Cults in Asia

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Cults in Asia

Postby gmattson » Thu Dec 30, 1999 1:16 pm

I'm amazed that in Japan, a consumerist, secular society, they are so taken with off-beat religions. (This I guess, assumes there exists non-off beat religions)

In spite of their experience with the Aum Shinriko cult, that is responsible for releasing sarin gas on the Tokyu subway and killing 12 and injuring thousands, the Japanese are currently hosting more than 6500 registered religious groups!

Do people need religion of one kind or another in their lives? If it isn't one of the more popular religions, do people subconsciously latch on to other, less recognized activities and beliefs in a religious fervor?

I mention this because of the way some people view their martial arts practice. Is their focus on their training and devoted link to their teacher/ founder a cultist behavior?

Do teachers subconsciously take advantage of some of their student's need to have a guru in their life? Are some teachers aware of this potential power and do they abuse this power.

Is it the responsibility of teachers to make sure their students do not become dependent on them on this level? How can this be accomplished?

Has any teacher found that when they try to maintain a strict teacher/student relationship with their students, avoiding a cultist type atmosphere in the dojo, that some of their more impressionable students will quit and will join other organizations that have the cultist environment they need?

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Cults in Asia

Postby Victor » Thu Dec 30, 1999 4:16 pm


I believe you are focusing on part of the dark side of current martial arts practices.

Over the years I've had occasion to train many places and associate with many different types of instructors. I've observed the use of the dojo/kwoon/training hall for 'cult like' practices far to many times.

It is true people in this country have the 'freedom' to conduct themselves and their arts as they wish. But it is also true with freedom comes responsibility.

Often it takes more than a casual association with them to see what's happening. Several times I've voted with my feet including 'Un-Renshi'ing' myself formally from a very good organization I belonged to, when such practices began to dominate the gatherings, and the members chose to ignore its original charter. As much as I had to gain from the martial sharing which took place, I also realized my participation was also granting license that their practices were acceptable.

Among the more extreme examples, one instructor who married 6 of his students (in an organization where he controlled almost every aspect of the students lives in and out of the dojo). As I recall 3 instructors I knew from tournaments (all good old guy's) who've received jail time due to charges of molesting children in their classes (which also can be described within cult like practices), I was not involved with their organizations and simply observed the results in the news. More than a few who demanded and received extreme amounts of devotion of respect from their students. The 'grand master (small caps of course)' comes to mind who has body guards stand outside the bathroom guarding his stall while occupied comes to mind.

It's depressing whenever I begin to catalog these excesses in Martial Behavior.
Truthfully over the past 10 years or so I rarely have become involved with other groups because of seeing too much. I'm still unsure whether my Internet experience (current) will effectively change my choices.

As I see it, from one who loves the arts involved, it is very easy for an instructor to bend the respect the new student gives them to gain control.

I believe correctly used, this respect can be used to guide the students to self awareness and development within the arts. But most assuredly incorrectly used it can corrupt those without strong self identity and that is very dangerous.

Say you take a new student, quietly give them personal attention, suggest some corrections (all normal activities). But the martial arts instructor also has freedom very few ever receive. They are given permission to invade a students space, to touch and bend, poke and pry all as part of the art. That invasion opens doors that can be misused (mentally and physically.

Other practices which invoke the cult atmosphere involve forbidding students to have contact with any others outside of their group (even on a personal non-martial level), having students participate in extreme testing practices that really have nothing to do with the training being undergone. If they are willing to do it, then more and more extreme practices are introduced so that those who stay are bound to the instructor.

Of course many of the same practices are followed by the 'clean' instructor to guide and develop the student. The difference is more with the intent of the instructor and not the practice alone.

This paints a bleak picture. I must hasten to add I know many good, honorable martial arts instructors, too. But these excesses seem never to end.

I do not believe I can solve the 'problem'. Of course should I become aware of illegal practices I am bound to address those as any citizen should. Long ago I realized the most important thing was not to participate in any form with these activities.

You have to set the example yourself, each of use one by one.

I go to particular effort in developing my kyu's, especially at the Brown Belt level, to make them understand what does exist that they have not been exposed to in their training. I do my best to make them skeptical of anyone who is trying to use such activities to gain control over their lives.

The instructors burden, in addition to guiding their training activities, is to keep asking have I done enough.

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Cults in Asia

Postby Phils » Sat Jan 01, 2000 5:46 am

I don't think it's a religeous void so much as a tendency of people to act like sheep, to follow and 'latch-on'. Let's say they're 'impressionable' or call it 'weakness of character'.

Yes. Subconsciously or otherwise, stronger personalities, authority figures and others sense this, can and do take advantage of it. Sometimes for the betterment of the person, sometimes not.

The only way to avoid imbalance (in the teacher capacity) is to remain professional at all times, to the extent possible, particularly with student ranks, and bear in mind that one must conduct oneself as a role model for others. If not a strict 'teacher/student' relationship, at least maintain a fair and consistent behavior toward all.

In the above context then, a 'cultist' atmosphere would not be possible and there'd be no lamenting students leaving the club for that reason.

[This message has been edited by Phils (edited 12-31-99).]
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Postby paul giella » Sat Jan 08, 2000 1:31 am

Viewed over the lifespan, we could say there are different "appropriate" or "expectable" stages that people can go through. It would not be too surprising to find that a fifteen or eighteen year old student is so taken with his or her instructor (who seems to hold the promise of development of special abilities)that he or she idealizes and even idolizes him. This is why it is so important for instructors to realize the delicate and vulnerable position the students are in and not take advantage of them. On the other hand, one would not expect the same degree of "hero worship" from a middle aged or older student... one would expect a more tempered and balanced view which could well include full respect for the sensei but without the exaggerated idealization of youth. When one does encounter the "youthful" attitude in an older student one begins to suspect some special neediness ... the kind of attitude that makes one vulnerable to all kinds of influence, good and bad.
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Cults in Asia

Postby Jake Steinmann » Mon May 08, 2000 4:43 pm

This seems to be the hot topic for the month...

I've seen this sorts of behavior from martial arts instructors, and it always disturbs me greatly.

There were several martial arts clubs like this at Brandeis, and my girlfriend at the time was a member of one. I didn't realize how bad they were until she told me that her sensei had suggested that she should not date me because I was not a member of their style. Fortunately, she was smarter than that, but it still disturbed me greatly.

There is a definite group amoung the martial arts community who seeks some kind of spiritual mentor. They show up at the kung fu school all the time. I've made a very concious effort to make it clear that our job is to teach kung fu...not religion.


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Postby HALFORD E. JONES » Thu Jul 01, 2004 12:57 am

:D Remember the early ads for karate as having originated from killer cults in Japan? Anyway, the term cult has a negative connotation these days one that it did not have in ancient times. Belonging to a cult simply meant, as in ancient Greece, devotion to a particular god or goddess,like Ulyesses was,for example. Later on, the Catholic religion developed the Cult of the Sacred Heart and similar cults. I think the Latin for this is 'cultus'. Anyway, Japan is not alone with its fascination with 'cults',nearly all Buddhist and Hindu religious groups can be seen as cults.There are also cults of 'leopard' men in Africa,etc. Cults and 'secret' societies have much in common. The process of initiation for all these is usually of prime importance. The uninitiated can never understand! :wink:
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Postby hoshin » Wed Jul 21, 2004 4:39 pm

lets not assume that an instructor who will take advantage of his position (and students) is some dark seedy type who you can spot a mile away because of his beedy eyes. it's the same as a parent saying "my little "johnny" would never do anything. he is such an angel." i would say given the correct circumstances MOST instuctors would use students for their own gain in one way or another. according to what my eyes have seen over the years this most often is expressed sexually between the male teacher and a female student. my guess is that most often the female student doesnt even realise what is happening. freuds term transference comes to mind or maybe denile.
all i am saying is dont think it can never happen to you or that it is always somewhere,somehow,somebody else's teacher!

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Postby HALFORD E. JONES » Sun Jul 25, 2004 3:43 am

:D George Mattson asks questions about Japan and why some of them are as fanatical perhaps as those of the Taliban and other Islamic groups,now considered 'terrorists'. Cults are found in all cultures(CULTures) and various symbols utilized by them evoke certain emotions as well as behaviours, and this goes back to the so-called 'cavemen' and their drawings to the more ocmplex flowerings of civilizations. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, even Islam and Judaism all have sects which can also be described as cults. The Nazis were also 'cultists'. Normally, the ordinary mind does not consider such things beyond a popular conception that all cults are bad or evil or somehow controlled by one man or a special group,etc. There is, of course, a grain of truth in such notions and assertions. In martial arts, the notion of Bushido keeps rearing its head every now and then and it is compared to Western conceptions of Knighthood, chivarlry,etc. Comparisons and contrasts are important and can be interesting but sometimes the evidence is stretched to meet certain theories. A good example of a cult is the various groups and persons devoted to the fictional Sherlock Holmes, an imaginary character that has captured the imagination of millions in various ways and to think that people can seriously devote time and energy to the literary groupings of Holmes' and Watson's exploits might seem unusual to those who are starving to death somewhere. :wink: :wink:
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WE refer to various people as 'ICONS'

Postby HALFORD E. JONES » Sun Jul 25, 2004 3:47 am

which means that they have worshippers and so many rock stars, movie/TV personalities and others are heads of cults so-to-speak.Anyone with a certain charisma attracks a following of sorts, even serial killers, and so a cult is formed, born, or created. :wink:
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Postby Dan Anderson » Wed Aug 18, 2004 9:28 pm

An interesting thing to point out is that there are a number of definitions of the word cult.

Among them are:
1. a system of religeous or spiritual beliefs, especially an informal and transient belief system regarded by others as misguided or unorthodox
2. a group of people who share religeous or spiritual beliefs
3. extreme or excessive admiration for a person, philosophy of life, or activity
4. fad, something popular or fashionable among a devoted group of enthusiasts
and there are more.

According to definition, lots of things could be considered a cult.

Do people need religion of one kind or another in their lives?

Yes. The search for one's own spiritual place in this world is needed/qanted by many. Is it needed/wanted in the dojo? No. The dojo is for training and the instructor, as an opinion leader, should respect that fact. Factors regarding the ethical and use and non-use of martial arts ability is definitely within the realm of the instructor. One's own religious search and beliefs should be outside the dojo.

One man's opinion.

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Postby HALFORD E. JONES » Thu Aug 19, 2004 12:33 am

sleeping with their mentors, the lamas, yogies, masters,etc. a very interesting piece. I can't recall who wrote it or what the name of the mag was, but it was on the stands where I browse all these things, since I seldom buy the stuff unless it's really worthwhile. There are innumerable instances of the abuse of power,etc. by cult leaders as we all know. Have to dash now. :wink:
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Postby HALFORD E. JONES » Thu Aug 19, 2004 12:37 am

probably only basically true in the US and western countries but not anywhere else,exactly. The Japanese martial arts all have a deep spiritual base of some sort and nowadays, most, if not many,of the Chinese arts. The Filipino arts and the Indonesian,Malaysian,etc. all have these spiritual and religious aspects as do the Hindu/Pakistani,etc. :wink:
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Postby KerryM » Mon Sep 13, 2004 6:25 pm

K- read through the whole thread here and not once did I see anything about instructors staying humble.

We are all assumed to be these big huge powerful people who intimidate and blah blah yeah yeah-

I don't teach that way all my students (depite the fact that I'm a young Dan anyway) understand that for myself as well as for my own Sensei-

we are all students all the time- we the Sensei- just happen to have a little more experience and thus are in front of the class teaching what we have learned.

If there is a question- look in Sanchin for the answer- look yourself- as well as ask Sensei-

It is completely the responsibility of the Sensei to make sure that each and every student knows they aren't some type of guru- and no matter how much you learn or how high your Dan degree is-

you'll still get hurt in a fight- maybe not as bad as the other guy- but your still a human-

and no- I personaly do not believe that people NEED a RELIGION in order to be spiritual-

religions are a way to practice being spiritual-

in my opinion :)

Even Sensei's are students and should express that inside the dojo-

I understand that in a lot of Dojo's out there- the sesei's do the big bad bow before me bit-

and that it is used as part of the training in respect and all that-

but for me personaly- I'm learning right along with my students- it's a kin ship- and a certain level of mutual trust needs to be achieved and held in order to be able to have an honest atmosphere of learning-

for me- that wouldn't be able to happen if I stood in front of the class saying follow me do what I do- in a manner that proclaimed myself in-falible.

personal opinion- but I thought that word- humble-ness ought to get slipped into this topic :)

Thank you for the read :)

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Postby HALFORD E. JONES » Tue Sep 14, 2004 8:11 pm

:D I am sure you do not equate religion with spirituality,but externals do tend to occupy the attention of people. The extreme attention paid to etiquette and ritual in the Asian countries is a type of 'consideration' rather than 'lording it over others'. These things make for smooth personal interaction or relations and when you fail to bow and to ignore these things and commit infractions in the Orient, you run the risk of not only confrontation but of causing shame for others who are concerned with you. Your rudeness is well-noted and Americans are famed for that and ignorance. Most Americans have this 'buddy-buddy' syndrome which often lends support to the notion that 'FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT'. Mutual backslappers do exist and most fraternal,social groups,etc. are just that, which in not wrong if you are looking for a support group to confirm your ideas,etc. Most Americans are subjective and consider their own internal states and feelings, and emotions, and disregard those of others, with few exceptions. Social conformity is one way of showing consideration for others and is really a sign of humility and humbleness which the last topic writer was trying urge we show. Humility and humbleness are too often seen in the West as a sign of weakness. At any rate, there is a lot more room for people to understand and to undertake these things once they become aware of how things really are, if they do! :wink:
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Postby KerryM » Wed Sep 15, 2004 12:19 pm

Hello There! :)

I'm not completely sure if I understood your post- so I'll be reading it again- :) -but- at first glance - were you talking about "in" Asia? that social conformity "there" is an act of humility? Or social conformity hence- being involved in a religion- creates an air of being humble? I wasn't quite sure-

Though when I made my post- I was talking about the people in Am,erica so I guess I kind of went off topic-

I have read many books that place The Grand Master Uechi and as kind and humble man who worked his students extremely hard, but respected them as well - though I'm not aware of what - if any - organized religion he or his family practice-

but my coments were meant for those in America where we are free to choose to participate in a religion or not- and I have found that you don't need to be in an organized religion to be a good community leader, or volunteer person, or Sensei / Sifu whatever is appropriate -

I'm sure there are lots of people who "need" the religion- because it helps them to understand "how" to be a humble person- and that's cool- Or else if they don't need- it- they just enjoy it-

I just dis-agree that participating in a religion here at least- because I haven't been over seas- is the only way to demonstrate humility and or social comradery (sp? sorry bad speller here) There are lots of good people out there who don't practice a religion that are extremely talented Teachers-

I suspect that same thing to be true in Asia- and helps to show people that- people are just people- teachers are just teachers- no one's perfect-

that'd be true in any culture any-where :)

Thanks for the read :)

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