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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No, you may not call me that

When I was a kid, I only knew grown-ups by their last names, unless they were family and therefore had a title, like Aunt or Uncle.  It was always very clear who was in charge and who wasn't.  At my daughter's pre-school (which is a completely awesome Montessori school!), the teachers are called "Miss Carol," "Mr. Dave," etc.  I find that is a common practice these days.

Now, since I adore my daughter's school, I am not going to question the reasoning behind their titles.  It's their system and I follow their rules without hesitation (such a good doobie, I know).

In martial arts academies, however, I believe there should be a different kind of verbal connection.  There is a need for some distance between the instructors and the students.  And truthfully, the difficulty is not with the children in the classes, it's with the adults.
 Think about it... friendship is about comfort, the absence of judgement, relaxed interaction.  All of the things we don't want in the classroom.  We do have to judge our students' performances as they progress toward Black Belt.  We have to push and prod and pressurize students sometimes.  And frankly, relaxing is what people do at home, after a great class.

Beyond that practical issue, there's the respect that shows up in a proper title; respect for accomplishment and respect for authority.  Doctors deserve their titles.  Police Officers deserve their titles.  It takes years and years to earn the rank of Master in martial arts, and we bear a fair amount of responsibility for the safety, health and education of our students.  I'm thinking we need to get comfortable with requiring the use of our titles.

What's wrong with "Master Mike," or "Sensei Jennifer," then?  There's that title, right where it needs to be.  I don't know, would you call a successful executive "Mr. Bob"?  (Makes me think about the old Saturday Night Live clay-mation skits with Mr. Bill.)  The title just loses all impact when it's followed by a first name.

So if this is something new in your academy, how do you make the change?  It's easy to do when an Instructor has just reached a new rank themselves, but if you have no "event" to signify a new system in your academy, then you will  have to be direct.  Starting with your highest ranking classes, simply announce that you are going to institute a more traditional form of address in the academy and you would like their assistance with the adjustment.  Explain the new titles, how they apply to everyone, and how they fit into the culture of a martial arts academy.

Of course, then you continue to announce and educate all other ranks during regular class time, for however long it takes.  Additionally, printed signage in the academy is a good way to reinforce new policies.  It also helps to have fellow staff members address each other with proper titles at all times.  And it's always polite to call your adult students by their last names as well.  They are, no doubt, accomplished in their own fields, and deserve the mutual respect that we can offer.  We are not rulers of the entire universe... just that little empire within our academy's walls.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up, my instructor drilled into our head yes sir and yes mam to everyone! Best habit ever, to this day I still say it to everyone.