I’ve read a lot of articles exploring the notion that high level martial arts skills do not translate to moral superiority. Many people falsely equate the discipline needed to become excellent at a martial art to discipline needed to be an excellent human being, and the reality is that that equivalency doesn’t exist.
There are many good people who do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other martial arts, but one doesn’t need to be a good person to practice and master skills. The key to becoming good at jiu jitsu is repetition of moves and learning positional awareness, and that has nothing to do with the kind of person that you are.
Some criteria to be aware of when assessing your own instructor:
- Outside of jiu jitsu what kind of person are they? What do they do? How do they treat those in their life? Are they an asset to the world around them?
- Do they require formality in the room? Do they require that all of their students do everything the exact way they do it? Formality can help with discipline but it can also be a sign of weakness. If I need you to call me professor to feel that you respect me maybe I think too little of myself, for the most part the very best instructors I’ve ever seen are on a first name basis with everyone they know, they don’t need your validation.
- Does the person preach lofty ideals that they themselves do not live by?
- How do they deal with former students/rivals? Can a former student or rival freely walk in the door for a seminar or class? Or are they not welcome?
Jiu Jitsu gives us a certain security that we can handle ourselves in physical altercations. Also, any sort of substantial improvement requires you to put yourself through the paces, and under pressure. However, insecurity exists even in high level black belts, and an insecure person can also be a petty person.
There is nothing wrong with having a weak minded or insecure professor as long as you don’t place them on a moral pedestal. Stephan Kesting wrote an amazing article about this topic (Black Belt Blindness, And Other Dangers….) in which he points out that we don’t ask our mechanic for medical advice or our doctor for stock tips, there is nothing wrong with relying upon your instructor solely for instruction.
There have recently been a rash of incidents and scandals involving esteemed black belts being accused of various indiscretions, this has included domestic violence and sexual abuse of students. The reality is that these individuals, regardless of whatever crimes they did, imparted sound technique to their students. Their crimes sully them as individuals and if I know that someone is a bad person chances are I won’t want them teaching me, but that doesn’t make the techniques they taught any less effective.
If your instructor is a moral and decent person, it just makes them that much more valuable. We need moral people in this immoral world, and instructors who are really good people should be applauded. However, if your instructor is a bad person, feel free to shop around and find a better school, because at the end of the day we are all products of our environments and it’s better to spend your time and money learning from a worthwhile human being than one who is not.