Hanky Panky in the Dojo

When I started in Goju in the 70’s there was a great influx of females trying out the martial arts. This tapered off in time although women in the dojo were a reality that was here to stay. Dojos are not gyms. There isn’t really all that much time to chat and a dogi is not a leotard. Plus, the martial arts are a learning process requiring concentration and a lot of commitment. There are no juice bars in traditional dojos. Nonetheless, it is a social environment and is not exempt from the realities of the world. In Ochoa, where I began, there was a strict code of respect between the sexes. But that did not mean that eye and mind did not stray. Not all social contact that could arise from the dojo experience can be or should be monitored. But a strict code of dojo ethics should prevail or the inherent trust needed for the learning process can be fractured. As in the military, rank in the dojo brings with it a host of responsibilities and among them is the avoidance of an abuse of rank. This applies in any scenario where there is a hierarchy of authority and power. A sensei cannot control what his or her students do outside the dojo, but he or she sure as hell can inside the dojo.

I was well into my forties in the 90’ when I ran into my first personal case of this. Beforehand, I mostly went to the dojo alone. The third time around I went with a very young wife who looked even younger. The kindest thing you could say was that I could be her uncle. She was offered rides back home, invited privately for “outside-the-dojo” karate seminars, was the victim of very tight hugs in the name of camaraderie, and lingering kisses to the cheek, etc. My wife dealt with it pretty well but it completely shattered all I told her about what it meant to practice karate. In my case, I was by turns incensed, embarrassed, and humiliated. All this took place under the “neutral” eye of the sensei and senior instructors who knew full well that she was my wife and nonetheless allowed it. So, two issues arose, the lack of respect for her and lack of respect for me. I respected my sensei in all points but this. Respect is a fragile thing, most often misunderstood and misapplied. Beforehand I had looked away, not being directly affected kept me from having to make judgments beyond the usual abstract “do-gooder” shit one spews.

Then the dojo received a “long term” visiting black belt from New York. He seemed to be a good guy, very disciplined. The sensei hated his guts. He had basically come to the dojo for kobudo which the sensei refused to teach him. He had come sent by the head honcho of the organization. But he had also come to give me grief. At every chance he would take my wife aside for private before session practice, adjust her dogi and belt, touch her hair, all in front of my nose. Sensei did nothing, other black belts I knew did nothing. Nobody did anything. I was a lowly green belt.

I could go on and tell how it all played out, but this is irrelevant.

Trust is a big part of any martial arts practice, without it there is no growth and learning. You have to trust what you do and who teaches it to you. You have to trust whom you practice with. Trust is based on respect. It has to go in all directions. It has to permeate one’s every move and gesture. Any departure from this leads to either war or humiliation.

My third time around.

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