Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Bad Idea: Teaching Martial Arts to Criminal Elements

There are some martial arts schools in the greater Vancouver area that will teach anyone who walks in their doors with cash in hand. A number of gang members take interest in the martial arts (especially MMA) to learn fighting skills for obvious reasons and end up at schools that aren't too stringent about their screening process. This is short-sighted and can result in street violence being associated with these schools.

Yesterday, a male in his 20s, a gang associate, was victim to a fatal shooting outside World Extreme Fighting gym, an MMA school in Abbotsford, BC. See the complete news article.

I know that some MMA and boxing school owners have to deal with this sort of thing regularly. Some of them include the question on their waivers: "Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?" Not that people can't just lie, but by actively discouraging criminals from training with them, it sets the tone of the school. I know one school that actively advertises that police officers rent their facilities for training, hoping to discourage gang members etc from training there.

I'm lucky, because criminal types are generally pretty macho and really have no interest in learning from a woman so I don't have to deal with dodgy types looking to join my dojo. The only types of people I seem to get in any numbers are cops and doctors :).


Ice said...

It is interesting that the more simple and understated the school, that they cater more to the more mature practitioner.

There are plenty of public servants, current and ex-service members at the dojos I train at. And it's not unusual to have a Doctor, EMT, or physical therapist that practices in the dojo.

I know in order to get a black belt or become a coach you need to pass a background check to get your credentials, at least for the USJF/USJA.

There's also been times where people have been kicked out of a club because of the wrong attitude and dangerous tendencies.

Maybe I'm lucky, or I live in such a peaceful town like Seattle, but I haven't had an encounter with gang members in the dojos.

I know at one club specifically, I got interviewed before training and being accepted into the club. After the interview, I was to observe a class. At the next class I was allowed to practice and was watched carefully for my attitude during class. I then sparred with the sensei during class. Only after this screening did the sensei accept me to the dojo for training.

Do you have a similar screening process?

Lori O'Connell said...

My screening process more comes from the first contact. I ask why interested students want to study Jiu-jitsu, what their goals are, what made them choose my school, etc. If their needs and goals are a fit with the dojo, I'll invite them to come in for trial lessons. If they're not, I'm honest with them and let them know that I don't offer what they're looking for and mention a few schools that do.

This has always been enough of a screening process to keep bad elements out. Gang types, etc. tend to prefer a more macho-style school with more emphasis on full-contact competition sparring. Since I don't offer that sort of thing, they head to other schools.

I know of another school that does an interview process and think that it can be a really good idea if a school finds it is getting interest from undesirables.

The background check the USJF/USJA requires also seems like a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I think when people want to take up martial-arts for the purpose of violence and attacking people they tend to go for more aggressive, relatively simply sports like boxing or thaiboxing: boxing and thaiboxing are by their very nature quite violent (more so than ju-jutsu for example) and primarely meant for offense (you do not win fights in the ring by great defence: you win them by attacking aggressively and knocking the other guy out). Also: because these sports/arts contain so few techniques which in themselves are pretty simple (as far as martial-arts techniques go) you can actually get to a decent skill-level in months (not years like in ju-jutsu) which certainly will give you the edge over untrained people. Now I do not want to generalise (I’m sure there are very intelligent boxers or thaiboxers too) but every boxing or thaiboxing-gym I ever visited contained far more dim-witted or simple people (by ‘simple’ I do not mean people of bad character per se, they’re just not very bright) than any other gym/dojo I’ve been too and the mood there generally is quite different: more primal, less respectful and more agressive.

Again: this is just my opinion (based on quite a few observations and conversations with some of my friends who practice boxing or thaiboxing or at least did at some point) and I’m sure there are gyms were the opposite is true but I do think this generalised statement has some truth in it. I’ve actually heard of quite a few boxing or thaiboxing-gyms that actively encourage their students to pick fights (to gain practical experience and help them prepare for competition) and rough up people: in my view this is exactly the opposite of what martial-arts are about, not to mention highly unethical/illegal. Their teachers should be ashamed of themselves: they are not a martial-artists but criminals and instructors of criminals.

Traditional martial-arts tend to be a) rather complex, b) defensive in nature and c) generally teach their students about ethics/code-of-conduct. I think it’s clear why this would put off hoodlums or people with poor impulse-control: alot of the techniques themselves (joint-locks, throws…) are quite complicated and take a long time to master properly, also in most traditional arts (even striking systems like karate of taekwondo) the curriculum is quite vast: this also slows down the learning-process somewhat. I also think (btw this is just a hypothesis, not a fact) that you actually have to be more intelligent to be able understand and memorise all these rather complex techniques. The statement about traditional martial-arts being defensive in nature is quite obvious I think: most schools or dojo’s do not put much emphasis on attacking and even when they do it’s generally thought of as a last resort (e.g a situation with multiple attackers), not a means in itself or an easy way of getting what you want.

Last but not least: the ethical part. Of course this varies between schools and styles but most traditional asian martial-arts try to impress upon their students a sense of duty, respect (towards their teacher, fellow students and life itself), restraint and compassion/kindness. Now it would take me too far to eleborate on the origin of these military ethics (most martial-arts were born on the battlefield and were meant for lethal combat) but they are generally rooted in either confucianism (a rather secular ethical/socio-political system based on the teaching of Confucius: in general it centers around the notions of rituals, loyality, proper family-relations,merit and humanity) or Buddhism/Taoism (the spiritual aspect of being in accord with nature or your own buddha-nature, having compassion, behaving ethically…) or a mixture of the two.

I especially like the Japanese saying ‘bufu ni sente nashi’ meaning ‘from this side not the First strike’. Iniation of force is generally immoral and eventhough we’re trained to use violence when necessary it should be used sparingly and appropriately. Another one of my favourite sayings and the one which helps dissolve the contradiction between my martial-arts training and my belief/interest in Buddhism - part of the Noble Eightfold Path is right action and in the Buddha’s own words: ‘And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life’ - is this one: ‘the sword that cuts down evil is the sword that gives life’. This is very true and very deep: unfortunately there is evil in the World (and quite alot of it too) and in certain situations pacifism just isn’t an option: if the allies hadn’t taken up the sword against nazi-Germany the entire jewish population in Europe would have been wiped out and we (meaning we europeans) would be living under the swastika. There are some things worth dying and even killing for and pacifism is all nice and armchair-philosophy as long as rough men stand ready to do violence on your behalf. This is why the military and the police deserve respect and appropriate allocation of funds, at least as long as they obey the laws and their own code-of-conduct.