A vintage post of Felicia’s about student/instructor relations made me remember something.
When I was in my late teens I trained in Combat Hapkido. I had an opportunity in which I was asked to be uke for a student testing for his black belt. I happily agreed, wanting my senior to get his belt. Privately, I also suspected that my instructor felt out of all of the colored-belt students, I was probably the best uke – he nearly always picked me for technique demonstration so I was very experienced at taking hits, landing from being thrown, and being able to get up to do it all again. And in addition to wanting to help a friend I was eager to be there since I would be able to see techniques I hadn’t learned yet and try to dissect them later on.
The test was standard stuff starting out: basics drills,push ups, etc. Then there was the sparring. Now, in CH you won’t find the type of sparring you’ll find in most martial arts schools. This is because CH is a joint-locking art which heavily emphasizes close quarters. So the sparring was primarily comprised of me being confidentially told by my head instructor to attack the testing student in different ways and he was graded on how he responds.
Now, getting to the heart of this post, these guys are all pretty “old hands” in the MA world. Most of them have military or police backgrounds and even on normal days when enough of them get into a room, together, the conversation can become a bit…salty. So when they started to poke fun at me when I found myself in a few of the more embarrassing losing positions, I was not surprised or offended (I’m used to it – I’ve got two older brothers, after all). There was a point, though, where the insults started to become a little…personal. And unfortunately, that point was still about 45 minutes from the end of the test. So, for the better part of an hour they literally added “insult to injury” to the extent that, by the end of the test, I was fuming. And when it ended I congratulated my partner on passing, made an excuse so not to stick around, bowed to my instructors and left.
To be clear, these were men that I’d known a long time and who’ve consistently shown me respect personally and as a martial artist. They’ve each taken time with me to make sure that I understand the material, answer my questions, etc. That night they simply let their teasing become more abrasive than they usually did.
The following day, after class was over, I stayed behind and when the head instructor and I were alone I let him know that I felt the insults and teasing went too far and that it made me question whether I was wanted in his school.
I wish I could tell you that we had a “made for TV moment” where he smiled, slaps me on the back, says he was sorry and that he let some good old fashioned locker room ribbing get out of hand and that he has learned a little something about respecting others. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. His reply, “Oh, sorry”, sounded perfunctory – as if he were in another country and had been informed that he’d committed a big social taboo: not insincere, just not fully understanding why an apology was necessary.
For weeks thereafter my relationship with my instructor was strained and awkward before finally returning to normal. Clearly, he was unseated at my having taken his remarks to heart; I suspect it might have been the blunt (not “rude”) description I used to illustrate why I felt the way I did. I have no regrets about telling him what I felt – particularly because I made sure to do privately and respectfully – and yet, I have often revisited this memory and wondered if I handled it in the best way possible.
What would you have done?