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Dysfunction in the Martial Arts

On this page:
Continuum, Dysfunction and Neurosis | Getting Sucked into Insanity | Don't Check Your Brain At The Door | Resources | Reality vs. Actuality and it's influence on "self-defense"

A psychiatrist we know is fond of saying: "There is an assumption of sanity in this culture." By this she means when you are dealing with people, you automatically assume they are sane. In a very real sense, this assumption is a courtesy you extend to the people you are dealing with. It is almost as though you are saying, "Out of politeness I will assume you are sane, and deal with you accordingly."

If that assumption doesn't turn out to be correct, things can get troublesome.

This assumption of sanity is why thriller movies about "average people" stalked by insane people are so unnerving. A seemingly normal person  -- normal in the beginning of the movie at least -- morphs into a stalking psycho, who ruins the victim's life. This leaves the victim alone, confused and facing a problem that doesn't have any socially acceptable solution. Resolution is usually found when the victim  -- pushed to the limits -- resorts to violence.

There are two key points here. First, it is the violation of this assumption of sanity by the crazy person that is so shocking --  both to the movie's victim and the audience. Second, by the end of the movie, the victim is given "permission" by the audience to engage in otherwise socially unacceptable behavior. By that time you want the nutcase to be physically harmed as punishment for what he/she has done. Payback for past tortures and wrongs seems perfectly normal and acceptable by the end of the movie. This second point would not be so powerful if it had not been for the violation of the assumption of sanity. Think about it. If the person's dysfunction had been known from the start, would the victim's actions have been the same throughout the movie? You don't react to or treat crazy people the same as sane ones. And, more importantly, would the audience have reacted so viscerally?

Probably not  (1).

Knowing about this assumption of sanity is important in recognizing a lot of what goes on in the martial arts/self-defense world for what it is -- namely dysfunctional, if not disturbed, behavior. Quite honestly, the promise of power offered by MA/SD/RBSD/WSD attracts some weird ducks. And generally, we have found that those are the ones who go the most about self-defense, "real fights" and "reality based training" (2).

If you've ever found yourself cross-wired with such a person in a school or on the internet, it is a painful and unpleasant experience. But, the fact that you unwittingly granted that person the  assumption of sanity has a lot to do with why a) you got your feelings hurt, b) why it was so confusing, c) why it escalated so far, d) why the person was doing the things he/she did, e) why it was so infuriating to you. Add this mess on top of the fact that not everyone involved in the MA/SD/WSD/RBSD/DT world is

    a) honest,
    b) qualified to teach the subject  or 
    c) someone you should trust, much less listen to.

Isn't that just a fine kettle of fish? Not only do you have to watch for incompetence, fast talking salesmanship and out-right dishonesty, but now you have to consider if the person you are dealing with is playing with a full deck as well? The short answer is: Yes. And here is why...

The style wars, dojo politics, trauma dramas, Internet flaming, persecution, cults and countless other examples of outrageous behavior in the martial arts culture take on entirely different implications when considered from the stand point of dysfunctional people acting out.

That's not martial arts or self-defense, nor is it even about the martial arts culture, it's something else being hidden behind the name of those things. In fact, it would be safe to say, most of the arguments are red herrings; less about the topic and more about personal agendas. Agendas which can be strongly influenced by neurotic, dysfunctional and -- sometimes -- disturbed thinking. I mean stop and think about it, if the greater goal of personal safety is to keep people safe from violence and harm, then how come there is so much fighting, quarrelling, rude and obnoxious behavior going on in the name of self-defense and the martial arts?  For people who claim to be able to teach you about self-defense, they sure aren't walking their talk. Instead they spend a lot of time jumping headlong  into flame wars, style wars, verbally attacking each other and creating all kinds of strife, hard feelings and trauma drama. That's not self-defense, that's fighting. More specifically, that is what is known in psychological terms as "acting out" 

Putting it simply, a lot of the time, what the argument about  isn't the problem, it's what is going on underneath that is the problem. And until you realize that, such people can lead you around by the nose.

The sad truth is such people do have a very strong influence on martial arts culture and the goings-on in schools, organizations and internet forums. When you can recognize dysfunction and behavior common to different personality/mood disorders, quite a bit of what goes on in these circles makes more sense. It won't make it right, but will be easier to avoid being sucked into their games. Games, that have nothing to do with the martial arts or self-defense and everything to do with personal power, control and reinforcing their beliefs.

It is here that we need to make something clear. Our goal here is to let people -- who are beginning to see something about these organizations that doesn't quite sit right  -- know that there is possibility this is what is going on. Our goal is NOT to change the minds of people who have clawed their way up the organization, found a home for their dysfunction and are happily wallowing around in the game. Not only will that not happen, but -- once again -- with what we say here we're going to seriously piss them off. Odds are we're going to take serious flack from people in the martial arts culture who are engaging in this kind of behavior. So expect to see people spit when they mention our names and loudly decry this information.

Well, that's fine and dandy,  because the absolute last thing dysfunctional people want is the lights to be flicked on about their behavior --  because they need you to grant them the assumption of sanity to get away with it.

We don't want you to take our word for the information presented here. We're not trying to convince you of anything. We're going to provide outside resources and professional references that YOU can read more about the described behavior. You decide if what they are doing fits the standards of disturbed behavior. We've also loaded this page with terms that can be found by a quick Google search. We want you to read up on the subject and make up your own mind about the behaviors that you see.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Continuum, Dysfunction and Neurosis
In his book Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry Albert Bernstein explains some of the more common personality disorders without going into the dry technical depths of the DSM-IV(3). As it is a very easy read, his work is a good introduction to different types of disorders. Disturbed people you are likely to meet anywhere -- much less in the MA world -- who, if you assume are rational and try to treat them accordingly, will cause you all sorts of trouble. Using the analogy of vampires he identifies common disorders, their behaviors, tactics and underlying motivations. He gives you ways to identify such a personality and some counters you can use to keep from getting sucked into these people's insanity. These counters are standards of behavior you can realistically demand from such a person to minimize the damage that they can do.

What is just as important as his explanation of various personality disorders is his discussion of a "continuum." 

When considering personality or mood disorders, it is not just black and white. It's not that you're either sane or you are crazy. There are degrees of dysfunction. Just as someone can be an alcoholic without being a homeless wino on a street corner, someone can still have a  personality/mood disorder and associated traits, but not severe enough to qualify them as insane.  Does the person have a problem? Yes. Is that person a total fruit-basket? Not only is that not accurate, but in a majority of the cases, the person is quite capable of functioning. The person will usually have a job, perhaps a significant other, a family and be able to conduct themselves socially -- to some degree or the other.

In short, the person will have it together enough that you will grant him/her the assumption of sanity.

The idea of a continuum is where things can really get complicated for you -- especially if you expect such people to constantly act rationally towards you. Over the top behavior is easy to spot, what is harder to spot however, is when dysfunction is not so advanced or constantly displayed. A dysfunctional person can seem normal much of the time. But when they do act out, it is these traits manifesting. And, as their disorder is neither blatant  or severe, it will not always be obvious what is really going on. In other words, a seemingly sane person will periodically engage in behavior -- that while it appears to be about something else -- is based in his/her personality/mood/emotional disorder

What is important to note here, is it is not necessarily an incident that is indicative of disturbance, but rather the over-all, long-term pattern.

How often does this kind of behavior happen? We all have bad days, times when our tempers are short and we all have buttons (issues that upset us), but most of us we learn how to cope and generally try to get along -- not over-react. For dysfunctional people, however, their entire lives are constantly one episode after another. They are constantly going from one trauma drama to another. Like a pot left on the stove, that aspect is always there waiting to  boil over, all it takes is the proper stimulus and opportunity. And, with those further along the continuum, if an opportunity doesn't present itself, -- they'll go out and make one. That's right, they will go out of their way to instigate crisis and conflict so they can act out..

Quite often events escalate to incredible heights and turn extremely vicious. That is part of certain behavioral disorders. Their reaction is to a degree entirely unwarranted by normal standards. It is here that the situation begins to look like the early stages of a thriller movie -- where the "sane" person morphs into a "crazy" right before the audience's eyes. Have you ever said something inoffensive or asked an innocent question and someone went off on you? This happens way out of proportion to the comment and you are left confused and wondering "what was that about?"  It may not have been because the person was an "asshole" (as is so often ascribed), but instead some kind of mental instability. Then, quite often -- if you apologize -- the person seems to return to normal. (Just as often however, the person will brood about it or nurse a grudge)

The problem is that you have let the person know that he/she can get away with this kind of behavior towards you. The door has been opened because  you did not recognize the person's behavior for what it was, nor did you did not effectively counter it. What can be far, far worse is if you reacted in a way that encourages the game, by providing a desired reaction. When that happens, such people proceed full speed ahead with more bad behavior (4).

While the person is not gone far enough to qualify as legally/clinically insane, the over-all pattern of their behaviors will not be rational or understandable to someone who doesn't have a similar disorder/disability. Yes, like minds often flock together. People with personality disorders, mood disorders, emotional disorders and  affective disorders often form groups. (This is why it is important to watch group dynamics) Such groups not only reinforce each others dysfunction (enabling), but can often go so far as to actively encourage it. Putting it in simply, sure his friends are going to agree with him, they're like him.

Another way that it can make sense is to someone who has bought into the dysfunctional person's world view. And yes, you can get sucked into such a person's "reality."  Dysfunctional people can be very convincing, justifying and reasonable sounding about their dysfunctional behavior. These explanations will seem more credible en masse (e.g., when everyone in a group/organization is saying the same thing). If you do not have external input, strong convictions, strong sense of self and/or strong boundaries, you can be manipulated into accepting their behavior as normal. Or, if forced to deal with them constantly, often they will just wear you down with an ongoing barrage of dysfunctional behavior. In either case the dysfunctional person gets his way by manipulating you (5).

Having mentioned personality and mood disorders recognized by the DSM-IV, we must also point out that there are some psychological ideas, theories and models that, while widely accepted in the  profession of psychology, do not appear in the DSM-IV. These theories have not been as extensively tested and proven as those that do appear (e.g. the authoritarian personality, type-A personality, neurotics, anal-retentive personality, alcoholic personality, etc., etc.). These personality types are well known in counseling, even if they aren't officially recognized outside that branch of psychology (Psychology is a huge field). These terms describe behaviors and neurotics that  can be troublesome when you run into them.

And run into them you will in the MA world. As we stated earlier, there seems to be an attraction to the martial arts/self-defense world for disturbed people; who can be any personality type and anywhere along the continuum. Why? In psychology a known problem is "self-medication."  This occurs when a person with a mental disorder attempts to quell it by regularly ingestion a certain type of chemical. They initially attempt to do this because the drug seems to even them out in the short run. Unfortunately, without a doctor prescribed regime of medication, addiction commonly results.

A behavioral equivalent also exists. A person can become addicted to a type of behavior. Compulsive behavior occurs when a person engages in a certain type of behavior to the point of destructiveness and/or obession. While many people know about Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, do you also realize that there are groups like Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous and Co-dependants Anonymous? Groups that are dedicated to overcoming behavioral addictions? 

Any behavior can become addictive in an attempt to mentally  self-regulate or repair damage -- including a fixation on self-defense, fighting and martial arts. With this in mind, it not unreasonable idea that people who are obsessively training for "self-defense" are commonly using it as a means of avoiding dealing with their issues. I mean face often are you physically attacked?  Then why obsess on it? Or is it a way to avoid other, more realistic issues? These can be any number of possible conditions ranging from obsessive compulsive, bipolar disorder, paranoid personality, primary delusional, secondary delusional, projection, post traumatic stress disorder to dependant personality, to name a few.

Putting that in layman's terms: A person is attempting to shore up holes within themselves by adding in the ability to fight and/or learn the ultimate fighting art. Think about it, how often is self-confidence and self-respect promoted as one of the selling points of even the more mainstream martial arts?  While it is true that the martial arts can assist in achieving these goals, if the problem is severe, without professional psychiatric help and supervision a very real possibility exists of such an attempt reinforcing the problem  instead of solving it.

Another possible explanation is that instead of assisting in overcoming these problems, this kind of training can be used to reinforce them. That is to say instead of altering the behavior that puts a person  into conflict with others, a certain type apparently is learning how to fight in order to be able to get away with that behavior. Why change an aggressive, dysfunctional behavior when you think you can beat up anyone who objects to it? This is especially true when you are willing to ferociously attack anyone who dares question your assumptions -- if not physically then verbally. Why learn people skills when you are engaging in training that supports your belief that knowing how to fight is all you need in order to be safe? The mindset apparently is: If I can kick the world's ass, then I'm not  the one who has to change.  

This is why we say such people seem to view MA/SD as a way to act out and reinforce their beliefs and dysfunctions. It also seems the more extreme the school/organization, the greater the numbers and degree of dysfunction. On the other hand, some seemingly "more normal" schools can have their fair share too, although these tend to be a little more subtle. As such, a little bit of research into this subject is warranted -- before you find yourself being sucked into trouble.

Once again we must put forth a disclaimer. Let us categorically state that we are in no way implying that every person in the martial arts is insane. Nor are we even hinting that all conflicts that arise in MA/SD/RBSD/WSD circles are crazy people acting out their neurosis's.

For the record, let us also state that such inferences would not only be erroneous, but also a common tactic of dismissal of this information. That is to say, taking the points presented here to an extreme and claiming that we are claiming that everything is based in dysfunction is a common form of denial. By first making it into an absolute -- an absolute that is obviously wrong -- such people give themselves permission to dismiss the legitimacy of this information and its influence on unacceptable behavior in the MA/SD/RBSD/WSD circles -- especially if they are engaging in such behaviors themselves. It is also a fundamental tactic in getting you to accept their insanity as normal.

That is why we insist that you check this information out for yourselves. From outside, credible sources find out what is entailed in these behaviors and then apply the information to the circumstances around you. If it doesn't fit, great. You've found yourself a good school and healthy organization. But if it looks like a duck... Return to top of page

Getting Sucked into Insanity
In the Continuum section we said: Or, someone who has bought into the dysfunctional person's world view. One must take pause and consider the significance of this concept. Why? Well, putting it into totally unscientific terms: A major motivation of dysfunctional person is to get you to buy into/support their reality.

Until you realize this you won't realize how persistent a dysfunctional person can be in achieving this goal. And that means you will be vulnerable to being manipulated. A dysfunctional people can be like the Pied Piper. They can lead you down a path where their particular distortion of reality becomes not only acceptable, but normal. This is to say, through constant pressure you gradually come to accept the behavior as the way things are. In  more extreme cases, you can end up replacing your "reality" with theirs and changing your standards of acceptable behavior .

There are all kinds of different reasons for this. If you believe the same thing, they aren't crazy. If you believe them, then they have influence over you. If they can make you miserable too, then it isn't their fault that they are miserable. If they can tear you down, they can build themselves up. If you enable their  behavior, they have carte blanche for it. If you believe the same thing it means they are "right." If you accept that you have to put up with them acting that way, it is okay for them to act out. If you blow up at them, it proves that they are victims of a horrible world. If you do this, they are justified to do that. If they can control you, you can't hurt them, etc., etc., etc.. The list of possible motivations to get you to buy into their reality is endless. And the probability that there are several of these motives going on at once, really mucks up trying to get a clear idea of what is going on. But the long and short of it is they want you to play their game.

Unfortunately, the descent into trouble is not one giant fall, but a long series of small steps that you don't realize you are taking, until you find yourself wondering where you are and how you got there.  

Generally speaking there is a human urge to try to get along with each other. Humans are very good at compromising and working out ways to get along. Although it might not seem so by looking at the wars and hatreds through out history, the truth is that as a species were better at getting along than not -- things like civilization, cultures, society and all the nations not at war prove this point. It is both the desire and tendency to try to get along instead of engaging in conflict that leaves us vulnerable to the manipulations of the dysfunctional. In attempting to compromise and get along with someone -- who isn't -- you will be the one constantly losing ground and making concessions.

In the Continuum section we also mentioned that it isn't just an incident that you need to watch for, but a pattern. Patterns take time, and that is why they can be hard to spot. There is a tendency for the average person not see the overall pattern because time passes between incidents -- and you mistakenly treat incidents as separate events. Not necessarily true.

Quite often the incidents are part of a larger, long term strategy. By stretching out the process, you don't realize how you are being slowly tweaked by the dysfunctional person. The average person does not go into a relationship with the motive of turning someone else to their world view. Since that is not a common motive, it is not something that most people look for, much less are on guard against. And that is what can make you vulnerable to this kind of manipulation -- especially if you do not already have a strong sense of self and awareness of boundaries. When that happens you slowly give ground and begin to accept the dysfunctional person's behavior as not only normal, but acceptable.

Honestly though, this motivation is quite often not even consciously known to the dysfunctional person either. That is to say they often do not consciously go out to do this. In his/her perception it is more about maintaining his/her 'comfort zone.' That is to say creating conditions around oneself that he/she feels safe and in control. In fact, the creation of a stable comfort zone around us is another strong human motivation. Therefore, it seems perfectly reasonable to that person to behave and react in the manner that he/she does. The problem is, that by definition, a dysfunctional person's version will not function very well because it has some serious kinks and twists in it.

As such, their idea of a comfort zone commonly extends far into other people's boundaries. This creeping into -- and attempting to control/influence --another person's personal space, doesn't happen all at once. And although it can be punctuated by loud and severe events, most of it is done through far more subtle and manipulative means that create constant pressure. Common tactics are small comments, little criticisms, repeated annoying behaviors, an ability to explain away unacceptable behaviors (this most definitely includes self-justification), a tendency to get their feelings hurt very easily and, in the cases of the martial arts, abuse of position of authority and "superior" knowledge -- as in the case of an instructor or senior student.

Before we go on, we need to take a little side trip. Although it may not seem like it, it is more natural for people to try to get along than to engage in conflict. Humans are by nature social animals. As such it is more common for humans to try to cooperate and work with each other. And this is a good thing. Despite the myth of the lone warrior, a situation where people did not work together would be total chaos and anarchy. A situation where the lone individual would have little to no chance of survival. Even the most anti-social person, finds a small group to work with... as is demonstrated by gangs.  

It's normal to adjust your behavior to try to get along. These are small adjustments that come so easily that we normally don't even think about them. If, under everyday and minor circumstances, something you do hurts or bothers another person, when informed about it, you stop doing it. It's just as common that when you find yourself in different circumstances to try to model your behavior to adapt to the new standards -- especially when you are there for a purpose. For example, when you walk into a school, you take on the role of a "student." 

It is this very tendency to try to get along with each other however, that leaves you vulnerable to the manipulation of a dysfunctional person.

Such a person isn't about to make changes in their "reality." As far as they are concerned you are the one who is going to have to change to fit in their dysfunctional world. They may appear to change; and quite honestly your presence will cause a change in tactics. They will not treat you exactly the same way that they treat someone else. This does not, however, constitute an attempt to "get along." No matter how much they may wail and beat their chests over how much they have done for you (or any of the other common tactics of dysfunctional people), it is first and foremost always about them. The person who is expected to change behavior is you! Behavior that  is common to garden variety neurotics include: You are the one who hurt their feelings. You are the one who said the wrong thing. You are the one who did something wrong. You are the one who is over reacting. You are the one who left them no choice. The list of "what you did wrong" is endless.

But what about in a MA/SD/RBSD/WSD context? Well, let's try some of these on for size. You are the one who is doing the technique wrong (That's why it doesn't work). You are the one who doesn't understand how good the system is (That is why you are being condescended to for asking a simple question). You are the one who doesn't know what real fighting is about (That's why you are being verbally savaged for expressing a doubt). You are the one being unreasonable and/or ignorant (especially if you dare point out a contraction or fallacy with the "party line.") You are the one who is out of line (especially when it comes to questioning the "Master's" behavior) Or, our personal favorite, You don't have the warrior mindset (That's either F) all of the above or your death knell for being in that group)(5).

Any of this sound familiar?  If it does, then we would like to point out this is a prime example of what we mean by getting sucked into the insanity. Remember we stated on the martial arts culture page that the martial arts is a service industry? You are paying someone to provide a service (teaching you the martial arts). That means the "master" and/or his organization is hired to do a job. Would you tolerate this attitude/behavior from any other contracted service?  And yet, because it is the "martial arts" this behavior is routinely accepted as normal.

Behind the strum und drang of dojo politics, dojo wars, pecking orders, playing Up the Organization and, in some cases, political and social agendas, is some pretty cut and dried dysfunctional behavior. It's dressed up in all kinds of names...tradition, reality, women's issues, defensive tactics, ultimate fighting style, etc., etc.... but that's what it boils down to. There is a lot of crazy, manipulative, obnoxious, sleazy ... and in some cases, illegal, stuff going on out there under the banner of MA/SD/RBSD/WSD/DT.

Your challenge is to become acquainted enough with what constitutes unacceptable, dysfunctional behavior so that you do not confuse it with training (that you are paying for) or accept that kind of behavior from an organization/individual. Return to top of page

Don't Check Your Brain At The Door
A very wise person once said "the purpose of the martial arts is the development and perfection of one's character." We find that to be a very simple, but profound statement. One that we heartily agree with.

Unfortunately, we have more often seen MA/SD/RBSD/WSD being used instead as a means to reinforce ones dysfunction. Instead of alleviating fears, they are often encouraged -- as a justification for extreme behaviors. Instead of teaching you the complexities of self-defense in a modern society, you are taught short-hand fantasies about ancient martial traditions. Instead of teaching humility and calm awareness of one's own skills, aggression and arrogance is often encouraged. Instead of focusing on the "do" aspect, the physical is emphasized. Instead of the self-control and self-discipline to face the challenges of life, the ability to fight is promoted. In some extreme cases, the ability to become violent is encouraged as a way to protect unrealistic expectations, aggressive and angry behavior. In some circles, violence is promoted as a way of protecting cherished dysfunctions and your right to engage in said behavior(6). In other words, instead of learning how to overcome your dysfunction and how to deal effectively with the world by changing your attitudes and behaviors, they encourage you to learn how to fight. That way nobody will dare challenge your dysfunctional assumptions. Or, if they do, you can still win.

And that is not even mentioning the money making aspect of commercial schools and cults. Having said this however, it is important to realize that much of the commercial orientation of these endeavors are, in fact, designed to encourage the misconceptions and illusions of the "buyer."  If you think that fighting is about a certain thing, some school will gladly sell it to you. What they will give you is exactly what you expect it to be about -- not what is actually involved. That way you will think you are being trained for "reality." And why shouldn't you? They're telling you exactly what you want to hear. If one were to sum their marketing approach  it would be: See! Fighting and self-defense IS all about what you thought it was! And they're giving you the answer to those imaginary problems. As such you will keep on giving them your money.

This is the basis of their marketing. To see this, all it takes is to pick up a copy of most martial arts magazines and read the advertisements -- promising to teach you their ultimate fighting styles, unbeatable systems, elite military tactics and secret, deadly training from distant lands. Much of this training also offers to put you in top notch physical conditioning for fighting. Which is in fact, true, while you don't need to be in fine physical conditions for self-defense (because of your goal), you do need to be in good physical condition to engage in sports and fighting. Except for a few small small things. One fighting is illegal. Two, it is dangerous. Three, if you willingly engage in both illegal and dangerous activities, one way or the other it is going to go bad for you, sooner or later. But is this "reality" ever mentioned in those ads?

All of this marketing is designed to support your ideas of what it takes to be good at fighting -- and more importantly, self-defense. What is not so obvious, however, is how easily this shades over into encouraging a person's dysfunction, while still profiting from it.

So what does this transition look like? 

Well first off it's usually in the wording. More specifically how both big and vague a word is. People with agendas just love playing with words to get them to mean all kinds of things. An attorney  friend who specializes in contracts is fond of saying: Everyone knows what something means until there is a problem. As a professional it is his job to make sure that when a term is used, everyone knows -- and agrees-- what it means. Many of the problems that he encounters arise from when one person is using a word and meaning something entirely differently than how others -- who are using the exact same word -- mean it.

Have you ever asked what self-defense means to you? I mean specifically and how that definition applies to a wide variety of circumstances. Have you ever gone down to the library and picked up the penal codes of your state and read how self-defense is defined? How is fighting defined in the same statutes?  Without clear delineations and understandings, how can you be sure that what you are learning IS self-defense? 

Or is everyone using a word and thinking they know what it means? And doing so with everyone having different and ill defined personal ideas about what is and isn't self-defense. Until terms are defined, everyone agrees what it means and uses the term accordingly there exists a serious probability that communication problems will occur. Worse, if you do find yourself in a violent confrontation, this lack of understanding will, in all likelihood, result in you getting into serious trouble -- one way or the other.

While this communication problem can occur in everyday circumstances, it is important to realize how often people with an agenda actively promote fuzzy, ill defined, overly-broad and, in some cases, completely different definitions. They do this by  twisting terms around so they can cover so much, while all the while remaining conveniently undefined enough that they can mean anything. On top of this convenient for them hazy definition, they are all the while letting you think you know what the term means. One of many examples we can use regarding skewed terminology is the anti-gun organization that published a report disclosing a staggering number of child gun deaths. According to the study kids were killing kids at a rate never seen before. The report was purportedly about  "gun violence against children" in a particular year. Before you read further, stop and think about  what that means to you.

It was not until the report was reviewed that it was revealed that a) the report included suicides, b) it also included accidents (i.e. a child gets a hold of an improperly stored gun and accidentally shoots him/herself), c) their definition of children went up to 24 years of age and d) the "year" was an 18 month period  A vast majority of the number of deaths came from these conditions -- not, as the report would have you believe, children being brutally murdered or gunned down in gang fights. Yet the report was not only produced, but defended because these extra definitions were what the agency meant when they used the term "gun violence against children." Does your definition of that term agree with theirs? Probably not, yet they intentionally phrased it that way so you would emotionally react to your definition and their high numbers in order to further their ends.

Another way terms are played with is the definition can change at the drop of hat -- usually to justify one's own bad behavior or covering one's mistakes. The latter is usually revealed when after giving you their definition if you present other, more factual information, they respond with a "Yeah, that's what I mean."  Although in one case we personally experienced a martial arts instructor teaching a neck break from behind, when he looked up and saw the aghast look on our faces he immediately said "Of course this is only for self-defense." Maybe in his little fantasy world it is self-defense, but the courts are going to look at it entirely differently.

However, it is the first reason for a definition changing that is the real problem. After you have bought into an idea that is where the dysfunction really begins. For example, if in your desire to learn a martial art you agree to buy a certain set of attire, equipment and agree in the school to conduct yourself in a certain manner, you have started stepping away from the martial arts is a service industry mindset. Does the training really require you to wear a gi with the school logo emblazoned on the back? While certain clothing might be required for training (like the heavier joi for throwing arts like judo and jujitsu) do you have to be both a walking billboard for the school and faceless part of a uniformed sea of students? How is that going to improve your learning? How often is specialized equipment required? Equipment that you can conveniently get through the school/organization? While there is indeed certain basic equipment that you should have (like groin protection) you need to look at these ideas from a perspective outside that of a martial artist. Like we said, the steps into buying into dysfunction are small and easily overlooked.

We are not going to denigrate the feeling of community, socialization and pride that people feel by being involved in the martial arts. Nor are we going to say that you are wrong for wanting to do what you can to help promote your school. Our point is that these "standards" have very little to do with the quality of your martial art training. If the personal benefits that you get from being involved with the school are sufficient for you, then that is wonderful. Do not however, mistake these benefits for the martial art itself, nor should you ignore the fact that you are no longer looking at the subject from a purely pragmatic standpoint, namely that of a customer paying for services. Services that must meet the standards -- not you.

After already slipping the moorings in this manner it is easy to float further into a different mindset. One that can be more easily manipulated because you have already accepted certain standards and changes in definitions. Things become problematic when the expectations from the organization revolve around YOUR conduct instead of the other way around. Remember, you are paying for THEIR services. If you have accepted this modality shift where your behavior must conform to their expectations then you are now are susceptible to being manipulated by their dysfunction. And ever changing definitions and poorly defined esoteric ideals are major tools of the trade.

In some of the more extreme cases ideas, tenants and standards of behavior are promoted and then, it is in their name, that a great deal of misconduct occurs by the instructors and senior students. Whatever convenient definition of the term/tenant that is being used at this moment sure does allow them to act out. This conduct not only doesn't have anything to do with the tenants, but in many cases is in direct contradiction to them. And yet, you the student are expected to faithfully follow these tenants if you want to learn this special system.

The problem is two-fold. First is while these tenants may -- or may not -- be legitimately from another country/culture, anytime you bring something in from another culture things tend to be omitted. The reason that this happens is that there are all kinds of cultural nuances involved that, in the original culture, are not only assumed, but ingrained. Violation of these standards would be a shocking breech of cultural standards and expectations. And unlike in Western cultures, there is no "just pick up your marbles and go somewhere else" in these cultures. Once word is out that you have violated these standards word is out, you're doomed.

Many of these expectations and standards are not completely transferred from  culture to culture. As such what most Westerners get is carefully edited -- usually for the benefit of the so-called "master." For example, in many Asian cultures, strict obedience to the "master" is indeed expected. The teacher says do and the student does. However, what is seldom talked about -- much less practiced outside those countries -- is the expectations, responsibilities, burdens and limitations  that are placed on the instructor's conduct. What is expected of him, in exchange for the student's obedience, is an incredibly high standard of conduct and responsibility in taking care of the student's welfare. These expectations come from the society at large and are well defined within the social context. In other words, the student has obedience to the teacher, but the teacher has obedience to society and a greater obligation to teach the student how to function within that society. Without this interconnectedness there are no checks and balances; and a megalomaniac can run rampant.

So while you often hear what is expected of the student, seldom will you hear this: It is incumbent on the instructor not to bring shame onto the art, traditions, himself, his family or himself by abusing the student's trust, whether for profit, power, pride, personal whim or failing in his obligations as an instructor.

Well ain't that a kick in the pants for most of the dojo wars, politics, cults of personality, money-making schemes, sleeping with students and machinations of the ultimate fighting system gurus? And all it takes is forgetting to mention the obligations of the instructor when talking about the obligations of the students...because they don't know what is expected in return for their obedience. All the power and no obligations or restrictions on your behavior. Talk about a pig in clover situation for a dysfunctional person.

While we're pointing out the depth of this violation, let's add on another aspect. If someone is going to be going on about ancient, honorable traditions and codes that he is supposedly teaching, then that obligation also applies to his students. In other words, as he is supposed to be teaching them a higher standard of conduct, then he shouldn't be allowing -- much less encouraging -- dysfunctional and abusive behavior now should he? He certainly shouldn't be profiting from his student's misconduct. And yet you constantly see instructors turning a blind eye to unacceptable (sometimes illegal) behavior because the students engaging in it volunteer teaching time, spend lots of money, hosts seminars or in some other way profits the instructor. (7)

While it is easy to spend a day cruising around the internet to various forums and see countless examples of bad, rude and juvenile behavior, what is less obvious, but far more indicative about this tendency to feed dysfunction is what goes on in closed forums. Quite often it is there that you will encounter not only the true depths of dysfunction, but both the encouragement and reinforcement of said behavior -- especially if it is a single system forum. There you will see all kinds of enabling, self-reinforcing, hostile to outside ideas, self-aggrandizing, controlling, abusive, neurotic, jockeying for position and, in some cases, cult behaviors.

In short, the goal is less about learning and growing in personal understanding and character development, but more oriented on one's status in the group and having a platform/vehicle for their dysfunction. Which in the latter case those two are often the same thing. Apparently the logic is: If you are high up in the organization, well advanced in the system and people are listening to you, you can't be dysfunctional right?

Well, not exactly -- especially if a group of like-minded people have gotten together to act out their dysfunctions. Which is common, because after all, what fun is being dysfunctional all by yourself? Dysfunctional people need other dysfunctional people in order to act out. This gives everyone a chance to participate in trauma drama, politics, hurting each other's feelings, self-righteous crusades, backstabbing, snubbing, being snubbed and ongoing cycles of revenge and high drama. And all of this under the guise of being involved in the "martial arts."

Where one should take extra caution, however, is when you encounter a group that insists that you adopt a different set of standards in order to fit in. By this we mean beware of any group that requires you to replace the standards of behavior of where you live with behaviors from another country and/or the group. Where the trap lies is that quite often, what is otherwise acceptable, is taken too far under the guise of being a) from somewhere else,  b) how it is done there and c) part of the training.

These three points can come in many forms, what they all have in common however, is that they go too far.

Resources: (Internet)
American Psychological Association
Internet Mental Health
National Electric Library on Mental Health
John Bradshaw Bradshaw on: The Family
Jean Baer How to be an assertive (not aggressive) woman
Bernstein Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People drain you dry
Richard Carson Taming Your Gremlin
Jay Carter Nasty People: How to avoid being hurt by them, without becoming one of them
Jay Carter Nasty Men, how to not be hurt by them without stooping to their level
Les Carter Anger Workbook (Very Christian)
Les Carter Getting the Best of Your Anger (Very Christian)
Suzette H Elgin You Can't Say That to Me: Stopping the pain of verbal abuse
Suzette H Elgin How to Disagree Without Being disagreeable
Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman Vital Lies Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self Deception
Carol Tavris Anger: the misunderstood emotion
Geoff Thompson Art of Fighting without fighting
George Thompson Verbal Judo : The Gentle Art of Persuasion
George Thompson Verbal Judo : Redirecting Behavior with Words
Various The Complete Idiot's Guide to Verbal Self-defense
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Reality vs. Actuality
We have an entire page on the difference ... and how not knowing the difference can get you into deep trouble

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1 The seemingly obvious exception would be "slasher" movies like the Jason and Freddy series. Well to begin with, these movies are fantasy, not credible stories like thrillers. But even so, the same pattern applies. The victims were not expecting to run into a unstoppable super killer. As such they were not prepared and die like flies. Whereas the audience did know what the movie's main character was about, so the events are not as shocking or frightening. Films where team members either fight back or go in prepared to hunt the monster are no where near as scary as ones where the victims do not know what they are dealing with. Return to Text

2) Ever wonder why terms like reality based self-defense, real fighting  and in a real fight are so popular in certain circles? Why should these even have to be qualified?  What is the problem with reality that someone needs to tell you that they are talking about the real reality? Much less, what kind of physical fights, violence or assaults that aren't real?  Doesn't that strike you as a little odd?   If it doesn't, then you have probably bought into the circular logic of this issue. AND, most likely, their definitions of what real self-defense/fighting/martial arts is. As such you had better check with sources outside the MA/SD world to see how much sense it all makes to them. Because in the mainstream, people generally don't need to qualify reality quite so often or as vociferously. Return to Text

3) The DSM -IV is pretty much the bible of the psychology profession. It is THE standard of accepted mental disorders. And next to the Tax Codes, it is probably one of the most complicated, technical and boring reads in the library. Return to Text

4) In the same way a bully is looking for someone who displays overt and excessive fear/nervousness about the bully's mere presence -- and will ignore all others and fixate his bullying on that individual -- a dysfunctional person is looking for someone to provide a certain response that will enable his/her pattern. Return to Text

5) This is common in "crazy making behavior." I have seen many incidents where a dysfunctional person, intent on criticizing another, will flat-out contradict themselves from one incident to the next. Such a person will say one thing one time and then say the total opposite the next with as much conviction and authority in both cases. In some of the more extreme cases, the abuser will take ideological positions that he/she doesn't even believe in  just to be able to attack the victim. A  person trying to "get along" will be confused, which one is true? More importantly however, is the fact that the victim will begin to doubt him/herself -- especially because the dysfunctional person will vehemently deny the contradiction, insisting that his/her position has not changed. This is classic crazy making behavior as making you doubt yourself is important step in you accepting their behavior. Return to Text

5) In the latter case, it's the mantra they use to explain why you don't fit in. Make no mistake, this is a condemnation. It is also a call to jihad for the other true believers. You have been branded a black sheep, a scarlet letter, an infidel, a heathen, in short, you have been excommunicated. The problem with any kind of banishment from the fold is that it also a declaration of "open season" on you. If you do not leave, the entire group will turn against you. And those that don't will not stand up against those who do. Return to Text

6) We have encountered countless times in WSD circles the saying: A woman should be able to walk naked into a biker bar and not be molested. And amazingly enough, literal outrage that this is not the case. In such cases their anger and resentment that they cannot do whatever they want -- while everyone else must abide by "rules" -- is the basis of the closing observations of that paragraph. Although many similarly outlandish ideals about what fighting is for exist in the reality based self-defense world as well. Return to Text

7) We know of one jujitsu school where a ranking black belt has taken several lower dan black belts and they have taken jobs bouncing at a local blue collar bar. They constantly come back with bragging stories of assaults and batteries on customers using their martial art. The few stories I have heard all revolve around them rat-packing customers and using excessive force. It's only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured, arrested or sued. Three or four martial artists jumping one drunk and beating the hell out of him is not proof of the art and yet to hear them brag around the school you'd think it was. Meanwhile, the head instructor refuses to do anything about this abuse of his art by his students. His expressed reason is that he doesn't want to create a schism in the school. Return to Text

Do You See What I am Saying? Reading Body Language
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Exploits of a MA Cult

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