Monday, March 23, 2009

Instructor Responsibility

Originally I was going to write an entry on self defense and the law. But, during my research, I found an excellent article on it by Peter Hobart, Esq. Mr. Hobart is an attorney, martial artists and author. He is the author of Kishido: The Way of the Western Warrior. A very good book that I will review in detail later. I will focus on a piece of the article.

His article, Self Defense Law, covers criminal liability on non-lethal and lethal force, third parties, defense of property, use of force to prevent a crime, civil liability, tort law and laws aimed at martial artists. This extensive review will give you the legal systems view of self defense. Although laws vary by location and over time, you will get an understanding of how the legal system views use of force in different situations.

The end of the article describes the legal responsibilities of martial arts instructors for the behavior and acts of their students. The three main points that will get an instructor in trouble with the law under the Theory of Agency are:

1. An instructor approves or promotes unlawful conduct.
2. An instructor who teaches dangerous/lethal techniques and the student misuses this knowledge
3. An instructor who provides negligent instruction that causes the student harm

The first one is easy to understand. Promoting aggressive violent behavior goes against socially accepted behavior. The second and third are opposite ends of the spectrum. This demonstrates the fine line instructors have to walk. If we teach dangerous techniques to people who can not handle the responsibility, we can be held accountable. At the other end, if we teach things that do not work, we can put the student at risk if they choose a self defense option that they can not handle.

For centuries, arts have been passed down through family or a very strong teacher/student relationship. Often, the students would live with the teacher. This reinforced the bond outside the dojo and kept students that would misuse the art to a minimum. In today’s society, few of us are full time warriors. And to keep the art going it may be necessary to cast a wide net to catch a few students. See Customer vs. Student. This will require more work from a teacher; but, does not change their responsibility in providing proper instruction to serious students.

A genuine instructor will have the respect for their teachers and the art to pass it along to students that meet the ethical standards of the art. Students interested in budo should look for a teacher that exemplifies these standards and there personal beliefs. If the instructor talks about price and the contract in the first few minutes of discussion, it is a good sign you might be at a McDojo and should continue your search. Don’t be shy about going to smaller schools. They may be what you are looking for. They may not have 100s of students on purpose. Likewise, not all larger schools are bad. They may run a large school and still have the quality of training you are looking for.

What do you look for in the instructor/student relationship from either side?


  1. Nice post, i'll definitely go over and try to digest as much as I can of peter's article.

  2. I agree that teachers have a responsibility to pass on proper instruction to students. I also think that the integrity of the system should be maintained as much as possible and not watered down to attract more students/customers. The temptation to do so is always there, especially in these recession hit days and with so much competition about from the mushrooming MMA clubs. I believe tradition should still be upheld. There is enough commercialism prevalent in today's society without every martial arts club adding to it. Better strength comes from standing for something you believe in rather than something you think people want (and will probably change their minds about anyway).

    Good post and thanks for the link to the article. I'm in the process of writing a self defense guide so the info should prove useful.

  3. @neal I couldn't agree more about upholding the integreity of the system and not selling out to commercialism.