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Let Them Go

by Kathy Olevsky


We all know someone who seems to stir up drama like it’s their job. There’s one in every dojo. Sometimes this person is your most talented student, so you try to overlook the attitude you get on or off the floor. Sometimes this person is the family member paying for several of your students, so you grin and bear it for the sake of income. Sometimes this person is the parent of a student who excels in class and who personally does not give you any problems. Whoever he or she is, such a person is the cause of “dojo drama.”

You can ignore the person or make excuses, but sooner or later you have to make a decision. In the second scenario, you might decide that the monthly tuition for multiple students is worth putting up with the drama-causer who’s footing the bill.

However, the decision is more difficult when it involves a student who has talent you want to keep but an attitude you want to lose. When a student belittles others in class, taunts others in the locker room or constantly brags about his or her prowess, it’s time to take action. That reason is this situation, left unchecked, can lead to other parents complaining or even students quitting to avoid confrontation.

You don’t need to jump straight from noticing bad behavior to exiling a student, however. The first step is to have a conversation with the offender. The student needs to know which behaviors are positive (hard work, passion for martial arts) and which are negative (reprimanding or teasing other). Your job is to create good leaders and role models, and having such a conversation is essential to achieve that.

At our school, we strive to make sure our staff isn’t reinforcing negative behavior. Our strategy for promoting good behavior is to have our staff ignore minor instances of bad behavior while complimenting the good behavior of someone who’s near the perpetrator. Usually, students will take the cue and emulate the good behavior.

This method works with some, but not all, students. We also have had to take the next step and let a parent know that we’re having issues. Parents can be valuable allies in reinforcing correct behavior.

If the problem continues after all these steps have been taken, it’s time to sit down with the parent(s) and the student for a conference. Such meetings are often painful. They require equal measures directness and diplomacy. We praise the student’s positive attributes but continue to spell out the behavior that cannot continue. Interestingly enough, we usually end up dealing with these issues when the student is a brown belt: The student has enough skill to be quite talented and enough to be a bully in the dojo.

We had one fabulous young female student who was with us for many years but lacked the ability to get along with others. She always needed to be the best, and quite often, she was. The problem was that by the time she was a young teen, she was using her skills to discourage others. We tried to teach her how to be a good mentor and a good partner to others rather than a person who’s out to dominate them. However, we failed to instill the right mindset.

After many parents came forward on separate occasions to complain about her behavior, we realized that we had entire families lined up to quit if the problem wasn’t fixed. We then had to tell the parents of a very talented student that we needed her to leave our dojo. It was a hard call to make, but it was the right one. The level of tension in the school decreased, and we returned to a positive learning environment.

Sometimes the hardest decisions are the ones that actually help you grow.


To contact Kathy Olevsky, send an email to [email protected].

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