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I've been training for a few years in karate and enjoyed it so far. Unfortunately, club politics has crept in and it's now become pretty unpleasant to train there.

Relations with our head sensei - based in a neighbouring city - have deteriorated (he can be a very difficult individual), new starts are non-existant, and the regulars are attending sporadically. There are some big egos going round and a lot of bitching.

I'm having to be super positive to try and maintain the club and it's becoming draining. I've made suggestions to seniors to try and boost attendance (change venue, produce leaflets, organise demos) but it falls on deaf ears.

It is a very effective style of karate but it's becoming spoiled by politics.

I'm going to open this question to all. How do you deal with club politics? I'm tempted to leave but it's a shame as I've spent a lot of time training.

  • 5
    Martial arts is a journey. Maybe it is time for yours to continue? – slugster Sep 1 '15 at 11:11
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    Ah, yes, the sunk-cost fallacy. I think we need to know what your position is. If you are an instructor, why not teach somewhere else (YMCA)? If you are a student, why not join another club, preferably a smaller one? Or why not discuss your problem with the head instructor? If you honestly feel he/she would not listen or it would be non-productive, leave. – The Wudang Kid Sep 1 '15 at 12:11
  • I left Taekwondo entirely because of politics. The year before I left, I took 5th place at the world championships and one of my students became world champion. Sometimes you can get pushed too far and the only option left is nuclear. – Captain Kenpachi Sep 3 '15 at 11:09
  • It might help if you outlined what your position in the school actually is. Are you an instructor? Student only? Both? Why is it your position to suggest these things? – JohnP Sep 4 '15 at 16:31
  • There is politics, church politics, and martial arts politics. – pojo-guy Mar 13 '16 at 5:06
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There are many valid reasons (fitness, self defence, enhance self worth, socialise, whatever...) why one goes to train but politics is not one of them. So, just smile and walk away. Avoid conversations dealing with it. If asked, say you do not care. If that means leaving the dojo/style, do so. It is just not worth your time.

Whether you are "rank and file" or part of the instructor team: you can avoid any politics whatsoever. Either just train, or teach but do not get dragged down into talking about things. If the situation becomes too much: leave. Find another dojo, start your own, go look somewhere else for a different art to learn.

As Slugster stated in a comment:

Martial arts is a journey. Maybe it is time for yours to continue?

If you are involved in the national/regional infrastructure of of your art's organisation then politics is a necessary evil. I suggest reading The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. In fact, you should read it whatever: it is a great book. But this does not appear to be what OP is asking about.

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The answer depends on what you prioritize in this situation.

Hold tight, continue training as normal

As you've noted, suggestions and positivity aren't helping. You've mentioned it is unpleasant to train there - which tells me it's not just rough times when it involves the head teacher - there's problems in the local group's experience as well.

There'll be less people to train with, presumably less fees coming in, and financial hardship and probably eventually closure.

Benefits: You maintain whatever relationships you have with the local teachers/students. You get to continue whatever quality of training you're currently getting for a period, before it becomes completely unteneable.

Drawback: Nothing really gets better and it eventually gets worse.

Try to form a separate, recognized training group

If recognition and sticking to the core lineage is important, you might organize a group who decides to deal with the head teacher's requirements and form a seperate group/school. This will be seen as a power play, burn tons of bridges with your local teachers and some of the other students as well.

The head teacher may not accept it either. Or, the head teacher uses your group as a "weapon" to basically prop up and make the your current teachers look bad.

The only time I've seen this be a reasonable option is if the local teachers are corrupt or messed up in some way - for example, one of the schools I trained at it became clear the local teacher was stealing from the students (like, their actual belongings) and spreading rumors between the sub teachers in some kind of weird mind game.

Benefits: You get to stay in the official recognition of the lineage. All the suggestions to try to work with the head teacher? You can enact them. Drawbacks: It's a lot of work. The head teacher may turn out to be entirely worse than what you know of so far. You burn a lot of bridges and lose friendships.

Form an informal, unrecognized training group

You need to train and you need people to train with. You may not have all the space and equipment you want, but you can still train with other folks who love the art and also don't want to deal with the politics. Your operating costs are low, which means you're not dependent on pulling in more students to keep the lights on.

However, it also is hard to pull in new people as well, since most new people are brought in by being impressed by a nice school, uniforms, and official recognition.

Benefits: Training! Not having to fight with people over politics. Drawbacks: A few folks will see this as "abandonment". You won't have official recognition. You won't benefit from the shared resources of the school - the space, the equipment, etc.

You can pick training, maintaining relationships, or staying official, but you can't get all three, unfortunately.

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If you talk about politics between the Taekwon-do (some spell it Taekwondo) fratenity, you will have no end. I hope it's not that bad with Karate.

I'm going to open this question to all. How do you deal with club politics? I'm tempted to leave but it's a shame as I've spent a lot of time training.

The key to it is to ignore it. Continue your training. Get a few buddies and train seriously. Keep the art alive.

I used to have a Master going around cheating students of their money. He collected fees for registration (to international federation) and certificates but he never submitted them to the federation. He just kept the money for himself. I trained under this Master for about 5 years before I got fed up and left him.I opened my own school under the tutelage of a respectable Grandmaster in the country, and continued my own journey in Martial Arts. I am thankful for the Master for teaching me the art, but I cannot follow his deceitful ways. All I can do right now is to keep myself away from all the noise, and continue training.

Keep doing what you think is right, and your training will show results.

Good luck. Don't give up.

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This is a late response. I am sure you have already made your choice by now, yet I am shedding light on recent events in my life which may help someone who comes across this thread...

I for one have been involved in martial arts politics. I trained a martial art that was riddled with it and I know of only a couple of places where there aren't as much politics and the instructors are honest people. In the end, I realized that my instructors were doing the wrong thing by their students, the federation and most of all, the art. They were dishonest people, wolves in sheep clothing. I had started training a second martial art not long before I left, which was much more federated, and in the end, I ended up walking away from the previous martial art and sticking to the federated art.

That being said, anything you do in life, you will experience politics: religion, workplace, family... Even if you were to throw the towel in on all things martial arts and join a knitting or chess guild, you will experience the same thing. I left because I realized that the politics were holding the martial art back and only a handful of places in my country were practicing the art properly due to politics, agendas, power and money.

My advise is this: If you are really enjoying the martial art you are practicing, try and find a federation or club that doesn't contain as much politics. If you are finding that the the art is riddled with it and you won't find anywhere to train that doesn't contain it, you have come to a crossroad. If the politics bother and aggravate you, to the point it is interfering with your life, it is best to move on. I made this decision, and in the long term, it has made my life simpler and I am really enjoying my training now. Hard questions I had to face:

Is it worth it? Are you loosing sleep over it? Do you feel down about it at times? Do you feel like noone in the club wants to associate with you? Are people leaving you out of training? Do you feel that you are not a right fit for the culture? Do you have different training goals? Is it interfering with your personal relationships? Is it interfering with your work? Are you feeling negative toward your seniors - losing respect for them? Do you find yourself arguing or discussing politics with those around you more than you actually train?

You have four options at this point:

  1. Continue training if you can grunt and bear the politics or ignore them altogether.
  2. Move to a new dojo/gym or federation.
  3. Take a leap and train a different martial art (This option, your experiences will allow you to pick the right place as you have seen and smelt bullshido previously).
  4. Quit martial arts altogether.

One thing to do if you are considering this - get in touch with people who have left your gym/dojo or federation. See what their thoughts are on why they left and how you are feeling. They may provide clarification on some of your thoughts - it may help provide comfort on your decision, should you make it.

Anyone reading this - all the best with your decision. I went through this personally and it was a tough road. The important thing, in my eyes - as long as you keep training, this is the important thing.

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  • 1
    Although it is objectively always an option, I wouldn't suggest quitting martial arts. Because martial arts is cool. – Endery Oct 27 '17 at 11:01
  • Yes, exhaust all options before assessing option #4... – Johnny C Nov 6 '17 at 21:03

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