Kent Nelson on evolving martial arts / teaching culture

—Kent Nelson talks about martial arts culture

Continuing our interview from this summer, we talk how the teacher/student relationship is evolving and how it changes how to manage a martial arts business.

Even maintaining a more traditional environment—and sorry to always use this example, but having students sweep the floor is the classic—the mere fact that it’s a business changes the obligations of student/teacher. It’s no longer a duty per se, but part of the experience.

In fact, it’s actually part of what they come looking for—hopefully not in a cultish way, but a way of developing character, discipline, and just a different kind of relationship. That said, the bulk of your more casual students expect to show up to a clean facility even if your head disciple had an emergency take them away from mop time.


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I’ve also spoke about this before—Westerners can fetishize and project what’s quite frankly fun and convenient for them regarding what’s ‘right’ culturally. To make matters worse, people from the home culture being still just human, even the ‘true’ holders of the culture can be somewhat arbitrary, explaining things as convenient for them.

This of course leads to a maze of information, some contradictory, much bewildering. And as for the self-appointed keepers of this knowledge, they can often be caught spouting some fairly pretentious, comical aphorisms.

To keep this short, I’ll make one note: preservation is not the same as practice. It may be of cultural value to know you used to have to let the senior student sleep with your sister, but you’re not actually going to do that, are you?

So no matter how much fidelity we wish to maintain, we’ll always be blending with modernity, whether that be modern cultural morays, modern business environments, or dealing with the light saber.

And that means we’ll always have to apply our genuine values. The art doesn’t make the person: if they’re being an ass, that’s just them shining through in all their glory.


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