Earlier this week, a well-known and highly regarded martial arts instructor killed himself, just days before local police were to file charges that he sexually molested an associate. (See the Orlando Sentinel article here: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-06-13/news/fl-karate-instructor-20120613_1_molestation-case-international-martial-arts-association-travis-mandell.)
There won’t be a trial. Guilt or innocence won't be determined. The facts in the matter may never be proven or disproven. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of the survivors of this tragedy, but it’s certainly left an awful nausea in my stomach.
Earlier today, I thought nothing good can come of this. And then I remembered an event early on in my martial arts career.
When I was a lowly white belt, I trained for two weeks with a Korean Taekwondo master. One day, I was the only student in his noon class, and while I loved the individual attention, something felt—off .
He put me through the ringer, preparing me for a yellow belt test he said I was already ready for. (Two weeks = yellow belt? This should have been my first red flag.) I was slightly afraid of him, for he was very demanding and physically rough. But there was something else about him that I couldn't quite pin down (no Jiu Jitsu pun intended).
When I arrived for the next class, the one in which I was scheduled to take my yellow belt test, I saw a note on the front door saying, "Closed due family emergency." I later found out that he was in jail; one of his female black belts had accused him of sexual assault. He quickly closed the school, and I heard from a police friend that he fled to
to avoid prosecution. South Korea
I felt stunned, sad, and grateful. I had dodged a bullet, but another woman hadn’t been so lucky.
A few weeks later, I walked into the office of another martial arts master and school owner. We talked for a bit about my training history and I asked him some questions. Again, I got that odd feeling.
I respectfully bid the man goodbye and never returned.
Was I right about him? I don’t know. When it comes to trusting my instincts, I’ve decided that I don’t have to know whether I’m right. Today I practice the fine and delicate art of listening to that little voice inside my body that says—as I leave on a cloudless, sunshiny morning—I'd best take an umbrella. Because it will rain later. Really, really hard.
It’s as simple as that.
Instincts are survival skills given to us at birth that somehow get taken away. Think about babies. They know who they want to go to and who to avoid. When did we forget that knowledge? Or did we ever forget it? Do we still have it, but listen to social norms that tell us to be nice, respectful, and conforming to authority figures?
I'm a martial arts teacher who insists her students be respectful to parents, siblings, teachers, and peers—with one exception: Not at the expense of your safety!
Unfortunately, as long as there are authority figures among us, someone will abuse that role. So please, please, please, trust your instincts. When you get a funny feeling in your GUT (an acronym for God's Unique Talk), flee. Whether it’s a school teacher, martial arts instructor, pastor, mentor, or a popular celebrity who gives you the creeps—LEAVE, and then tell someone about your experience.
Parents, if you haven't had that scary talk with your kids about inappropriate touching, have it with them TODAY. Pop some popcorn and sit at the dining room table. Go to an ice cream parlor, sit outside in the sun, and be lovingly blunt. Let them ask all kinds of embarrassing questions. Squirm in your seat as you struggle to answer. But answer them. It'll be OK. You'll be glad you did this. Trust me.
Are you a survivor of abuse who's never spoken about it? Tell someone TODAY. It's O.K. to talk about it. Talking about this is the only way this abuse can stop. Authority-figure predators rely on secrecy. The secrets keep us all sick. Break the silence so that the healing can begin.
Talk to someone today. Talk until you're blue in the face and you're about to faint. Talk, talk, talk, and then talk some more. Your experience just might save a child's innocence—and a life.