Slimey Sensei and Sloppy Students: The Toxic Personalities Found on the Mat
Did you see that, mate?!
It looks like a toxic person! They’re known to infect the environment they’re in.
Get this: though it’s not the typical space people think of them inhabiting, sometimes they even find their way into the martial art school as students or, heaven seriously forbid, teachers!
Ok, we’ll pause the mockumentary and meditate on this thought a bit differently.
As martial artists, we often hope to find a martial art studio with an environment conducive to growth in our preferred ways, be it for self-defense, personal development, or overall skill acquisition.
The unfortunate truth is, sometimes we are surrounded by people–or worse, a whole community–that actually does more harm than help.
There are signs that you can recognize if you listen to your gut. It can be an uneasiness that arises when you partner with a person, it can be your hesitation to work with a teacher, or it can even be the frustration that fills the room when that person walks into the facility.
Before you disregard that feeling and write yourself off as certifiably crazy, read on below. I'm willing to bet that you'll find a personality type you've encountered in the dojo, whether to hilarious results or more serious ones.
The squint of the eyes, the unimpressed body language, the barrage of words enlightening you to how many synonyms there are for the phrase “do better”.
If you've been in the martial arts for any amount of time, it's likely that you've experienced or at least heard of a stern teacher who could make an entire adult dodgeball league wince with just a glance.
Let me start by saying this: a strict teacher is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, for many people it can be exactly what they need. There is a reason why military training is the way it is and how it creates lasting bonds.
With that being said, correction and candor is always best when rooted in kindness, whether it is on display in the interaction or not. Words should be shared and actions should be taken primarily because of investment in your progress–regardless of how blunt the way they express it may be.
Unfortunately, the type of instructors we are talking about here are the ones that actually don’t give a rat’s ass about their students–or at least, they care more about themself, their reputation, and their dang ego than the students in their care.
They hurt their students during demonstrations and then have very little regard or empathy for the damage done afterwards.
They abuse their place in the dojo in disgusting ways.
Afterall, you should just “suck it up”, “be stronger”, or “listen to your teacher!”. No bueno.
Martial arts is the place where many go to when they want to feel empowered, where kids go to learn bully prevention tactics and adults go to learn real-world self-defense. It is not the place where serious physical or emotional damage should be done, especially when it is simply to stroke a weak ego.
The Abuser doesn’t just abuse their students in harmful ways. They abuse the power they wield in the dojo and bastardize the gift of being a teacher.
Advice is for people who need it–”obviously” this person knows all that they need to know in life.
The Arrogant students are those you work alongside with who purport to know how to do everything they've been shown after just the second or third time...and likely even the things they haven't yet been shown.
Heaven forbid you try to offer help as a fellow student.
Ego is a funny thing because it can be shown in small ways and in big ones. The extreme of this archetype is that of someone who stubbornly refuses help because they feel they know better, however the bit of ego inside of all of us can sometimes add resistance to new knowledge as well.
Meditate on this.
Don’t let this person be the one who looks back at you in the mirror.
This is the archetype that so many of us imagine when we think of a person running a bad martial art school. This is the old dude teaching at the strip mall Karate Studio who can barely tie his black belt all the way around his beer belly.
It's probably been a long time since he's actually taken a class or put in time working on his own technique, however he certainly believes he can teach like he is God's gift to white belts across the world.
As the students keep doing their techniques in the air, the teacher largely neglects any attention to detail (because he doesn’t know them, nor care about them) and instead chooses to just spout obnoxiously weak motivation at random.
Yes, there is a distinction between being an able coach and a capable martial artist, however this guy can't walk the walk or talk the talk. Sometimes, a martial artist gets complacent in their knowledge and stops trying, stops working, and sadly stops acting like a martial artist entirely.
Though they may not be the ideal coach, they do provide an important lesson: don’t let any amount of success breed complacency.
I'll be honest...this person probably doesn't want to be in class.
This is the teenager whose mom is forcing her to take class so that she can protect herself or the adult who thought that martial arts would be a fun place to make new friends and didn't think about all of the hard work that would actually need to be put in.
Everybody has different motivations for joining a school, however it is important that they don’t let that motivation deplete and become an energy drain on the people they are around.
There is no sense of urgency in this person’s actions and no clear motivation that can be distinguished from their speech.
Occasionally, this archetype will surprise you and actually just be a very low-energy individual by nature.
With that being said, who you choose to partner with during drills has a large impact on how well the embed lessons will assimilate into you. If you have a partner who keeps half-assing their work, it would do you well to find somebody new to work with.
The “Real Deal”
Ego and preconceived notions? Definitely check.
This is the individual who disregards anything in martial arts that they don’t feel works. Problem is, they believe most everything is BS.
Sure, they’ll play along with you and your buddies as you punch and kick the air in your cute lil’ Karate pajamas, but they “know” that it's just fun exercise. I mean, obviously any tactic that doesn’t prioritize immediately attacking with a pocket knife or Glock is just ridiculous.
Even though they've never been in a fight, a high stress drill or sparring round, or even studied the psychology of violence, they sure do know “exactly what it takes to win one”.
Just, uh, shoot three shots to the head. It doesn’t matter if it is a drunk uncle, a fight in a crowded club, or an attempted abduction.
The question of “would this work with live movement and resistance?” is absolutely an important one to ask, however that should aptly be followed up with a pressure test before being completely disregarded.
The movements you train in your martial arts are likely to have an important meaning and application. If you throw everything in the trash before inspection, you will never find any treasure worth keeping however.
Time for some real talk.
Each of these character types likely started off on the right path, they just either took a wrong turn or traveled too far. The presented personalities stand as extremes with which we can contrast our own behavior against.
Check in with your habitual behavior and attitude before you become overly confident like the Arrogant or close minded like the “Real Deal”. Have the self awareness to see when you allow excuses to invade your mind like the Lazy or start going through the motions without intention like the Apathetic.
We are constantly given opportunities to refine our mindset.
Strive to be a positive personality that inspires those you meet on and off of the mat to be better.
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