It is disappointing and hurtful to discover your martial arts instructor is not the person you thought. 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?
It may be simple. If your instructor turns out to be predatory, a scam artist or abusive, you clearly should not continue to train where you are. While this is a horrible thing to deal with, it makes your decision easy: get out.
But, many situations are more nuanced. Perhaps you experience a slow erosion of your admiration as circumstances reveal your instructor’s flawed character. Things like gossip, jealousy, pettiness, arrogance can sour any relationship.
Likewise, a martial arts instructor’s social media presence can demonstrate thoughts, ideas and behaviors that don’t match your standards.
Perhaps your martial arts 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 nuances, but whatever they may be, here are three positive ways to handle your situation.
1. Let it go.
Is your martial arts instructor not meeting your standards because your standards are too high? Ask yourself if your teacher is not who they said they are or not who you think they should be. They are only human and prone to the same errors as anyone else. 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 with your martial arts instructor.
The right thing to do may be to sit down with your martial arts instructor and have a heart-to-heart. But remember this: martial arts instructors always hear complaints, and many of them aren’t valid. This can sometimes cause a martial arts instructor to be 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 your martial arts instructor’s position in a new way, or you may alert them to an issue 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.
3. Leave and find a new martial arts instructor.
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 most challenging part of leaving a school is leaving your classmates. This is one reason it’s crucial to go with your honor intact. It allows you to remain the 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.
Finding out your martial arts instructor 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.
You may also enjoy our guide to knowing if a martial arts instructor is legit.