Relationships in the Dojo: Should They Be Discouraged?

It’s bound to happen sooner or later in any given dojo at which men and women train together, even more so when they socialize together. Attractions develop and sometimes training relationships can develop into romantic relationships. It’s human nature.

Some dojo owners actively discourage this from happening, even forbid dating within the dojo. They worry that if things go wrong in the relationship, the instructor may lose one or both students. They also worry that their personal relationship may interfere with their training on the mats. And these are a valid concerns. That being said, I really don’t think there is much to be done about it. Even if you ban dating in the dojo, students will just date in secret if they are really interested in each other.

I can only offer the following advice to couples who either start training together or couples whose relationships formed out of their training relationships:

1. Be professional. Think of your training relationship as a work relationship. Don’t treat your romantic partner differently than you would any of your other training partners. I know this can be hard, but it really is for the best.

2. Keep your personal differences off the mats. If you have an argument or disagreement before class that is unresolved, keep it off the mats. If necessary, avoid training with your significant other. If possible, try to resolve things before getting on the mats.

3. Let your instructor do the teaching. In many romantic relationships, there can be a tendency for one person to take the reigns. This often carries into training. They often try to teach and “help” their partner, even though they don’t necessarily know any better about the topic. This can be frustrating for the person on the receiving end. If there is any trouble or question about a technique, ask your instructor for help. It is the best solution for all.

If proper decorum can be maintained on the mats, a personal relationship can be enhanced through the mutual support that a training relationship results in. Happy training, everyone!

Comments (9)

9 thoughts on “Relationships in the Dojo: Should They Be Discouraged?

  1. A related issue: Sometimes a student will bring along a significant other to try jiu-jitsu. Sometimes they even stay!

    I like to split 'em up a bit, at least at first, because of the "teaching" and "helping" issues that you mention.

  2. I saw this from both the student’s perspective and the studio owner's.

    When I was an upcoming black belt, my instructor used to discourage dating because he would lose one student if there was a break up. The rule was if someone quit because of a break up and the other party was an instructor – the instructor "bought" the remaining time. I don't remember this being enforced and luckily when my girlfriend and I broke up – she and I were both instructors… she ended up leaving and I stayed. As she was not paying – I was not asked to pay anything back.

    As I recall it was really awkward for us both to be at the studio at the same time… you know – keeping personal stuff out of the school.

    Later when I owned a school – I told my instructors the same thing – and they went behind my back and had relationships with some students but were careful to not cause the students to quit (as far as I know). Later when I found out one of my best friends had had a girl friend at the school – I was surprised.

    Suffice it to say your advice is probably better than mine… relationships will happen. Better to try and deal with it professionally.

  3. Dating will happen.

    The only thing that should be avoided is Instructor/Student dating.

    An Instructor is in a position of authority and some things may be considered coercion under the color of authority.

    A big no-no of course is dating between persons of majority age and of minority age.

    Most dojos I have been to dating does happen, but that is because it was normally a pre-existing condition.

    Now, to date seriously in a sport, I'd pick a different dojo, not my own, as I'd like to be able to keep on going to my own dojo should a break up occur.

  4. Dating will happen. Instructors will end up dating students (even when they're trying to avoid it). I've known a number of instructors who have gone out of their way not to, but often it's the student making advances on the instructor, not the other way around. You can't help who you're attracted to and it's hard to say know when a mutual attraction is there.

    But yes, as Ice pointed out, instructors should never date people under the age of majority. That's just a bad idea.

  5. I think any kind of a relationship between adults is a private matter, at least when it’s within the boundaries of the law, and as such it’s nobody’s business but the people directly involved. This is a rather strange topic really: it is a sensei’s prerogative to kick out people (you’re under no obligation to teach people if you do not deem them worthy) and maintain a certain discipline on the mat but last time I checked this doesn’t include butting into people’s private-lives. If I had a girlfriend and wanted to introduce her to training or got romantically involved with someone in the club and my sensei would comment on it or tried to prohibit it I would be seriously offended; as long as you do what you’re told and refrain from kissing or cuddling on the mat he has no grounds whatsoever to complain. As for the risk of losing one or both students: people quit all the time for various reasons, are you going to try to minimize that risk too by interfering with their private lives? Besides the risk of people trying to teach eachother when not qualified to do so is always present and has nothing to do with relationships or what not. For a guy it’s quite natural to try to take the lead when he’s in a situation with a woman even when he’s just as inexperienced as she is but this is just human nature and I do not think there’s more risk than when two friends start training together as opposed to a couple doing the same.

    Naturally if you happen to fall in love in the dojo and you’re more advanced than the other party you’ll be more inclined to get involved with their training-process but I don’t see why this should constitute a disadvantage or problem; it might actually be a good thing and accelerate learning. You’re far more likely to find your significant other or spouse in normal, everyday activities (work, hobbies, shopping) than going out or traveling but isn’t this to be regarded as a positive event rather than a source of possible problems? A lot of people are lonely and socially isolated enough as it is so I don’t think it’s a good idea to impose anymore prohibitions or rules regarding conduct, especially when it’s so clearly a private matter and does not automatically include a decline in performance in other area’s of activity. If problems do arise on the mat as a result of malfunctions in a relationship it’s up to the people involved to work it out, only after this fails should the sensei step in and lay down the law, not sooner. He or she is not your parent after all and adults should know how to properly behave themselves and respond adequately to the situation on hand.

    As to your advice on being professional: I know what you meant but it’s a rather peculiar choice of words. A lot of people do not really enjoy themselves at the workplace (it interferes with their freedom and personal interests, among other things) so I doubt they’d want to be reminded of it when involved in their hobbies and it is a bit strange to hear you’re to treat your training-partner as a colleague with all the formalism and negative connotation that may imply. That being said you do have a point: you’re there to train, not to socialize (at least not primarily) and training together is not the same as being friends or close acquaintances although this can coincide.

    Have a good day,


  6. Zara, your line of thinking is very progressive. Not all Senseis think like you. I would be very hypocritical if I told people they weren't allowed to date (anyone who has read my book, Weapons of Opportunity, would know why…;).

    Using the word 'professional' was for communicative purposes as most people (in North America anyway) understand the concept of being professional, even if it's not in a work context.

  7. Wow. In all the years I have trained, the thought of forming relationships in the dojo (other than friendship) has never crossed my mind. Thickness on my part!

    To be honest, I cant see why, if two people meet during training, get on and become a couple, why anyone would want to stop this from happening.

    Im all for relationships in the dojo on the condition that when actually IN the dojo during training, that full concentration and commitment is given towards the martial arts. All the smooching and stuff can be saved for afterwards.

  8. Although I would not “forbid” consenting adults from getting together, I do think students should be encouraged to consider their training partners to be brothers and sisters in budo. This makes (most new) student-student romantic relationships a kind of incest …

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