of troubled youth involved in gangs and in trouble with the law being taken in by a martial arts teacher who turns their life around.

From my experience, this dynamic only really exists in movie land.

It's tempting to consider letting them try and then taking them down a few notches, but would that only serve to embarrass and make the situation worse?

If you don't 'put them in their place' is that fair to the other students? The dojo should be a positive experience for all, yes?

Don't get me wrong, if a troubled youth wanted to turn their life around are were seeking the arts to help them become a better person, they would be welcome.  It's the troubled ones who want to learn how to beat other people up that I'm talking about.

I'd love some thoughts on this topic.


  1. most would agree that everyone gets a chance.... but if a student shows he/she isn't willing to learn the code as willingly as the technical aspects, then there may come a point where one must consider the entire group ahead of the individual... sounds political, huh?... conduct, however, is as important (or more so) than the skills.... they go together.... maybe by avoiding promotion it would raise questions in the student's mind and then the reason could be explained.

  2. One detail that we often overlook in the movies, is that there is a one-on-one relationship. We can't always teach the "troubled one" in the group scenario. At least not without something tailored to him/her. This type of relationship is rarely developed in the early stages of instruction. I had an instructor who did this very well. There was always time to work the new concept and he walked around giving personal instruction to each student: new or old, familiar or unfamiliar, first timer or long time student. For me, at least, this was never superficial, each instruction took the concept to a completely new level. I had another instructor who changed his teaching approach when a certain new student joined. Everything became more internal for a month. After a month, the new student stopped coming, and instruction returned to a mix of internal and external. It's a hard balance to find, I am struggling to find it as I mentor others.

  3. J.C,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Holding a student back can be tricky. It can become a 'they are against me' type scenario which can feed off itself, repeating a cycle of negativity. With some students, perhaps it would cause self reflection, for others it might not. I'll think some more about it.

    Nice of you to stop by. Finding a teacher that you described is a great thing. I have been lucky to have found that same dynamic where no student feels left out and each gets some individual attention, tailored to their skill level.

    Changing teaching approaches when new students join isn't always a good idea. In our dojo, we often go off on tangents for weeks at a time, but the central approach to teaching, learning and improving remain. It's good to explore different areas of training, but it should be for the good of the group, not just for one person. As J.C. said, sounds political at times, but that's not really the case.

    Thanks for your comments.