Understanding Leadership in Shorin Goju

Robert Barton, Shihan                             Andrew Hetman, nidan                          Christopher Mahoney, nidan

It customary for many modern martial arts organizations to be managed and controlled by a single individual who has the highest rank within the organization and who makes the final decisions. Promotions, appointments and positions in most organizations are adjudicated by a single authority who is most often an individual. Students, members and instructors are usually without any internal recourse when in disagreement with the decisions and judgment of the senior ranking individual and in fact each level is often without recourse when not in agreement with the choices made by the next level up in the chain of command. This is a very top down method of organization with authority being seen as ultimately invested in the uppermost individual in a pyramid structure.

Shorin Goju is set up and operates on a slightly different model based more upon the older Chinese monastery structure.  It is this different model of organization which is often misunderstood about Shorin Goju and which has led many observers to become confused and even some members to be unclear on their own positions and authorities. The simple difference in conceptualizing the structure of Shorin Goju in contrast to other organizations is to throw away the pyramid based mental model of organization and replace that model rather with a wheel. In Shorin Goju we do not have a system in which the higher ranks sit above the lower ranks and we have instead a system of organization which places the senior ranks closer to the center of the wheel. Each rank or level has a place within the wheel with the most senior ranks seen to be nearest the center while the most junior Kyu ranks are nearest to and make up the rim of this wheel.

At the center of the organization of Shorin Goju is our Head of Family. The structure of Shorin Goju is not then built beneath the authority of the Head of Family, it is built around his or her knowledge and experience and he or she leads from the center as did the Abbots of history. Around this center point is to be built a ring of master teachers who use their knowledge and experience to teach and guide. It is this knowledge and experience which is at the core of Shorin Goju and which serves as the hub around which our family turns. Rather than sitting at the top pushing down on the rest of the organization as is so customary among other organizations our leaders form the strong center which ties us together.

As a new student enters Shorin Goju he or she is not at the bottom of the organization but is rather at the edge or just starting to pierce our outer layer. As that student grows and learns he or she does not move up a ladder of ranks but moves on an inward directed journey always toward the center. As the student grows becoming a senior student and then an instructor and some day even a master and senior master he or she is moving toward the heart of our organization and not to the top. Each member learns from those who are closer to the center and in turn helps to support and teach those who are farther away from the center. Each rank has a responsibility to help hold the next outward level to the wheel and guide those people rather than having an authority over those people.

Any member of Shorin Goju has recourse when he or she questions his or her treatment and may bring any matter to be investigated, examined and acted upon by our council of masters. No member of Shorin Goju has the authority that exceeds the authority of the organization itself and so absolute control and authority never rest in a single set of hands. Leadership within Shorin Goju is rather a position of ever increasing responsibility toward our membership. Our council of masters have the final say so on all issues. Until such time as we have enough master level instructors to act as a council any issues will be dealt with by councils made up of masters of other styles and professionals in other fields invited to act in this capacity.

I hope that this has allowed students and observers to understand the broad principles of structure on which our martial arts family is based. Members of Shorin Goju are all valued and are each valued and find themselves to certainly be part of something different. It is our sense of community and mutual responsibility toward one another based first on our respect for one another and our respect for the humanity of one another that allows us to develop and grow within our organization.  This idea of a strong and knowledgeable center is the idea around which we are built and around which we are organized and it is from this center that our strength and knowledge flow and toward this center that we all move.

Blessings,                                                                                                                                                                    Robert Barton  

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