Teacher - student relation

by Agchan
(South Korea)

I am a beginner in kendo. I have been taking classes in a sports center in Seoul, Korea. I am the only foreigner in my group (I speak quite decent Korean, btw.)

From the very start I have known that I should be obedient to my teacher, however, his instructions have always been a bit confusing. Besides, he forced me to join students who had started practicing kendo at least 3 months before I entered the group.

I might not be looking very happy with it, because the teacher has been scorning me for showing "an improper attitude". He apparently suspects that I dislike him, which is not the case at all - he is rather a bit irritating to me. In result he keeps observing me and criticizing for every detail (wrong footwork, wrong grip on the sword etc.). Of course he is right to point out my mistakes, but I always feel like a fly under a microscope - he keeps watching me constantly, even while talking to other students. And that ruins my concentration.

I'm quite desperate. Should I change the group and the teacher? Actually, he wants me to continue the class as long as possible. Is it my fault or is it the 'cultural difference', or are our personalities completely incompatible?

Answer: Thank you for your post. Sorry that I could not answer sooner.

First of all, I am not familiar with Korean culture, even though it probably shares some similarities with Japanese culture.

My impression of Korean culture by having some Korean friends, it is stricter than Japanese culture when it comes down to “Senior-Junior Relationship” and “Teacher-Student Relationship”.

I have been a foreigner, Japanese living outside Japan, in a few countries. So I understand many cultural differences lead us to communication misunderstanding in various situations.

If you think, or wonder, if some cultural differences are causing the problem, you should ask other students such as what you
are doing wrong or right. Moreover, you may want to tell your teacher humbly that you do not want to do anything rude to him or others at the dojo so if you do something unacceptable at the dojo, you want them to correct you.

I think that is the start. Just wondering why and not knowing what you are doing wrong will cause more troubles. Been there, done that.

Now even though kendo is Japanese budo and carries many Japanese cultural rituals and thoughts, I am sure that kendo dojos outside Japan have their own cultural perspectives too.

In your case, you are in Korea so you may be doing Kumdo, not Japanese Kendo. Since I am not familiar with how kumdo teaches etiquette/manners, I cannot advice you what to do at the dojo.

Now….is “asking your teacher what you are doing wrong” culturally acceptable in Korea? Since I am not too sure about it, you probably want to talk to the other students first.

Teachers have their own ways to teach. My teachers never taught me any techniques. They never gave me good feedback, only bad feedback. They gave me very hard time in training.

But it was how kendo was taught at my dojo in Japan. It was “normal” back then. They did not teach verbally but by showing and giving their students hard time in training. If I did not get hard training, I was worried and wondered if my teachers gave up on me or not.

That is not normal even at my dojo in Japan anymore. I liked the way they used to teach but it does not mean it is acceptable everywhere.

So before jumping to the conclusion, which is “cultural differences”, you probably want to know how a student should behave and interact with the teacher at that dojo and in Korea. That is maybe cultural but maybe only applied at that dojo.

Tell us how it goes.

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