There are two things that make a club a red hot place for trouble, and neither of them is the actual fighting.
The first is that a dojo is an emotionally charged place due to the boundary-crossing physical interactions and the community based framework. Accordingly, most of the time spent in the club is spent with being rather emotional than rational.
The second thing is the cult surrounding coaches and senior trainers, who are seen as way beyond mere masters of the art, but as masters of life and experts in every aspect of it. That makes students go to the club with their guard down, fully open, ready to soak up everything they are offered, whether good or bad.
Here’s what can go wrong:
Brotherhood based exploitation
The tribal culture is strong and doing favours is fundamental. If one has a skill or a connection that can help promote the club or increase earnings, one will be expected to provide it for free in the name of ‘supporting the club’. In other words, the owner’s personal business is posed as a charity, hiding individual business goals behind the idea of community. The feeling of belonging is so strong that until overexploited, most students won’t object, but will just be happy to be a part of the togetherness. But the issue with favours is that when the relationship turns, the feeling of unfairness creates a lot of tension and ruins a lot of relationships.
Belonging is the strongest human need, stronger than the survival instinct, because belonging to a community is how humans survive. We will do anything to avoid being an outcast, as we equate it with death. Exclusion is threatened by using shame, the very opposite of belonging, and also the strongest human emotion for the above reasons. Lines like ‘Don’t be that guy’ or ‘Be like a real bro’ are shame-inducing and imply that you’ll be booted out of the community if you don’t conform.
Noticed or not, the emotions some clubs toy with are life and death emotions. The strongest, most impactful human emotions possible. Anyone with awareness will try to keep a low profile until they understand how the community works.
Excessive level of patronising
The strong, supportive nature of a club is one of its biggest selling points. It is proven that workout works better in a social environment as it pushes the individuals to perform better. Quite often, though, the coaches decide that they deserve quick progress from their students as if slower, steadier progress reflects poorly upon them. The students’ personal development journey is ignored, their coaches steal the show; the students are treated like teenagers instead of mature adults, and at the same time they seen as something less by the older, more experienced fighters.
The truth is that white belts are only white belts in that specific martial art. They’re not white belts in life.
All adults in the club already have a plethora of skills, beliefs and coping mechanisms from their life outside the dojo. Until a certain level, they can happily receive ideas and guidance on what to try, but when they get degraded down to the level of teenagers the support becomes suppression.
inadequate source of knowledge
The aforementioned cult around sport and martial art coaches quite often pushes them toward a full-blown life coach role. Where they are expected to give dietary advice, psychological advice, lifestyle advice, medical advice, relationship advice … often delivered as obligatory speeches on how the student should eat, live, learn, etc.
Given without backgrounds in life sciences, be it psychology or medical, the majority of these advices are inapplicable, most commonly empty fitness clichés collected via a loose web research, but sometimes even dangerous to follow.
It is imperative to understand, that unless specifically educated in other disciplines, coaches are the masters of their respective martial art only, and very rarely are reliable sources for medical or psychological advice. I would strongly advise to look for a professional dietitian, life coach, osteopath or whatever you need, instead of asking that one person for advice in every area of life.
Overall, contrary to how it looks, those guys who keep themselves to themselves are the ones who know already how much it can cost to belong to a club if that’s not the right club. The safest way might be to keep your boundaries thick until you’re convinced that the principles of that club match with yours.