In the martial & combat arts industry there is a dark corner in the back of a closet full of skeletons that many of us know about but don’t want to acknowledge. If the topic comes up, it’s in a small group, away from the students of the gym/dojo and in horrified, hushed tones.
Yes, I am being dramatic. On purpose. Because it’s important and we should be talking about “It” – and often.
IT is the rather robust occurrence of Instructors and students falling into the sweaty arms of romance and sex. I know of two relationships in which an instructor dated a student and the experience ended with a lot of happy people, marriage (or committed relationship) and happy little babies. I know of significantly more than two instructor/student affairs ending badly.
As an instructor and school owner, I have a simple rule for my coaches and instructors: the students are not your dating pool. Because I know of these two relationships that ended happily, I know it’s possible. My rule comes with a caveat to the instructors…if you think there’s something brewing between yourself and a student, come talk to me first. I am not interested in being anyone’s dating police. I am interested in protecting the physical and emotional integrity of the training center, because these things happen:
Example 1 – Student flirts with instructor – instructor flirts back (for sport, naturally). Student schedules private lessons. Lots of grappling happens. Sweaty grappling turns into sexually charged wrestling and then a kiss and then more. Backstory? The instructor is married. The student gets pregnant. Rumors fly through the student body and the culture of the school takes a big, unpleasant shift.
Example 2 – Student working hard for the next rank test schedules privates with all the instructors. One male instructor (female student) crushes on her. Schedules more privates and starts training as a student in any class she attends in which he isn’t also teaching. Students start to complain that when he teaches, he only helps her – only offers her correction – ignores the rest of the class. She’s married, he’s getting a divorce. Other students are super surprised to meet her husband at an event because they all think she’s dating the instructor. And then they actually are (seeing one another) and the husband finds out and there are ripple effects through the gym. She stops training and the school loses a solid instructor because the head of school sent him packing.
Example 3 – Student flirts with instructor, instructor flirts back. Instructor wants to do this “right”. They have coffee, during the day – no formal dates, no touching, etc. Just getting to know each other. Both are single and the instructor thinks the relationship may have potential and wants to keep doing it with integrity. He keeps the rate of motion slow and gradual. The student gets pissed by the slow rate of motion – wants the status of roping an instructor, and accuses the instructor of sexual harassment…to everyone at the gym, loudly. The instructor never quite recovers his reputation and the student continues to train in his classes and openly defies him, ignores instruction and makes comments to training partners that “he’s an idiot, he doesn’t know what he’s doing”. The head of school hides in his office.
Three examples of so many stories I have heard that I have, frankly, lost count. Almost everyone I meet who has trained for any length of time, has a story of someone they know (or their own story) that has had their training interrupted or terminated because of a distorted emotional and physical relationship in the student-instructor paradigm.
Let’s clean out the closet and talk about it. There are at least four specific reasons this happens and the same four reasons are why no one should be surprised.
Part 2 will be in the March issue of Conflict Manager.