Bob stated that he respected my right to operate my business as I see fit but he did not understand my, or others’, “fear” of training someone with a criminal background. He opined people with a criminal past or, more specifically, someone who would do another person harm, would not take the time to search out and pay someone to train them in a combat system. He felt like if that was their goal there were much easier and more cost effective ways to get the job done.
He stated that seeking to better oneself is the reason one begins training in martial arts and that schools should not discriminate, but let everyone with a criminal background into the school. He further stated that he believed that if other martial arts instructors, including myself, would do this then it would effectively diminish the crime rate, shrink the number of criminals that plague our culture, and reduce the number repeat offenders. Again, this was Bob’s opinion.
Bob went on to say that he has been training in several different martial systems and that he looked forward to opening his own dojo and being able to open his doors to anyone with any kind of background. He said that it was uncalled for, as well as detrimental to our society, that I excluded those with a violent past. He felt that I should be able to look beyond someone's past mistakes and offer them a chance to make a change. He said by not doing so was the actions of a moral coward instead of a leader.
He concluded with telling me again that he practiced in several martial art systems and that he was actually a convicted felon but that he wished me luck. However, he never mentioned what specific crime(s) he committed.
Below was my response which may help you to better understand my point of view if you happen to feel the same.
Hi Bob -
You are absolutely right that probably about 99% of people who begin training in martial arts seek to better themselves. And, yes, there is a stigma and some people do judge but I am not one of them. People make mistakes. Mistakes are a big part of life and learning. Understanding that is also a big part of my teaching. I too believe people should be given a chance to reform and not be judged for past mistakes if they are truly trying to make a positive difference in their life. However, keep in mind that you can only help those who want to be helped and willing to do the work. It is not as easy as just giving them a chance. Unfortunately, there are always going to be those who just want one more chance and will try to do better this time. It appears that you have tried to better yourself and do not want to be judged as a person for mistakes that you have made in the past. It also appears, you are still paying the price for mistakes you are trying to put behind you. Yet you are judging me, attacking my leadership, and calling my beliefs cowardice without ever meeting me and asking why I feel that way. Certain options in life that have been taken away from you because of your past choices are not something that you should be angry with me about. We all must understand that everything in life has a price. I'm not sure if you were interested in studying with me or you just wanted to have a go at someone over the internet because you disagreed with what you read on my site. However, since you took the time to write to me I will take the time from my day to respond and clarify a bit better for you about what you read.
The two statements on my site that I'm sure you are upset about are:" I will not teach anyone whom I feel has a poor attitude towards martial arts or whom I think wants to begin training for the wrong reason." This statement does make my dojo exclusive and says exactly what it means. I believe that studying our system is a privilege not a right. I give everyone the first two weeks free and during that time, I screen my students to try to get an idea of who they are and what they are looking for. I ask myself are they a good fit for the dojo and its philosophies and are they trying to better themselves or do they just want to learn how to fight for the sake of fighting. Many have no interest in budo and what it has to offer and will even admit to it. I view this as if I were giving someone a loaded gun and not teaching them safety and how it use it. You may not like this either but I also will not train anyone who wants to use what I teach to pursue competitions or MMA. In my opinion, that’s not what budo is about and I want no part of it. What I teach is in no way designed for that arena anyway. I teach philosophy, self-realization, self-defense, and how to kill if there is no other choice. This is not something that is to be considered fun or to be taken lightly. I have even had several over the years who didn’t want to learn anything from me, they just wanted to come in and challenge me or my students. What I teach is close quarter combat and in application can be very dangerous and I'm sorry, but I'm not going to teach that to anyone who just walks in off of the street. If you look back, the terrorists who took over the planes on September 11th were said to have trained in combat schools much like mine. I can only imagine how those instructors must have felt after finding out what one of their students had done. I have been teaching for over 25 years, feel comfortable in my ability to read people, and will always listen to what my gut feelings are saying.
During that two-week period I will also do background checks on anyone who I get an odd feeling about which leads to the other statement that I know you do not agree with. "Anyone suspected or found connected to any kind of illegal activity; drug use of any kind, or has been arrested for a violent crime will not be allowed into this dojo." What you assumed was that if I found that anyone has made a mistake in their distant past that they would not be allowed into my dojo. This is not the case; I have had students that have made mistakes. However, what it says is that if I find that they have a long history of illegal activity or just arrested for the 2nd or 3rd time, NO you will not be accepted as a student. Who lets an active criminal into their home and thinks nothing bad can happen? One of the last students that I found with a history of theft was caught by one of the other students on his last day of his two weeks going through other students’ bags. Should I have let him stay? If I find that someone has been convicted of a violent crime (armed robbery, pedophile, rape, or murder), again, NO they will not be accepted as a student.
You said people with violent tendencies do not seek out martial arts training, but I can assure you that unfortunately they do. There are the extreme cases as I mentioned earlier about 9-11 and there are ones that have attempted to study with me. If I had not trusted my intuition and ran the background check I would not have know how potentially dangerous they were. One had an attempted murder charge and when I confronted him with it there was no remorse and he justified it with "Yea, but it didn’t kill him". He even bragged about being thrown out of two other schools. I contacted both instructors and both told me he was asked to leave because of violence. Another filled out his paperwork with what I later found to be a false name probably because he read what you did on my website. He was found to have 2 pending violent assault charges and was looking at doing time. Should he have been accepted? I even know of a convicted child molester who did his time and is now out of jail back teaching children. Do you feel he should he be allowed around children at the risk of being tempted to repeat his crime?
Without speaking to you in person I have no way of knowing if you understand why I do what I do with respect to accepting new students. I also don't know how my rule would apply to you as you never said what you were convicted of. What I do know is that you judged what kind of person you think I am based on what you interpreted my website to say. Keep in mind that your email did the same for me painting a picture of what your intentions are and the kind of person I think you might be.
This is a small school and I view my students like family - not clients or a way to pay my bills. I do my very best to guide and protect them. If at this point, you still can't understand my reasoning and view point I am ok with it but would still be willing to meet with you and discuss it further. You say your plan is to open a dojo of your own someday. The first time you feel you have to turn away someone because something tells you, this person is just not ready for this or it could be dangerous to transmit your skills to this person I hope you think and remember how you felt about me. It’s not easy to turn people away because you want to help everyone. However, if you truly understand what the study of budo is about and have a dojo of your own and care about your students you will ask yourself every time "Is this someone that I want in my dojo?"
Donjitsu Do Dojo
Surprisingly enough he responded and apologized for judging me prematurely. He claimed to now understand my process and that he realizes why I do it that way. He went on to tell me about his past struggle of drug addiction, being bipolar, as well as the crime / mistake that has caused him so much pain and societal seclusion. He stated that in the years since he has struggled as he comes to terms with the shame and stigma associated with now being a convicted felon.
At the time of our correspondence, approximately 7 years had passed since his convicted and he felt that hiding from his past is impossible. He also admitted that he had lied and does not have any formal training in martial arts other than techniques he learned from the internet through distant learning programs. He told me that in a moment of weakness he lashed out at me, not expecting that I would actually respond to his email. He has realized that even though it has been so many years since he committed his mistakes, it has closed many doors for him. He now wants to surround himself with strong, centered positive people but he now knows in far too many cases that this is probably no longer an option because of his past.