Report after report, article after article, with a few arrests and convictions in between, the stories could be printed out and stacked high enough to make a reasonably-good gallows. And yet, the years go by and so few of those who deserve to swing just keep creating new victims. Nothing changes. At some point the question needs to be asked:
When will the martial arts have its own #MeToo moment?
If you use the phrase “MeToo” around a certain group of people (mostly the ones we’re going to talk about in this piece), their immediate hostility to any discussion on the rampant problem of sexual harassment in the martial arts world gives up the game. For people like this, almost exclusively men, the reaction triggers something inside their heads that tells them someone is trespassing against something to which they feel entitled: underhanded, creepy, or even outright criminal tactics used to get laid.
Don’t believe us?
A while back we ran a piece on the site entitled Enough is Enough: Instructors, it is NOT okay to have sex with your students. To save you clicking through, it gives clear reasons why virtually every other serious profession has ethical constraints about pursuing sexual relationships between persons in positions of authority and those who are subordinate to them, and references several cases where a failure to adhere to this norm has had consequences and individuals such as Alvis Solis, Lloyd Irvin, and Mike Fowler have victimized people. (All of these individuals are still participating in Brazilian Jiujitsu to some extent.)
The piece was warmly received by our own readers for the most part, but the reaction we got from a lot of people on social media—in particular, Facebook—was outright hostile. Here are a few examples of the replies from the two times we featured the piece on Bullshido’s Facebook page:
When Ronan Farrow published his investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s decades of predatory behavior, the dam of silence finally broke, and his victims came forward to tell their stories. Weinstein was like a god in Hollywood, deciding the fate of anyone whose career path crossed his. He exploited his power over people’s careers to force himself upon an endless list of women without any consequences beyond a few whispered warnings to up and coming actresses spoken behind closed doors.
That dam held until enough people started chiseling cracks into it, at great personal risk.
Let’s be real for a moment about the situation: in comparison to the entertainment industry, at best, the martial arts are considered by most people to be a quirky hobby one is expected to outgrow as they take on adult responsibilities. It’s an interest for children, mostly boys, with either too much aggression or far too little. The hobby intersects and overlaps at multiple points with other forms of escapism, including cosplay and fantasy.
Where it does not significantly intersect with those things, it is sport: wrestling, boxing, etc. These forms of martial arts are taken a bit more seriously than the ones in which people dress up in traditional Asian costumes, but nonetheless the average person considers those sports niche interests compared to ones like football, baseball, and so on.
The consequences of this are twofold:
1. The public does not take the martial arts industry very seriously, which results in a lack of coverage of any form of scandal only rarely making it into the news.
2. The type of individual interested in the martial arts is more likely to be socially deviant to some extent. While for the most part that extent is easily chalked up to harmless, quirky personality traits or some prior history of rejecting conformity, that is not always the case.
Unfortunately because of the first consideration, there is no solid data on whether there is a statistically larger number of predators in the martial arts than the public at large. Nobody cares enough to compile that data.
Yet, here we are, having covered this issue for twenty years now, and from this perspective the conclusion is clear:
The martial arts provide a target-rich environment for sexual predators
But why though?
If there was one simple reason we’d have already solved the problem. It should go without saying (but can’t, because people prefer easy answers to hard thinking) that everything happens for multiple reasons. Just the same, there’s rarely a single solution to a major problem; silver bullet solutions do not exist. However, if you can identify some of the main reasons why something happens, you can shoot normal bullets at them so there are fewer instances of that problem (especially when some of those problems are people).
In this case, one of the main reasons sexual predators are drawn to the martial arts is pretty obvious when you think about it. The problem is, “thinking about it” here puts a normal person into a good deal of discomfort from having to confront a few unpleasant realities. So to cut to the chase, we’ll spell those out:
The martial arts offer lower-status males a path to both prestige and authority they cannot achieve elsewhere.
“Lower status” is an academic’s way of saying “loser”. Obviously this doesn’t describe everyone in the martial arts (and of course, not you, right? wink-emoji) just the cretins we’re focusing on and most of the other varieties of trash we’ve dealt with over the last few decades here. Basically it’s a descriptor of dudes who don’t really have the chops to make it in a “big boy” job, in an actual career field, or any other endeavor that involves more objective measurements of character and competence. And we’ll get to why that matters in a minute.
If your jimmies were rustled by that assessment, gird your thirsty loins because this is where the real discomfort comes in. For well-adjusted men, the idea of achieving status and positions of authority over others isn’t accompanied by a sense of entitlement to exploit those in a subordinate position. But not all men, by far, are well-adjusted, irrespective of laws or social norms.
Bonk: Go to Actual Jail
If you’ll allow a slight, but unfortunately very necessary aside here, it is essential to preface the next section with a reference to the Naturalistic Fallacy. In this case, just because nature and evolution—selection pressures—resulted in adaptations which allowed your ancestors to survive long enough for you to be reading this, doesn’t mean those things are applicable, much less acceptable, in the world we have created for ourselves tens of thousands of years later. Or, let’s put it this way: just because your earliest ancestors may have whipped it out and relieved themselves wherever they were conducting their daily business doesn’t mean you get to make puddles in your cubicle, even if that would technically be “natural”.
Do you get where we’re going with this? Great? No? Okay then, just pretend you did and keep reading.
Much of human behavior is driven by genetic imperatives—to the point one could make a reasonable case that we are, on one level, little more than a delivery and sustainment system for the survival of those genes. In fact, this is the dollar-store gist of Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” (the same book in which he introduced the word “meme” to the world).
If you take into consideration how little effort the average person spends trying to understand their own behavior—their drives, why they like what they like, and especially the underpinnings of their dreams and aspirations—you arrive at the conclusion that much of it is the product of a sort of a zombie hedonism operating on the Pleasure Principle that leaves some clawing their fingernails at the flimsy barricades of modern social norms, and where those fail to constrain their behavior, laws and criminal penalties.
And easily, by far, the most significant human activity people pursue towards that end, is sex. Why? Because the genes must flow.
Everything is about sex, except sex—sex is about…
To draw it with thick crayons, dudes are biologically-driven, with their genes behind the wheel, to “mate” with as many partners as possible. The male gamete, sperm, is cheap and easy to replace (unlike eggs), and the more partners a male has the more his genes are likely to carry into the future.
But this is why we brought up the Naturalistic Fallacy earlier. Just because an evolved behavioral impulse exists doesn’t suggest it has any role in our modern lives. It just is, like one’s appendix or that little globby bit in the corner of your eyeball. Again, the impulse to defecate is arguably just as strong, but we teach our children to regulate their behavior long before adulthood (…in most cases) so that we’re not cleaning shit off our shoes at the supermarket.
And just like how the vast majority of adults are competent at not soiling themselves, the vast majority of men are capable of regulating their desire to copulate in a manner that avoids victimizing women. So the question then becomes, how could you identify those men who are less likely to regulate their behavior, making them more likely to be sexual predators?
The good news is that there is strong evidence to suggest they all fall within a certain set of personality characteristics, making them (somewhat) easier to spot. In his 2021 book, When men behave badly: The hidden roots of sexual deception, harassment, and assault, Professor David Buss of the University of Texas explains these traits:
…serial harassers score high on the Dark Triad of personality traits—narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. A hallmark of narcissism is a strong sense of personal entitlement, and this extends to the sexual sphere. Machiavellianism is marked by a social strategy of manipulation and exploitation. High Machs, as they are called, view other humans as mere tools to be used for instrumental aims and discarded.Buss, D. M. (2021). When men behave badly: The hidden roots of sexual deception, harassment, and assault. Little, Brown Spark.
High scorers on psychopathy are deficient in empathy and indifferent to others’ suffering, although they often convey a superficial veneer of charm that fools some women. All three elements of the Dark Triad coalesce to create a strategy of social exploitation, of which sexual exploitation is a key component.
So where do status and prestige come in? The same place as peacock feathers, a well-constructed nest, or a dominant position within the herd: greater access to potential mates. Combine this with a hobby where status is clearly delineated, particularly between instructor and student, and one in which the activity is explicitly hands-on in close quarters, and you have the perfect hunting ground for predators and victimizers.
This is why there is always so much outrage coming from a large segment of the martial arts community any time an effort to establish ethical boundaries between instructors and students is brought up—they’re telling on themselves. People who see their schools as a target-rich environment have no interest in being reigned in. They, narcissistically, feel entitled to it because of the dubious status they have achieved in the hobby. And anywhere a sense entitlement is met with push-back, it produces hostility, even rage.
Addressing the need for a change in the broader culture, to recognize people with these traits, and to provide better incentives, norms, and sanctions to address their deficits of character and self-control, is far beyond the scope of what we can achieve here. However, the silver lining to the fact that the martial arts industry exists in a relatively small niche provides ordinary people in its community a significantly-enhanced voice in how that community operates. This is something we, here, have used time after time to effect positive changes in the past, at the expense of other assholes.
It wouldn’t take an overwhelming number of people to shift the culture towards one in which it is unacceptable for female martial artists to be preyed upon by the minority that preys upon them. It would simply take the silent majority to stop keeping their eyes closed, and stop being so silent.
This includes you. Unless, that is, you’re either one of the people who joined the martial arts community to work on your cowardly nature, or you’re not a man, just a lower animal.
Sources, References, Related
Buss, D. M. (2021). When men behave badly: The hidden roots of sexual deception, harassment, and assault. Little, Brown Spark.
Moore, G. E., & Baldwin, T. (1993). Principia ethica. Cambridge University Press.