Monday, December 12, 2011

Abuse of Power

Recently a karate school owner told me he picked up an entire family of students courtesy of abuse attributed to their former instructor. Apparently the young boy spilled water on the deck and was summarily back fisted in the chest by the burly sensei. Great marketing ploy. One wonders if this genius has a good attorney to counter these episodes. Sadly, stories of this ilk are fairly common. In fact this particular account is relatively tame.

The following comes from a news report concerning a judo club in Japan:

A Japanese court on Wednesday found a martial arts instructor guilty over the death of a six-year-old boy, a court official said, in the first criminal case over judo training in Japan.

It is the first criminal case filed by Japanese prosecutors against judo trainers, according to a victims' group, despite over 100 child deaths blamed on harsh training or hazing between 1983 and 2010.

The 36-year-old instructor, who owned a private judo club in Osaka, admitted he threw the boy excessively in training. The boy died in November last year from brain swelling, local reports said.

In Japan, judo hazing has a lengthy history and I suppose it was only a matter a time before this practice had a trickle-down effect to the kids' class.

Whenever there is a rigid hierarchy in place with passive or helpless bystanders there exists the propensity for anything from bullying to full blown physical abuse. We see this in institutions such as prisons, public schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

In 1971 the social psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment at Stanford University to simulate a prison environment using students as prisoners and guards. The "prisoners" were even picked up at home donning jail garb and brought to the basement of the school's psychology department to begin their "sentence." But the experiment had to be stopped after just six days as the behavior of the "guards" far exceeded the expectations of Zimbardo and his colleagues. Prisoners were subjected to being sprayed with fire extinguishers, cleaning toilets with their bare hands and performing pushups with the guards standing on their backs, among other things I'd rather not go into.

This sort of dehumanizing behavior can translate into the power structure of a martial arts school. Some sensei let their own sense of power get the better of them. As one blogger puts succinctly:

The instructor's ego is one of the most dangerous opponents the student will ever face. Sometimes it is obvious. Martial arts has a hierarchy and a power dynamic and in too many places competency is not tested and compassion is assumed. It is a sweet spot for bullies and predators. Where else can you hurt people and they pay you and say, "Thank you, Master." What bully wouldn't get off on that?

Indeed. The following illustrates thusly:

DISCLAIMER: explicitly violent

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