It is unpleasant and painful to discover your instructor is not the person you thought them to be. This kind of disappointment rattles the foundation of your training and causes too many students to quit altogether. If you find yourself in this situation, how do you deal with your instructor’s shortcomings and stay on your martial arts journey?
Sometimes it’s very simple. If your instructor turns out to be a sexual predator, a scam artist or abusive, you clearly should not continue training where you are. This is a horrible thing to have to deal with as a student, and can make you feel dirty by association. So, get out.
But, not all situations are so cut-and-dried. There can be a slow erosion of your admiration as a circumstances reveal your instructor’s poor character. Gossip, jealousy, pettiness, arrogance — whatever they may be — can turn you off and ruin a good day at the gym.
Facebook certainly has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Posters demonstrate themselves to be cyber bullies, misogynists, racists or just petty and small, and your instructor may very well be among these.
Perhaps your instructor’s messages of honor, friendship, honesty and goodness end at the edge of the mat, and don’t extend to the office. Maybe a family member passes away and you need to go out of town. You ask if you can freeze your membership and an unsympathetic instructor denies your request. “Wow,” you think to yourself, “what happened to all that stuff about helping your teammates?”
Each case has its own nuances, but whatever they may be, here is a general guide to see you through. 🕶️
1. Ignore it.
Is your instructor not meeting your standards because your standards are too high? He or she is only human, and prone to the same errors as anyone else. Ask yourself if your teacher is not who they said they are, or if they are not who you think they should be. This is an important distinction. Integrity isn’t about someone living up to your beliefs and values; integrity is about them living up to theirs.
Maybe the problem isn’t you. Maybe your instructor really is a jerk. If so, can you live with that? Consider the words of the late, great blue-belt Anthony Bourdain.
“Assume the worst. About everybody. But, don’t let this poisoned outlook affect your (training). Let it all roll off your back. Ignore it. Be amused by what you see and suspect. Just because (your instructor) is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious, and corrupt asshole shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them, or finding them entertaining.”
2. Talk about it.
You may have been training where you are for years and have good friends at your gym who make you feel loved and respected. A good student is always invested emotionally (and financially) where they train. Yet, despite all the warm-and-fuzzies you can still find yourself feeling disenfranchised by the guy at the top.
The right thing to do may be to sit down with the instructor and have a heart-to-heart. But remember this: martial arts instructors always hear complaints, usually from parents who don’t train, and most of them are bullshit. Often they become over-sensitive and annoyed, so it’s a good idea to start your talk with the positives. Tell your instructor what you love about their gym, or at least what you have loved. Tell them you want to continue loving it, but you’re having some trouble with the way things are going. As Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand; then to be understood.”
An open, honest conversation may solve everything. You may understand their position in a new way, or you may alert them to an issue you they were genuinely unaware of. Even if your talk doesn’t solve the problem, you’ll feel better. Whether you stay or go, at least you made a genuine attempt to resolve the issue.
If you can’t live with or resolve the problem, it’s time to go. Don’t stay in a bad situation so long you start to conflate a dislike of your instructor with a dislike of martial arts. When you leave, make sure you do it the right way. Honor the commitments you made, whether they are contractual or not. Be upfront. Don’t just change your credit card number and disappear.
Sometimes the hardest part of leaving a school is leaving your fellow classmates. This is one reason it’s important to leave with your honor intact. It allows you to remain a good guy, and continue to see friends from your old gym with your head held high. Remember too, you’ll make new friends at your new academy, and if you also keep in touch with former classmates you’ll be growing your martial arts family, not losing it.
Having a high-level coach is great, but sometimes students can overrate its importance. Maybe the coach down the road doesn’t have the technical ability of the coach your with. Yes, you may lose in that column, but is it worth the trade for a more fun, respectful or peaceful training experience? Will some other aspect of your training get better to balance it out? For example, does the new school provide more seminar or tournament chances? Do they have more sparring partners? Consider the full scope of what you’re gaining by making a change. And, don’t forget, it’s likely a competing instructor isn’t getting the credit he deserves from your current school.
Finding out your coach isn’t the person you thought them to be is awful. Leaving a school you love can be a surprisingly painful and stressful experience. But, sometimes it’s necessary. Whatever you do, do it with thought and consideration and not just emotion. Keep your temper in check. Conduct yourself in a way you will be proud of when your emotions have faded and you’ll not only move onward as a martial artist, but upward as a human being.
About the Author: Dan Vigil is an MMA coach and writer. You can find more of his writing at THE FIGHTER’S PEN. (link, https://www.facebook.com/The-Fighters-Pen) Dan is also available to write websites and manage blogs for martial arts schools.
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