In Buddhism, they have a set of tenets called the Eightfold Path that serve as a guide for moral action and to relieve us from suffering. Amongst it’s precepts is “right speech,” which includes avoiding lying, hurtful speech and today’s topic, gossip!
In the post Dojo Disillusionment, I touched on drama in the dojo. This topic received a strong reaction from the martial arts community. It seems this gossip fuelled phenomenon is not unique to one person, club or style, but is universally experienced and fostered across MANY fighting systems around the globe.
The martial arts preach about the nature of respect, discipline and any other typical word or phrase that implies honour and we know very well that gossip and drama do nothing to help us in our individual progress. Then why is it that the martial arts seems to foster so much gossip? What is it about the martial arts that attract such drama?
By applying the insight of “Can Gossip Be Good?” (written by Knox College Psychology Professor Frank T. McAndrew) to the martial arts community, I hope to be able to provide plausible answers to these questions—in the end, helping us realign our compass along the path that can sometimes “become skewed in the mist of frivolous nonsense that seeps into our practice brought on by human inadequacies.”
It’s strange, isn’t it? In an art where we constantly practice how to demolish the human body, we can build such meaningful and long-lasting relationships.
Just as overcoming adversity, whether physical or otherwise, can act as a form of social bonding, so can gossip. Ron Dunbar from the University of Liverpool says, “gossip is a mechanism for bonding social groups together, analogous to the grooming that is found in primate groups.”
According to Frank T. McAndrew, this type of social bonding helped our ancestors address problems such as “remembering who was a reliable exchange partner and who was a cheater, knowing who would be a reproductively viable mate and figuring out how to successfully manage friendships, alliances and family relationships.” Surely, we can all think of ways this applies to the martial arts.
“Reliable Exchange Partner”
For some, the term “reliable exchange partner” might stand out in the previous paragraph. Although McAndrew uses the phrase to refer to those who our ancestors might have had monetary investment in, as martial artists, we might think of those whom we exchange blows with, our training partners. At seminars or even our own classes, we take into consideration whether or not we can trust the people we work with.
“Can I work with this person and not get physically injured?”
“Is that person here just to be physical with the opposite sex?”
“Are they good at what they do?
“Can they help me improve?”
Where possible, we rely on those who have had previous experiences to help us guide our decision to work with specific people. Gossip, then, serves as a means of determining who will help us thrive in the martial arts, while at the same time avoid situations that could be detrimental to our safety; in other words, it acts as a means of self preservation and protection.
In the martial arts, those who are dedicated have a lifelong investment in their teachers, style and dojo. Hence, knowing whom McAndrew refers to as “cheaters” through gossip, we can learn who is loyal and will help in the progression and preservation of our dojos, its culture and the people who encompass it.
Perhaps you know people who try and cheat the system to attain a new rank, giving those who have the power to promote them the impression that they are training hard and consistently, when in reality they are amongst the lowest in skill, effort and attendance. Others may praise a teacher to his face and secretly poison his name behind his back. Gossip serves as a means of exposing these “cheaters” as unworthy exchange partners for the greater good of the community.
Our relationships in the martial arts are heavily dependent on trust. Based on trust, we allow other people to come within millimeters of breaking our limbs and spend years of our lives investing in instructors who we believe know what’s best.
McAndrew goes on to say that “sharing gossip is a sign of deep trust because you are clearly signaling that you believe that this person will not use this sensitive information in a way that will have negative consequences for you; shared secrets have a way of bonding people together.”
As we see in the movies, the Master only shares his secret techniques with his most dedicated pupils; this is also true with gossip. When the instructor shares his experiences about instructors of other styles or dojos, he is not only doing so to help protect his pupil against “false prophets,” or those with low ethical standards, but also demonstrates to his pupil that he has faith in their discretion. It communicates to the student, just as learning the “secret technique” does, that this information is meant for them and them alone—in the end, building a stronger bond between pupil and instructor.
Human Beings First
Ultimately, we are human beings first and martial artists second. As human beings, we are social creatures; we crave acceptance and deep social bonds. Gossip, in it’s most innocent form, is simply a form of social bonding. It helps build trust amongst those in our dojos. We share the appropriate information to help others protect against potential physical or emotional threats that can occur in a seminar, tournament or class. This act also serves as a means of preserving those who share our values and isolate those who are untrustworthy or disloyal. In doing so, we create a community of like-minded individuals built on trust and friendship, where we can practice our art safely and free of fear.
Yet . . .
As we all know, there is a very dark side to gossip, used as a means of manipulation and deception. In the upcoming blog, Dojo Gossip Part 2, I’ll explore how the dark side of gossip is a reflection of ego and thrives in the martial artists’ competitive natures, which we so often ignore.