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So Bad Do Shotokan Associations Treat Their National Team Members

To be a member of a national team for a Shotokan association is a honor. However, for some it also becomes a struggle and a burden. In the last few month, we talked to national team members and officials from different European associations about problems and how their superiors and the management body treats them. The stories we have heart indicated the existence of arbitrary decisions, exploitative behavior, and mental abuse in some Shotokan associations. Most of them involved abuse of power, enforcement of economic and politic interest or just show a lack of responsibility for the well being of national team members.

We do not know how widespread these problems are. However, we heart them from different, unconnected people with different backgrounds. In many cases we could not investigate further whether the stories hold water. But the similarity between the narratives suggest systemic flaws in a few European Shotokan associations. Thus, it is in the public interest to make this cases transparent, so that changes can take place, karateka raise their voices, and call for reforms.

Following we are going to present a list of incidences, which people reported to us.

Bring Your Own Money

National squad members, by definition, represent their country on a transnational and international level. Therefore, they have to travel. Especially, intercontinental flights and accommodation in hotels can become highly expensive. For some national squad members this can lead to a heavy financial burden.

Amateur League

Unlike in the WKF the vast majority of national squad members in “traditional” Shotokan associations belong to the group of amateurs. As a result, they do not receive any payment for their activities. This leads in some cases to financially difficulties when, for instance, unpaid vacation days have to be take for travel. In many more cases the karatekas have to cover all the expenses to represent their country abroad, too. And a World Championship can easily generate costs of up to 3000 USD or even more. The costs for the preparation like national team training camps etc. are excluded from this calculation.

Some members cannot effort such amounts. Thus, they depend on the support of their associations. But some refuse to help.

In one case, which was reported to us from a central European country, team members had to beg in the streets of their hometown for donations in order to finance their attendance at a World Championship. Both team members studied at that time. Therefore, money was a scares. However, the association denied any financial help. It also prohibited any external sponsoring because they deemed it as a corruption of the Do. Eventually, the team members ended up asking strangers for money to finance their trip. Because the cost were so high that even their families were not willing to pay all of it.

When Money becomes Retracted

In another case an association retracted its financial support two days before the members had to book their flights. Some team members asked their families and friends. Other used their savings.

Different peoples from different countries reported stories like that. All of them also reported that the associations did not have financial problems at that time. The opposite was the case. In one case they estimated that the national Chief instructor earned up to 150.000 Euros annually since he started this position in the 1970´s.

Actually, Money is not the Issue

In another case the association received financial support from government sources and the National Olympic Committee because it also wanted to let its team start at the Olympics. However, the money drained within the body of officials and the management. Even the national head coaches had to pay for airfare to international tournaments.

For some karateka this not just creates a financial but also mental burden. Shame and stress can occur. To have to decided between representing ones country or whether using the saving for the next notebook, car, or vacation causes tremendous stress. And the team members feel left alone with this problem. That has a huge effect on their performance during tournaments but also on their mental well-being and relationship to the association. Because it undermines their sense of fairness.

Arbitrary Decision Making and More

Another topic in the reports we received revolved around arbitrary, nontransparent, and politically motivated decision making. In some cases this can also become some sort of mental abuse.

Changing Decisions Randomly

For instance, one karateka told us how he traveled to the World Championship with the expectation to start both in kata and kumite. On the day before the competition, the coach told him he would not start in kata although he focused on this discipline during his preparation. No reason was given. For the karateka the whole situation felt more than stressful because he competed also for the first time on an international level.

Too Much Alcohol

Other team members also reported about alcohol abuse of national head coaches and members of the management board. Their superiors forced them to drink alcohol to excess. The coaches also drunk to excess and forced them to do kumite with them. Even stories of drinking games, which head coaches initiated, reached this editorial office. The most disturbing case apparently took place in a hotel room. One of the coaches forced his athletes to hit him as much as they could. According to the witness he wanted to prove the toughness of his generation and that they could stand more pain than the younger karateka.

Others reported how the national head coaches forced them to entertain them during parties. They had to perform kata and kumite on tables and under the influence of alcohol. Not taking part in drinking games meant exclusion from the team.

All of the team members, who reported to us, felt coerced, used, and in some cases abused. They also expected retaliation and other negative consequences if they did not comply to wishes of their coaches and superiors. For some the experiences they made regarding alcohol during their time a team members lead the to the conclusion to never drink alcohol again.

The Case of Roisin Akimoto

The most disturbing case of weird behavior against a national team member took place this summer. It happened between Roisin Akimoto and the technical committee of JKA England. We use the names of the people involved in this case because an email conversation between Roisin and Tony Cronk, Head of JKA England, has been made public on Facebook in July 2019. It can also be found on an anonymous google drive. The email conversation is also available to this editorial office.

To give a brief background: Roisin had been a very successful competitor on an national and international level for JKA England. Her mother was also part of the management board of JKA England but retired this year.

The Email of Dismissal

On May 8, 2019, Tony Cronk wrote an email to Roisin informing her that she will not be considered for further deployments at international tournaments. She was also dismissed from her duties as a national team member. The technical committee decided to remove her. As a reason Tony Cronk mentioned:

When attending competitions squad members are representing our Association
and must remain professional and courteous to everyone regardless of any
personal feelings they may hold. In addition, whilst on the tatami we demand
that our members perform to the best of their ability and uphold the spirit of the
competition.

He referred to Roisins alleged behavior during the last JKA European Championship in Stavanger, Norway, 2019. On the first glimpse this statement indicates that the demeanor of Roisin must have been extremely out of place.

No Explanation Given

However, the head and assistant coach of the team provided a letter that praised her professionalism and friendliness during the whole tournament. Even more disturbing is the fact that no hearing took place. Roisin did not have the chance to comment the allegations and to explain herself. The technical committee reached a decision without considering her side of the story. They used Tony Cronk as intermediary to convey the dismissal to Roisin. Even on her repeated request for an explanation, she did not receive one:

After 15 years of an impeccable competition record for JKA England may I ask why such a brutal decision was made about me without a detailed explanation, an avenue of defence or a formal process? May I also ask why, when the grounds for my dismissal were not because I had broken any rules, which Sensei Ohta stated in our conversation, that I was dismissed? It is difficult for me to understand how this conclusion was reached given that so many squad members before have flagrantly broken squad and JKA England rules without any repercussions.

We inquired. We contacted Roisin and the technical committee. While Roisin replied to us she could not comment on the incident any further. Too stressful and painful was the whole issue for her. She just wanted to leave it behind her and to move on with her life – a life after karate.

The Issue Seems to be Bigger

The technical committee did not reply on our inquiry in July 2019 at all. Therefore, we can only speculate what drove them to their decision. As Roisin in one of her emails to Tony Cronk stated, the retirement of her mother might have been of bigger influence as expected:

I had heard, but neither in detail nor at the time it happened, that my Mother had retired from her role in JKA England. Sensei Ohta said to me during our conversation that her decision to retire from JKA England was a deciding factor in my dismissal. As you know, I’ve lived in Japan for almost 9 years and my distance from the UK often means that my Mother doesn’t tell me about what is going on. After hearing briefly about her retirement and the subsequent tensions that ensued, I was not in a position to be able to fully comprehend the sensitivity of the situation within the Association. Therefore, in order not to appear to be trying to cause further tension, I felt it appropriate to maintain a low profile at the JKA European Championships by focusing on instruction from Squad coaches and supporting other squad members given the position I was in.

According to her tensions between one member of the technical committee and her, which date back to 2014, might also had an influence.

Without having all the facts it seems to be an odd behavior by the technical committee of JKA England to dismiss one of the most accomplished national team members. Regardless of what really happened it shows the asymmetry of power between officials and team members.

Power Asymmetry and the Need for Reforms

The cases presented to us have one thing in common: The karatekas had almost no options to defend themselves against the associations and behaviors of superiors. Ombudsman or procedures for complaints were not in place. In opposite to professional athletes they did not have managers and attorneys who could defend them. Their motive to represent their countries, to challenge themselves, their will to be loyal and to obey, and to become famous made them easy victims for exploitation and abuse.

While the mentioned cases are only anecdotal evidence they should sharpen everybody’s perception for the problem. In some associations a need for reforms has emerged. Other associations are managed well, national team members have a voice, and a system of checks and balances is in place. The first step, however, is to become aware that the problem exist.

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Money in Shotokan Karate: Insights into a Difficult Relationship

Money and Shotokan Karate have always been a difficult relationship. But they do not have to be, if money is treated right. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Money in Shotokan karate has been causing many discussions. Observers have accused associations, instructors, and dojos of exploiting the art of Shotokan to become rich. They also associated the foundation of more and more Shotokan organization in the last 50 years with greed. The assumption: Famous instructors set up their own association as cash machines. While in some cases this might be true, one can plausible doubt this assumption, on the other hand.

But I will discuss some foundational questions in this article. Because the relationship between money and Shotokan karate is more complex than many critics take into account. I discuss the following questions:

  1. Why does money in Shotokan causes popular outrage? Does it cause harm?
  2. Why is money used in Shotokan at all? Do we need money in Shotokan?
  3. How to mitigate the tension money causes in Shotokan? How can one judge, whether an organization, dojo, or instructor focuses too much on making money?

Why Does Money in Shotokan Causes Popular Outrage? Is It Harmful?

Shotokan karate is not the only art and/or value-driven system that struggles with money. The conflict between money and other values dates back to the foundation of physical currency in ancient times itself. Jesus Christ, for instance, became famous by what is called today as The Cleansing of the Temple. The bible writes:

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Matthew 21:12–13

What happened? One day, Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and became outraged about all the merchants and money changers, who strolled around the temple and tried to make money. He felt that the sacred place of God should not be humiliated with profane money. Hence, he kicked every one out of the temple, who wanted to exploited it for business purposes. Money should not have the same importance as God.

Such an understanding of a sacred sphere, which shall be protected against the harmful and disgraceful effects of money, can be found in almost every religion, philosophy, and society. Therefore, Shotokan is not an exception.

Money Corrupts Other Values

Today, the subject of social and moral philosophy deals with the relationship between money and other value systems. Especially, Michael Walzer from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Michael Sandel from Harvard University have contributed to a better understanding why money causes popular outrage. In short, both argue that money corrupts other values.

To make this abstract idea a bit more tangible, let us imagine a medical doctor. He follows – usually – the moral principle of the Hippocratic Oath. The Oath says in the third paragraph:

I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.

Hippocratic Oath

Therefore, the Oath obliges medical doctors to increase the health of their patients under all kind of circumstances. It also consists of a very important element. Readers easily overlook it: It says “to my ability and judgment”. So, not wealth and purchase power determine the type of treatment or whether a treatment takes place at all, but the skills of the doctor. As a result, the moral value of altruism becomes superior in this understanding then making money.

Money Can Undermine Fairness and Justice

Why is that? Because it Walzer and Sandel argue: It calls to our conscience of fairness and justice. One can become sick without intention. A doctor, who takes monetary advantage of that exploits the bad luck of people. Such a behavior undermines trust, fairness, justice, and solidarity. If everybody would only strive for their own advantage one could trust no one. People would become other peoples wolf (Thomas Hobbes). As a result, society and community would fall apart.

Just imagine you would be seriously sick and a doctor, who has a cure, would withhold it from you until you pay him? And what if you do not have the money? Would his behavior clash with your sense of fairness? And what if you die because he withholds the treatment although he could have cured you? Would you feel in the moment you die that you have deserved it because you are poor? Most people would deem such a case more than a failure to render assistance. The doctor intentionally took your death. So, if money is the most important factor for a doctor the Hippocratic Oath becomes corrupted and degraded. In other words: If money becomes sacred all other values become profane. Money then turns from an means to an end.

Money Corrupts Also the Values of Shotokan

In a similar way, but less serious, this scheme also applies to Shotokan (but also to teachers, judges, police(wo)men, firefighters, scientists, social workers, soldiers, officials etc.). The agreement between Shotokanka is the perfection of character as codified in the dojo and niju kun. Thus, they agree upon to follow certain ethical rules like honesty, fighting spirit, respect, and seeking truth. Hence, every karateka should place them as priority. The reason for that lies in the conviction that following this rules leads to a more balanced character as well as civilized society and community.

But what if somebody seeks to make money in the first place? Then, all these values become corrupted. Respect is only paid to the highest bidder or potential customers. The value of honesty and truth have to go out of the window as well. Because making money works best in asymmetrical relations: One party knows more than the other. Honesty and truth mean that this asymmetry will be reduced other the time. Everybody can become a master.

In conclusion, business man or woman try to maintain the asymmetry by not disclosing everything they know (secret knowledge). Therefore, a Shotokan instructor, who strives for money more than for the Do, will withhold certain insights into the art in order to have an edge. He will also teach only what satisfies his students and not what is necessary. They will exploit every revenue stream. They do not care about character development but about wallets. As a result, McDojo´s emerge.

Opponents Fight Against the Negative Effects of Money in Shotokan

The opponents of mingling Shotokan with money try to avoid such situations. For them, the Do and all the values which come with it, shall be deemed and treated as sacred. They protect this sacred values against the profane value of money. Thus, they criticize the intrusion of money into the sphere of Shotokan when ever it takes place. This has clearly a positive effect on Shotokan. Values and their execution have still a high priority in many associations and dojos.

But the fight against money can become double-edged sword. Because a professionalizes system needs money to operate.

Why is money used in Shotokan at all? Do we need money in Shotokan?

Money has negative traits. It can push other values out of their sphere. It also offers a means to turn human beings, the nature, and animals into commodities. On the other hand, it has certain positive features. It makes relationships and processes possible which could not become reality without its existence. For instance: Professional instructors and associations.

In a world without money most members of a society have to hunt, gather, or work as a farmers. Social scientist call such a system a subsistence economy. A complex division of labor like today could not emerge. Exchange would be based on barter. To save up something in order to spend or consume it later poses a difficulty. The most people would work to stay alive. As a result, only feudal lords could effort instructors like the daimyo did with their Samurais in medieval Japan.

Positive Features of Money

In comparison to a subsistence economy a money system has some advantages:

  • Money works as a means for exchange;
  • It can be easily divided in different sizes;
  • Money stores economic value;
  • It transmits economic value.

Imagine you take part in a seminar with a instructor from abroad. Instead of paying money you barter. Somebody would bring potatoes, others pork, and so on and so forth. However, the instructor neither likes potatoes nor pork but rice and fish. Bad luck for him because they are not to your disposal. The instructors would have to carry all that stuff safely back home, too. He had to travel by ship because he would have a container full of potatoes and pork. Some of the potatoes would rot and the most of the pork he would need as payment for the cargo company because it takes 50 days from Europe to Japan on a container ship.

No instructor would go on a journey like that. All that would be way to difficult and inefficient. Therefore, no relationship would take place. With money, on the other hand, he or she just needs a bank account. The hosting party transfer the payment and many problems would be solved.

Without Money no Professionalized and Global Shotokan

While this example exaggerates and we are far beyond the 15th century it shows one thing very clear: In order to have professionalized instructors, associations, and dojos with a sophisticated level of Shotokan skills money is a necessary means. If one cannot make a living through karate the standard and skill level stays very low. Professionalized in this regard means that somebody works full time, has a certain education, works based on standards, and fulfills specialized tasks others cannot fulfill. And without such professionals Shotokan would maybe not exist or not on a global scale.

A system of volunteers, in instance, could not deliver similar services like a professional one. Because the volunteers must work most of the time somewhere else to make a living. Therefore, they can only spend a very little amount of time for practice and for their voluntary work. In addition, no volunteer could effort to travel the world to give seminars like many instructors do.

To be a global and professional system Shotokan must use money. Its features (storage, exchange, divisibility) make a certain skill level as well as international exchange possible. I sum, money works as a means to reach the end of Do.

But how can the negative aspects of money and its positive features be reconciled in a way that it only has positive effects? And when reaches money the point where it becomes destructive?

How to Mitigate the Tension Money Causes in Shotokan?

As mentioned before: Many systems have the problem to use money and must avoid to become corrupted by it. Practitioners, law makers, politicians, as well as social scientist and philosophers have tried to find a satisfying concept to solve this dilemma. To understand the solution it is sense full to go through an analytical scheme developed by German sociologist Uwe Schimank. It consists of five types of organizations and five stages of their orientation towards money.

Money is not an issue

Money comes in without struggle because of a patron, subsidy giver, or a gigantic endowment. People in this organization only follow their actual values like curing disease, producing art, teach, or practicing karate.

Losses of money should be avoided

Money comes in without struggle but losses should be avoided. This applies very often to public transport authorities. They should avoid losses. But if losses take place it is more important whether the organization offered enough services especially to citizens in need.

Losses of money must be avoided

Money comes in but the budget is restraint. Therefore, the management must avoid losses under all kind of circumstances. Schools, museums etc. are in this group. The important thing to note her is that the people working in this organization are also restraint. They must work in order to avoid losses even if it corrupts their values. For an karate instructor that could mean that he only teaches where his costs are fully covered spares poor countries or dojos out.

Losses of money must be avoided and gains should be generated

Money comes in but limited. On the other hand, the stakeholders appreciate the generation of more money. In this organization the employees are limited in their behavior in two ways: Firstly, they must work in a way that losses are avoided; Secondly, they should work in a way that their organization also generates a surplus. Applied to a karate instructor: He only teaches where the costs are fully covered or even better: He only teaches where the host pays more than the actual costs.

Gains are the only aim

Money comes in without or with struggle – it does not matter. The only purpose of the organization is to make money. Everything is an investment and should generate a maximum return. Therefore, the members of the organization will only do what sells. This stage can be called the McDojo Level.

The Trouble Begins at Stage 3

So, what can we conclude from this typology? The difficulties begin at type 3: Losses must be avoided. As a result, money can begin to unfold its corruptible effect. For instance, a dojo faces financial struggles and cannot afford to loss students. Under this kind of circumstances the instructor might become willing to let some rules slide in order to keep students. Of course, it depends a lot on how instructors deal with this situation and how many workarounds they can find. But at this stage money has become important and must be part of the equation for an instructor.

However, even at stage 4 instructors can find solutions without sacrificing the Do. Instructors can open new revenue streams like additional courses, merchandise, or getting another martial arts into the dojo in order to share costs. External funding and co-operation also workout very well. All that can mitigate the economic pressure without corrupting the Do.

Type 5, on the other hand, means: Game over for Do. Here the Do becomes pushed out of the equation. As a result, the organizations focuses solely on money making. The only reason to bring the Do back in is to sell it as a product. In other words: Do becomes a means to the end of profit-maximization.

How to Judge Whether It is Only About Money?

How can one judge whether they he or she is a member of an organization of type 5? The answer must be: It can become difficult to judge, because the organization focuses on marketing and in the creation of an illusion of true value. They know how to sell their product and attract students. They know more about this methods than about Shotokan. Therefore, the numbers of revenue streams, the demeanor of the instructors work as good indicators, and how much it adapts to the market. Some questions to investigate are:

  • Does the organization exploit every option to make money?
  • Are some sources of income off-limits?
  • Does the instructor criticizes students or does he/she only praise?
  • Is the instructor willing to put some pressure on the students?
  • How many times has the organization changed rules in the last five years?
  • What are the reasons for the rules in general and the changes in particular?

Conclusion

If one or more of these questions show an indication that justify suspicion, one should ask further questions or considering to move to another dojo. In some countries, organizations can also apply for a non-profit status. This status comes with specific guidelines and a regular evaluation. For instance, human service providers in the United States must be accredited by the Council of Accreditation (COA). To become accredited they need to comply to certain non-profit standards. In Germany, organizations can apply for the status of common public interest. That means that they also have to comply to certain rules about founding, management, and revenue streams. To watch out for such accreditation can also be a good indicator to not end up in a McDojo.

While money will always cause struggles in the field of Shotokan it does not have to be the end in itself. It can work as a means in order to reach the end of Do.