Tuesday, August 5, 2014

THAT GUY: King of the Dojo

Nothing in the Martial Arts is more exciting than competing and training with others to gauge your progress and learn what exactly it is that you need to work on. In fact, having competitive training partners and even rivals in competition does more for your growth than any other thing in training.

But there is a dark side to this competitive environment. There is a fine line between being competitive and being a jerk. We call him the “King of the Dojo”.

This is my formal gi.

Here is the usual story with these types: You get a phone call from a guy who wants to try your sparring program. He says he has “prior experience” in [insert your favorite] martial arts. Because his school either closed, or he has been out of the Martial Arts for a while, he claims that he is looking for a new school and wants to see if yours will fit. Notice how he didn’t mention anything about your program, katas, or anything else for that matter. He wants to start with your sparring program. Red flag. He doesn’t have any intention of learning anything; he wants to see how good he is against your students. So you give him a chance, considering his prior experience and interest in your school… plus he might be a great addition if he fits in right?

Sparring class - t-minus 15 minutes. He starts stretching or warming up away from most others, usually with a very serious look, almost mean-mugging any peer who looks at him. He will likely play nice with those not in his “weight-class”, but will be sizing up the ones he needs to dominate for alpha-male status.

Just a friendly sparring match, I swear.
Sparring commences. Two things will happen at this point. Either he will “win” or “lose” in his mind. This is already a very poisonous because we are here to help each other get better, not KO each other into oblivion. He doesn't care about that – his goal is to win.
  1. So he “wins”. Ego fulfilled. Students are in awe at his skill. He is the king. At this point he will stick around because it makes him feel good to be on top. He may even become “respectful” at this point and have some great skills to teach you/ your students. After all, he was good enough to “beat” them. But he also carries a dark side that could be dangerous to your students and your program.  Anyone who threatens his reign will likely spark some out of control situations, leading to injuries and even students leaving your school. He will stick around until he is bored or beaten. He will likely have no real interest in your program but will participate in sparring all day any day. Remember: he is there to prove to himself that he is alpha, not to learn or sincerely help others.
  2. So he “loses”. Most of the time decently trained students can hold their own with any “out-of-dojo” type “badass” that shows up. He will usually make up some story about how he is not familiar with your style, or he didn’t know this or that, or he has a bad knee, but the fact is that he is butt-hurt. He is trying to save face. He will likely not return at this point because he will be looking for another school to reign.
The crazy thing is that good martial artists don’t judge each other in this way. They don’t need to. They can go hard without feeling like someone won or lost. They respect the art and always welcome others to be a part of it. If they start having that itch to be “alpha”, they get that ego under control and remember why they are here… to grow and to help others grow.

If you encounter this situation, try to encourage him to stick around and join the regular program. He might just be nervous as to what people will think of him and did not want to look bad. Don’t let him turn you into THAT guy by acting that way back at him.

Or… Maybe THAT guy came from within your own student base over time. Martial Arts are competitive, but we have to keep things in perspective.

I’m not saying that it is a bad thing to introduce highly skilled/competitive people into your student-base when they come from another background - that is a great way to grow. I am saying that out-of-dojo experienced fighters need to be watched carefully as they integrate into your program. They may be a great addition to your student base… or… they may be THAT guy.


Have you ever encountered the King of the Dojo? If so, tell us how you handled it in the comments below!



Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.




Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree. Also, as far as I'm concerned, Elvis will always be King of the Dojo.  -The Stick Chick