Dojo Scholar – Conscious & Unconscious Bias in Martial Arts by Sensei Dave Brough

For martial arts instructors (or for anyone managing or teaching a group of people) it is really important to consider our biases and how they affect the way we teach and practise.

© Royalty Free Image
© Royalty Free Image

As the professionalism and regulation of martial arts schools develop individuals with conscious, or explicit biases are unwelcome, and rightly so. Prejudice against groups of people has no place, and even the very hierarchical martial arts environment is no hiding place for senior martial artists keen to express prejudiced views, certainly not for martial arts schools that have any ambition of being respected, credible and mainstream. Governing bodies’ progress is creating fair and welcoming environments in which to train. However, have we considered how common cultural, gender and sexuality, and other stereotypes influence how we teach martial arts, tailor our classes and divide our time?

Martial arts classes are packed with diversity. There is often a range of ages, size and weights, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, ability to learn etc. Are we sure that we are not unconsciously spending more time with the students who pick moves up quickly? Or that have an outstanding kicking ability? Do some students get more attention because they are more competitive or aggressive? Do we as instructors have a preconceived idea or stereotype of the type of martial artists we would like to develop through our clubs? Are we only interested in making black belts and champions? Are the senior ranks of your club or association dominated by one type or gender for example?

© Royalty Free Image
© Royalty Free Image

Unconscious bias is not a considered thought process whereby we judge someone’s ability to practise but is rather an assumption made based on a stereotype. My view is that martial arts clubs are for the benefit of everyone in the community that wants to train and that everyone who trains should benefit. So how do we challenge ourselves to limit the effect of an unconscious bias?

Taking time to ask ourselves and being honest about our biases is important. If there are students missing out or feeling marginalised we need to ask ourselves questions and challenge our preconceptions, and we need to do this often. The benefits will be a happier and more inclusive training environment, greater diversity throughout the ranks, and the pleasure of helping everybody reach their potential.


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