Careful When You Teach Your Arts

I have a couple of things to worry about when I teach, and all martial arts teachers have to think about this.

One of the things that’s obvious, is if what I’m teaching will really save a student’s behind when he needs it. This is something that I have in the back of my mind every time I teach a class. I’ve been doing it so long, it is second nature and I train all of my students as if they were going to fight a full contact fight in a few months. For this reason, I believe in developing real, functional skills as soon as possible. I take a lot of pride in knowing that my students, if anything, can fight. This is my specialty.

The second thing to consider is, what if the art was being misused. None of us want to find out that our students are going around starting trouble or hurting people, and it is too late to kick them out and take back what we’ve shown them. Basically, as martial arts teachers, we have armed our students with a weapon we cannot take back. If they begin to abuse their training , it is too late and we are responsible for the damage they inflict.

I recently received a phone call from the Sacramento Police Department, that one of my students had been arrested for assault, among other things. I was floored. This student had gotten into a fight with a gang member (who started the fight, btw), and MY STUDENT was arrested. Not knowing enough information, I had to make a bunch of phone calls, and do what needed to be done to find out what happened with the little bit of information I was given. All sorts of questions entered my mind. Had I taught the wrong person? What happened? I am going to beat his behind when I see him. It took 24 hours before I could go to see him, and even then I wasn’t allowed to visit him. It’s now been 3 days, and I still don’t know all the details. But this is what I do know… he was defending himself and the attacker went to the hospital with multiple injuries.

My student is a child. He is a straight A student, he comes from a good home, and has never been in trouble in his life.

What kind of world do we live in where our children (some of whom have never been in a fight in their life) are forced to injure another child in order to stop an altercation while a group of children watch? There are questions on top of questions to consider, but one of those things is, how much do we teach? What do we hold back? What if he needs those dangerous techniques to save himself?

Had I not taught my students what I teach them, he and a few others who have defended themselves would have been the ones in the hospital. But now that I’ve taught one to defend himself–and he did–he is in juvenile custody. Chances are, nothing will happen. His parents will be sued, he will have to move to another school (after all, the attacker was in a gang, which is a big deal in California), and he will carry the stigma of having been led away from school grounds in handcuffs. Not to mention, that this young man may be risking his life, should he ever hesitate to defend himself again.

We are told that the reason for the legal overkill is that the boy was injured, and the incident occurred on school property. Never mind that the “victim” was a known school bully who picked the wrong honor roll student to try and push around. At the same time, the student may have gone too far in his defense, besides the fact that he did not simply walk away. Even after being punched. Many martial arts students–even adults–can’t wait to use what they know for self-validation that “I am no punk”. As teachers, we have to consider this and should perpare our students for this internal struggle. We have a duty to both use discretion in determining who we teach and what we teach them, and we must also teach them when to use it. The difficult thing is expecting 12 year old boys to take it easy on thuggish bullies, when they don’t know if they are in a simple fist fight, or if their attacker is going to try an kill them.

If this was a perfect world, I would go to the house of the bully, drag his father into the street and beat him like a slave. After all, we are responsible for how we raise our sons, and if my son were a “gang” member, I would beat him every day until he got tired of the whippings (or just send him back to the Philippines to live with his grandmother… but they have gangs in the Philippines too). I could accompany my students to school and to work and on the street at night, and protect them myself. But I cannot, and instead, I have to turn them into their own bodyguards.

So, as teachers, we will have to balance developing superior fighters, but arming them with the ability to know when and how much to use. And if we are teaching children, it is more difficult because children are not always mature enough to monitor themselves, nor do they all understand whether or not their life is in danger.

When you teach your martial arts, you are giving them a gun and expecting them to use it wisely. Some of us are giving water guns, some of us are arming them with Uzis. But we have to study the art of discretion.

Just a few thoughts.

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