We talk about rank, and both the privileges and responsibilities that come with it.
Rights & Privileges of Rank – Episode 127
Following is a full transcript of the episode. Thanks for listening and reading!
Well, here we are. Episode 127 of whistlekick martial arts radio is about to roll. On this episode, we talk about rank, and both the privileges and responsibilities that come with it. It’s a topic that’s been building for a while, and we might just ruffle a few feathers, so hold on.
First, let me introduce myself. I’m whistlekick’s founder but I’m better known as your host for the show, Jeremy Lesniak. whistlekick, I am proud to say, makes the absolute best sparring gear, apparel, and accessories for practitioners and fans of traditional martial arts. I’d like to welcome all the new listeners and thank everyone that’s come back.
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Why Are We Talking About Rank?
Rank. Wow, where to start. If you’ve been listening to this show for some time you know that I take a pretty diplomatic stance in this show. I like to appeal to everyone, that’s part of our brand – we want to bring some unity to the martial arts. We’re picky with who we have on the show for the same reason – we don’t just want people on here that run through their resume and tell us how great they are. The martial arts has enough of that, and it certainly doesn’t need this show to turn into a soapbox for it.
Over the last 18 months, we’ve started to see trends. These trends tell us a lot about martial artists and give us something close to an instruction manual on how to become a great martial artist.
Want to know what it is? We’re a bit off-topic but I’ll do it anyway. Here it is – train hard, train often, and be a good person.
That’s it. If you do those things, you become a good martial artist, and people recognize it. If you’re inclined to build a business or brand around your skill, you can do that, but you have to have the foundation of being a good martial artist first. At least, you should.
What happens if you don’t?
How to Be a Bad Martial Artist
If you don’t, you end up doing some things that I will flat out say are wrong. Things that do not advance the martial arts or help others. Things that are helpful to only one person – the person that isn’t being a good martial artist.
I won’t give examples because I don’t need to. Everyone knows what a bad person looks like. A bad martial artist is the same person, only they wear a uniform and a belt.
The problem, and the purpose of this episode, is that the only reason these people are able to exist is because we, as a community, don’t call them out. We don’t hold them responsible. We think that being a master or grandmaster gives you license to do whatever you want.
Guess what? It doesn’t.
We’re All Growing
Martial artists are people. People are flawed. Martial artists are flawed. Not only is that okay, it’s part of the process. Remember our definition of martial arts from 93 – A martial art is an expressive, combat-themed practice that incorporates personal development.
That should mean that as people develop their ability to kick and punch, do forms and fight, they become better people. For most practitioners, this is absolutely true. For some, it isn’t.
When this subject comes up, a lot of people use the word respect. Someone should be respected for their rank or their accomplishments. I disagree.
You can respect the rank of a martial artist without respecting the individual. Just as you can admire a musician or actor’s talents while acknowledging they’re not a good person. Respect is not commanded, taken or demanded. It’s earned. It can only, ever, be given.
Nearly every martial arts school has standards for technique as it relates to rank. If you don’t meet the standards, you can’t test for your next rank. Some schools have academic standards, making sure children work hard in school as well as in martial arts classes.
Those are fairly objective. Being a good person is far more subjective.
Rights and Responsibilities of Rank
Rank, whether it’s in the martial arts or military or your profession, carries with it both privileges and responsibilities.
The last thing I want to do is set down some firm lines to say how someone should be acting at a certain point in their path. I would no sooner dictate how well someone does a certain technique for rank. It’s about the overall approach, and person, and how far they’ve come. Personal development, right?
Rights. Martial arts rank carries with it certain rights. An instructor has the right to teach their class in the way they want to. They have the right to use their judgment to foster the growth of their students. The right to be compensated for sharing their knowledge. Also, the right to continue their own development. They have the right to be treated respectfully by their students as individuals and as the facilitator for their martial arts study. There are likely more, but these are the major ones.
Every martial arts instructor has these rights, regardless of rank. As rank advances, there may be additional rights – but these rights are specific to the instructor that lies up the path. We’re all students, even instructors, even if we don’t call a particular person our teacher. (Though I think you should, and that’s another episode). If you reach a certain rank you may earn the right to learn a new technique or form. That right really comes from the respect that the person had for their practice which earned them a new rank. I don’t actually see it as a right.
These are Not Rights
What don’t instructors have the right to do? They don’t have the right to act in a way that is out of integrity. They will – we stumble, as we said before, but that doesn’t mean it’s a right. To say it in another way, martial artists, at no time, have the right to shirk their responsibilities. Ah, but we haven’t talked about responsibilities yet, so let’s do that.
A martial artist, regardless of rank, has the responsibility to continue their growth and foster the growth of those around them. This is especially true for those lower ranks under direct instruction.
If we look at it this way, it’s pretty easy to test out whether someone’s behavior is appropriate. Any action should fall within the rights and responsibilities. An instructor may take on additional responsibilities, but only if they’ve already met the core one and only if it’s within their rights.
Charging for classes – yes, because a martial arts instructor has the right to be compensated for sharing their knowledge.
Charging $500 a month for classes. Sure, if people are willing to pay it.
Charging $5000 for a black belt club membership that doesn’t yield any additional training or attention? No, because it violates both the integrity ideal – charging for something that isn’t given is basically a lie – and it doesn’t foster the growth of the students. That $5000 could be spent to attend seminars or compete or build a home training area.
Let’s try another one. This one’s a little stickier.
Does an instructor have a right to mandate how often a student trains? They have the right to make certain requirements of the students in their school, sure.
How about requiring a certain amount of homework or training at home? Yeah, again, requirements for training.
What about preventing someone from training at another school or attending a seminar? Ah, we’re getting messy. Let’s run through the rules.
If you’re like me, the idea of being prevented from doing something grits your teeth. I don’t like being told no. I’ll wait my turn, but being stopped from doing something, especially learning something, is something I’ve never been okay with.
A martial arts instructor has the right to teach their classes and students however they want. They have the responsibility to foster the growth of their students. If a student wants to attend a seminar that will teach something different or in a different way… the answer becomes “maybe.”
Now it’s about the reason for why an instructor would prevent that. Are they genuinely looking out for their student, knowing that at this stage in their progress what they really need is to focus on aspects of their training inside their own school? Or, are they simply being selfish and trying to prevent their students from seeing that there’s another way, a different way and, maybe, a better way than the instructor can offer?
Some Instructors Do it for the Right Reasons
One of the greatest quotes I ever heard was from a man that I’d love to have on this show but has passed on. Sensei Rick Pelletier was someone I admired when I was coming up on the tournament circuit. He was a fierce competitor and he often took first while his top student took second. I remember the day his student took first over him for the first time, and I had the chance to ask him how he felt about that.
He looked at me and answered simply:
“There’s no better feeling than knowing your student has surpassed you.”
I feel that should be the goal for every martial arts instructor, to produce better martial artists than they are. While I was only an instructor for a few years, I have to say, I agree.
How about you? What rights and responsibilities come with rank? Did we miss one that you think’s important, or are we off the mark completely? Whatever your thoughts, we want to hear them. The best place for them is in the comments section for the episode, online at whistlekickMartialArtsRadio.com
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That’s all for today, so, until next time, Train hard, smile. and have a great day.