Abusive youth extracurricular instructor; how to proceed?
March 7, 2020 10:29 AM   Subscribe

My daughter (7) belongs to a martial arts studio where the head teacher frequently yells at students. Today he crossed a line in a major way and threatened to put her belt around her neck. How do we proceed?

Little e has been taking lessons at this studio for a bit over a year. It's mostly been an amazing experience despite this missing stair; we've seen tons of growth in coordination, cooperation, and attentiveness. And the other instructors are fantastic! They're patient, they understand her, and they praise growth and effort and not just achievement. In the past, we've helped her shrug off the one yelly teacher by treating his outbursts as teachable moments after class, and being careful to praise all the good things we see her do in every session. But today -- I mean -- Christ almighty. I'm not sure we can teachable moment our way out of this one.

I had the necessary confrontation with the teacher as a sidebar during class. I handled it well, I think -- I was straightforward and assertive but not aggressive -- and was rewarded with an "apology" at top volume for "poor word choice," followed immediately by repeated changes of subject back to my daughter's supposed offense (which, for the record, was that her uniform is too big and looked sloppy!! Not that any offense she could possibly have committed would justify a death threat, but this is absurd on its face), along with several loud defiant reiterations that he was "not going to grovel." I've also documented the encounter in detail for my own records.

I feel like I need to say something about this to the owners of the dojo. The instructor is old and I suspect will not change; he has been teaching this class for twenty-five years. And I assume the leaders of the dojo already know what he is. In my perfect world, I'd be able to find some way for her to keep taking lessons but never be taught by him again, but given his stature in the community compared to ours, I know this is kind of a reach goal. So how do I approach this conversation? Assuming the response is some flavor of "oh, loveable old Sensei is just like that, what a scamp," do I shrug, take my leave, and leave it there? Or do I make some kind of fuss in a larger venue? If so, how do I avoid being written off as just some crazy parent on Yelp or Nextdoor?
posted by eirias to Education (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd be able to find some way for her to keep taking lessons but never be taught by him again

As far as how to proceed re the kid's enrollment, I'd probably talk with your kid and ask her what she wants, something like this:

"kiddo, Sensei says crazy and awful things. It is not ok for anyone to talk to anyone else like that. I'm going to ask them to get you different teachers. But you know that as long as you're at that dojo, there's a possibility he's going to be the one teaching you. How do you feel about that? Do you want to stay, knowing that there's a good chance he's going to say crazy and awful things to you again if you do -- is it worth it? Or do you want to leave?"

And then let that guide what you do. If she was frightened and wants to leave, then by all means Yelp and Nextdoor to the skies once she's out of there. If she's staying, then your strategy will be different.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You take her to another dojo. She's 7 and it is your job to protect her from people like this, not to ask her what she'd like to do.

When you're 7 your parents decide these things.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:10 PM on March 7, 2020 [96 favorites]

Best answer: wow. As a kid I attended a dojo, and the lead sensei was older, very strict, had no patience for tardiness, sloppiness, rudeness, etc. He might even raise his voice on occasion. But I can’t for a second imagine him threatening a child with violence. That isn’t a strict teacher, that’s an adult who is out of control. Totally the opposite of the values most martial arts claim to impart. I would mention this to the owners of this dojo, and also find a new dojo to attend.
posted by Wavelet at 12:20 PM on March 7, 2020 [38 favorites]

Tell the owner that you're strongly considering moving dojos, hint at that you might leave a bad review. Who knows - you MIGHT be the straw that breaks the camel's back. But look around for other dojos asap.
posted by k8t at 12:29 PM on March 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

That behavior violates the Safe Sport guidelines. Definitely tell the owner of the dojo, and say that you don't want your kid to be in that teacher's class again. If they shrug it off, find a different school; who knows what other basic stuff they're turning a blind eye to.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2020 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Take her to another dojo. I was older than your daughter when I had an abusive horseback riding instructor who regularly put me in danger. I really wish that my parents had decided to remove me from that environment instead of asking me if I wanted to stay. It would have sent the message that I don’t have to put up with people behaving horribly toward me, which is your teachable moment right there. Girls have to deal with a lifetime of social pressure to put up with men’s threatening behavior...this can be an instance that works in the balance against the world training her to do that.

In an online review, just state the facts unemotionally. Let the facts speak for themselves.
posted by corey flood at 12:41 PM on March 7, 2020 [48 favorites]

Even if you decide to take your daughter to another dojo, please speak with the owners about this for the sake of the other children taking classes there. This is an unacceptable level of violent talk and should be dealt with in a transparent and very firm manner by the dojo owners. Someone with such poor judgement and such little self control should not be teaching children.
posted by quince at 12:47 PM on March 7, 2020 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. To unpack a bit, I think my responsibility to my child is pretty clear; I can’t really imagine asking her to sit through another class with this teacher. What I’m asking about is my responsibility to the community — how do I communicate about this in the way most likely to have a protective effect on others?
posted by eirias at 12:52 PM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

> how do I communicate about this in the way most likely to have a protective effect on others

I think you have to go public, post an account of what happened maybe on Yelp, Nextdoor and any and all other similar platforms. Telling the dojo owners isn't going to be enough, I suspect, in light of "he has been teaching this class for twenty-five years".

Your daughter comes first of course --if the dojo cans the instructor then she can probably stay at the dojo, otherwise your find another-- but your community deserves the truth too.

(But I don't know if going public would leave you legally exposed; you have to consider that.)
posted by anadem at 1:05 PM on March 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you're leaving (which I think is fine -- my suggestion above, to ask your kid what she preferred, was predicated on the question of whether she wanted to leave) then it's pretty easy. You tell the owners what happened, and that it's irresponsible of them to keep him in a position of authority over children. If they don't fire him, you post dispassionately and precisely on Nextdoor and Yelp and Google Reviews and anywhere else, about what happened.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:07 PM on March 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Vote with your feet and let them, and the public, know why. The only thing that will make them fix this is the hit to their pocketbook.
posted by bleep at 1:20 PM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please put a review on Yelp. As a parent, this is exactly what I want to know when I'm booking experiences for my kid.

My bona fides: I left a detailed 1-star Yelp review for an abusive situation at a gymnastics gym my kid attended. And then we found another gym.

Also, pull your kid out and don't ask her to decide about this. 7-year-olds -- girls, in particular -- deserve to know that this kind of abuse is absolutely intolerable and nobody has to be okay with it, ignore it, pretend it didn't happen, and/or roll the dice with every workout that this guy might be the teacher again.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:34 PM on March 7, 2020 [17 favorites]

Yelp is pretty useless for leaving negative reviews, in my experience they will just be buried or removed a few days after you post them.
posted by Lanark at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2020

Best answer: Oh my god. I work in martial arts and I'm extremely relieved that per your update you've decided to leave. That's completely not okay. Like so not okay, I can't imagine a reason it would even start to be okay. (Also at 7, the state of the uniform is only partly up to the child and also, seriously?? SERIOUSLY??? Like just no. NO.)

I would definitely talk to the owner and tell them that you are leaving and why. This does offer a chance at a change (although I agree after 25 years it's not likely; that said this could be a newer issue) and also doesn't leave you with a feeling that you didn't communicate.

I would also ask for a refund for your last payment or more and use that to go down the street to another dojo.

I would also leave a review mentioning that instructor (maybe like "One instructor, ND" - initials) on Yelp and Nextdoor. I mean what you've said here is balanced and great "my child experienced a lot of the benefits of martial arts but after several yelling and demeaning incidents in class with Instructor D., we sadly have decided to pursue classes elsewhere." I think that will help other parents in having the information they really need. Because this is so not okay.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:03 PM on March 7, 2020 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: warriorqueen, I was really hoping you would weigh in with specific advice; thank you so much.
posted by eirias at 2:23 PM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I work for a sports governing body in the UK. I don’t know about your sport, or your country, but here most sports have a governing body, and that organisation has a member of staff who is the welfare officer. It’s their job to hear and deal with complaints about inappropriate behaviour by coaches (/teachers) who are affiliated to them. So maybe check and see if there’s any kind of overall governing body for your sport, contact them and ask if they have a welfare officer.
posted by penguin pie at 3:13 PM on March 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

If this happened in my dojo (I’ve been doing karate for a couple of years, and my kid went for a few years before that), I would tell you to write an email the dojo owner explaining why you are leaving, and to strongly consider copying the karate association of which the school is part, and definitely do so if the owner’s response isn’t to take this very seriously. This would be a huge deal if it happened where I study. The governing association has some ways to put pressure on schools that are giving them a bad name.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:24 PM on March 7, 2020 [13 favorites]

It makes sense to talk to the owner and get their reaction. If they get rid of this person, super. If they choose to keep an abusive teacher on, then you give them an honest review---making sure to mention that you told them about the behavior and they did nothing----and demand a refund.

I would also have a very clear chat with the kiddo about what happened and that it was SO NOT OKAY.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:28 PM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to Yelp reviews, but I would think that if you started telling parents one on one as to why you left, the rumor mill would definitely go around for this one?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:46 PM on March 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

This dojo... it must be licensed in ways that allow it to work unsupervised with young children right? I would write a fact-based letter to this licensing bureau at once. Any abusive piece of garbage who thinks it’s okay to threaten children with death/bodily-harm has absolutely no place working with children. These children’s families are paying money for their children to be taught that it’s okay for adults to yell at and threaten them with harm if they are angry about something. No.

I would explain to your daughter that this man is abusive, and that no matter how good he may be at martial arts, he is repeatedly making choices to be a bad person. As such, you are withdrawing her from his class to keep her both physically and emotionally safe, and so she knows that it’s never okay for anyone (strangers, teachers, adults, other children) to threaten her like that. I would also let her know that you are encouraging the other parents to likewise withdraw so that her friends/classmates are also kept safe (and so the abusive person would not continue to benefit from his abusive behavior).

Also, please update this thread with what is done and what happens; I work with children and this question makes me sick to my stomach.
posted by blueberry at 8:22 AM on March 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

A lot of commentary here, but will just add that I had some very abusive Scout leaders growing up – in my case, senior youth ('senior patrol leader', etc.) – and it had a pretty profound impact on how I grew up and felt about the world being safe.

So, yeah. Pardon my language, but since you're asking, get her away from this fucking psycho.

. . . . and . . . .

... visit the police and tell them that some guy threatened to wrap a cloth belt around your daughter's neck and strangle her, if I'm parsing what happened correctly.

Whether it was meant "seriously" or not, he doesn't get to say that.

Kids in that class are looking at that guy and learning. Not just learning karate: learning how adults behave, and what happens to them when they behave.

As they grow, kids model their behavior after what they observe in adults. Consciously and unconsciously.

Right now, those kids, including your daughter, are learning that you can do that and not really have any lasting consequences. Not great.

Some of those kids may grow up to become older kids and teenagers, and they'll say, "Yeah, my old karate teacher, he used to threaten us like that all the time," as they submerge someone's head in a toilet, or knock out some teeth.

Do the world a favor and pre-empt that.
posted by WCityMike at 11:39 AM on March 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. I spoke to the dojo owner tonight for about twenty minutes. It was about what I expected: lots of making excuses for an old friend. I heard a lot about how "he must have been thinking about suspenders or something and just misspoke." She was more appropriate in her tone, she didn't yell or threaten, but she also didn't actually let me talk very much. She knew what I wanted before I asked it, and cut me off at the pass. "If I were his employer, which I am not, I would not fire somebody for one offense." She asked later what she could do to make it right, and I said, I think you know what I would do in this situation, but it isn't my job to make you do it; it's just my job to give you the information, and I've done that now.

I'll give her a week to think on this, and assuming there is no further resolution, I will contact the larger membership organization they are part of. Thanks for that idea. I will also post a public review at that point.
posted by eirias at 3:23 PM on March 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

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