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I am considering joining a certain dojo but have some doubts. I practised before shito-ryu for a year, and I am starting again. I am about to join a dojo, and the following are the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Convenient schedule
  • The sensei is 5 times national champion, has been trainer of the national karate selection. She is cool and explains very well, she KNOWS her stuff.
  • Fellow karatekas in the dojo are nice and welcoming. Has not been the case in other places I have tried.
  • Good combination combat, kihon, kata

However, there are some things that have me doubting.

  • The sensei has modified the 'official' katas of the style. She 'mixed' some parts of pinan shodan, with pinan nidan and so.
  • I have heard the sensei bad mouthing other sensei of the same style. Seems she does not like the local community of the style. I asked her about going to some weekend short courses organized by the community and she said 'I can not forbid you to go if you want', but it is more up to individual initiative and the club does not participate.
  • Is somewhat expensive. Starting September the sensei wants a year paid in advance. Is a lot of money and I told her, 'I can pay half a year' and she said 'I have to consult with my business partner, we can see how to fix it', but still the cost is somewhat over the average.

Should I join or not?

  • By the way, the sensei is fitfth dan and the DOJO belongs to the national martial arts association. – Pedro Perez May 4 '15 at 21:42
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    "I cannot forbid you not to go" implies she would if she could. It's a warning sign when martial arts teachers want to keep you away from other influences. At its most extreme, this is cult behavior. – The Wudang Kid May 5 '15 at 12:06
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    @TheWudangKid On the other hand, it could mean "the other dojo are really sub standard and teach rubbish but I am too polite to say that". It's hard to say which from the context. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse May 5 '15 at 12:54
  • Thank you all for your valuable insights! I really thank you for that. On the other hand, when she told me, "I cannot forbid you not to go" she followed telling me "You should first follow a given school, if you go there you can get confused". I still find this troubling. It seems she wants nothing to do with her community. Besides that, and the price thing, the dojo is quite awesome. – Pedro Perez May 5 '15 at 14:43
  • That is at least a little more reasonable. Beginners can get confused when chasing too many rabbits. However, beware getting stuck in any school's bubble. When I hear of a MA teacher saying not to learn from anyone else, I reflexively think it must be because they are afraid their teaching will not hold up when subjected to outside scrutiny. – The Wudang Kid May 5 '15 at 16:16
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The sensei has modified the 'official' katas of the style. She 'mixed' some parts of pinan shodan, with pinan nidan and so.

That's pretty worrying. It's not uncommon for schools to have slightly different "interpretations" of the same gross movement (e.g. one to say something's a block while another says it's a strike - but the limbs are moving in roughly the same way). It's another thing to arbitrarily change entire sections of kata. I've more tolerance for instructors supplementing kata with one or two unique to the school, though have never been very comfortable with that either. Still, in the end this won't have a particularly significant effect on how well you learn the art, so I'd say it's more a troubling sign than a actual problem. If you get the chance, you might ask her about the reasons for the changes - if she bites your head off, or is vague on justifications - both signs it's better not to train there.

I have heard the sensei bad mouthing other senseis of the same style. Seems she does not like the local community of the style. I asked her about going to some weekend short courses organized by the community and she said 'I can not forbid you to go if you want', but it is more up to individual initiative and the club does not participate.

There are all sorts of possible reasons for that, some justified and some not. For example, she might have found in the past that these other sensei presumed to "correct" or instruct her students with what she's convinced is poor advice; deeming the changed kata "wrong" would be one likely area of contention. There could also be tensions left over from previous discussions about merging into some larger organisation, or collaborative events in which there were misunderstandings about financing or roles etc.. If you do train there, perhaps keep an ear out for the exact things she says about other senseis - see what motivates them. It's a good sign that her students are friendly - suggests she's not just a spiteful person in general, creating a toxic training environment. It's also a good sign that she's part of the national martial arts association - at least she's prepared and able to interact with some other instructors and schools.

Is somewhat expensive. Starting september the sensei wants a year paid in advance. Is a lot of money and I told her, 'I can pay half a year' and she said 'I have to consult with my business partner, we can see how to fix it', but still the cost is somewhat over the average.

That's a bad sign, considerably worse than asking for direct debit payments which would also give her reasonable financial security, but has to be weighed against the skill, experience, knowledge and reputation she's built up. If her tuition is clearly in demand, and you see the existing students are of a high standard, with a good number at all grades, and they clearly respect her, then it may be worthwhile. Still, if you can pay the next few months - prior to September - without committing further just yet, it gives you enough time to decide whether to renew for a year.

On balance, I'd say give it a try if you can afford it.

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  • Thank you for your answer. I shall keep training longer and see what happens. – Pedro Perez May 5 '15 at 14:44
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Just looking at the negatives...

守破離 (Shuhari) is a common concept in Japanese martial arts: to obey (守/shu) , to digress (破/ha), and to leave (離/ri) any style. It might be that said sensei is in the 破 (or digress) stage of her progression. It might be hubris but that is hard to gauge on your information alone. This could explain her "bad mouthing" other instructors. Her pedigree (if true) seems to point to the former and not the later.

Martial arts are always a clash of egos. Bad mouthing others is sadly more common than not. Some do it more stubbly than others but it happens all the time. It is possible that said sensei is just that much better than everyone else. It is possible that there are unknown personal issues. Who knows? I would stay the hell away from it all as all it will do is poison your own training.

The one year fee is a little more worrying. It is a sign of a McDojo. Note that it is a sign and not necessarily true. I would love to run my dojo with an annual fee as it would make my accounting so much simpler ^_~. That said, it is a good sign that she is willing to accommodate you.

So, six months is not too bad. I would train with her and see what you learn within those six months. If you are having fun, are learning new and interesting things, and feel that her way is beneficial to your growth, then stay for longer. Otherwise, seek tuition elsewhere.

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  • Indeed I believe she is the 破/ha phase, looks like it. Will train there some time and see how it goes, thanks for the answer. – Pedro Perez May 5 '15 at 14:44
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If you like the Dojo - if the schedule is convenient, teacher is good and people are nice, join the group. It is better to join a Dojo than not.

Do not worry too much about the "purity" of the style. As long as whatever is being taught in the Dojo makes sense and as long as you learn and progress, practicing always beats not practicing.

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It all depends on you honestly, she might have her reasons for asking for advance. Since these days, martial arts training centers are like in every other block (at least where l live). And it's quite natural for somebody who have that much experience to mix different styles. My sensei is a 5 dan aikidoka and also have a black belt in arnis, so often time I train in both. Only thing I don't like is her badmouthing others. But there are dojos out there who don't really know what they are doing, still it's not a good thing to do. For a while, I trained Muay Thai and Tai chi, and when I told my sensei about it, he was quite happy about it and asked about my experience. But as I have said, it all depends on you. If you think she is a good teacher, and you can fund it, go for it.

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