Nip the Problem in the Bud

Nip in the Bud

Welcome to yet another rant post. It seems like I should just write more rant posts to have more regular content on this blog since they’re a lot easier to write. All jokes aside, I felt that this rant was worth posting due to how important it is to talk about the seldom-discussed topic of eliminating toxic people from a group, the criteria for considering them toxic, and if and when it’s right to do so. It’s a sensitive topic that most would rather not think about, but it’s one that’s important enough to set aside misgivings for.

What made me write this are two YouTube videos talking about different forms of toxic people in different fields who are known to make things less conducive for fun and learning. One inflicts physical harm, while the other potentially inflicts psychological harm. While some may think that they’re not comparable as one is outright bullying while the other is about seemingly minor disputes in a computer game, but they have one thing in common — they both ruin the experience for other people.

It’s perfectly fine to be stupid on your own. That’s pretty much my entire life, and I don’t mind being a moron as long as I don’t ruin things for other people. But there are plenty of dweebs out there who aren’t as conscientious about their stupidity and end up ruining things for everyone else, whether it’s a martial arts gym or a party in an online multiplayer game. But it’s not just about making a mistake every now and then since everyone does that. We’re talking about a consistent trend of fucking things up with little to no correction.

I’ve done my own share of dumbassery over the years, but I can be proud in saying that I learned from those experiences and I didn’t make the same mistakes more than twice or thrice. I may make people around me facepalm a couple of times, but I’m bound to redeem myself sooner or later. Meanwhile, there are those who seem to never get the message and continue to fuck things up to the detriment of others, then act dumb and take zero accountability for their actions. That’s when you can definitely call them toxic.

Here are a couple of examples that I’m quite familiar with. I post them here to discuss what makes them egregiously bad and why you should take note of them. Please avoid doing these things. If you do them, you’re likely making things worse for everyone else.

People Who See Constructive Criticism as Toxic

Here’s a comment on the original video by Zepla which sums it up quite nicely:

“Purple is the guy in a school project with 7 other people and decides that his portion doesn’t need to be grammatically correct because it’s not the ‘final paper’ they need to submit.”

If he’s indeed learning, then why is he being resistant to being taught what’s right and proper? Therefore, he’s actually not learning and has only been wasting time. I agree with Asmongold’s response to this debacle — kick that person out. No further questions, just kick them out.

It’s best for such difficult people to be shown the door as soon as possible because they have an ego problem, the solution of which can’t be rushed. If they’re allowed to stay, their attitude will eventually pervade throughout the rest of the group, thus making things worse for everyone else. I myself have this problem in certain aspects of my life and I recognize that I can be difficult at times. It can be hard to deal with, but acknowledging the existence of having a problem with being told what to do is the first step towards addressing it.

However, there’s a difference between having a problem with family members who think you’re not doing the best thing for your own life (this is what I’m dealing with right now) and having a problem with people who tell you that you’re not playing an online multiplayer game as optimally as you possibly can. The former is a family problem (everyone has one), while the latter is a problem that’s hypothetically easy enough to solve, especially if it’s just playing a video game.

If you can be that difficult in a video game, what more in real life?

If your mistakes don’t affect other people, then perhaps criticism towards that can be considered toxic. But if they do indeed affect other people, like being a burden in a raiding party while playing an MMO or not practicing your technique in pro wrestling and potentially putting your partner’s safety at risk due to your shoddy execution, then you’re the toxic one. You’re making things less fun for everyone else simply because you’re a hard-headed buffoon.

Yes, I mention that latter example from experience as there have been plenty of hopefuls in pro wrestling who end up being unteachable and impossible to work with because they have an inflated sense of their own abilities. I can tell you with all honesty that Manila Wrestling Federation has seen many such individuals sent out the Revolving Door, so I’m quite familiar with this phenomenon. Most of them are friendly on the outside and toxic on the inside.

It’s dumbfounding how difficult some people can be when it comes to something as simple as following instructions to something as serious as taking responsibility for other people’s safety.

But in the case of pro wrestling, it’s an even bigger problem since a wrestler who is unable to take constructive criticism is a serious health hazard. Before you know it, an accident can occur in a live match all because some dweeb who thinks he’s AJ Styles can’t even do a simple back bump without crapping his pants. I can’t speak for other companies, but I can say that MWF has since instated a process that weeds out such difficult morons before they can ever take root.

I’m certainly not exempt from this as I’ve also been resistant to constructive criticism in the past, whether it’s in martial arts, writing, or life. I’ve made teachers, instructors, friends, and older relative frustrated with my incompetence and bullheadedness over the years. However, I also like to think that I would later take such constructive criticism seriously after considerable thought, even if it would inflict emotional damage. In the end, that pain adds to the learning experience and makes the lesson more indelible with psychological impact.

Going back to MMOs, the thing with Final Fantasy XIV is that most people tend to point it out as less toxic than other games like World of Warcraft due to its community exerting less pressure on new players to be sweaty try-hards. However, that wholly depends on the party. There are some parties that are totally fine with beginners making mistakes, while there are other parties composed of people who know what they’re doing and are focused on finishing encounters.

You have to sniff out the overall vibe of the group to determine whether the people in it will give you a hard time for not being perfect. However, you still need to have the capacity to listen and improve, even just a little bit. Whether you’re playing with laid-back casuals or sweaty try-hards, you should be able to do better in some way, even slightly.

The same thing goes for anything that involves learning. You can go at it at your own pace, but you can’t be expected to take it nice and slow once you join other people. You have to step up or be stepped on. After all, stakes are a part of the learning process. The right amount of pressure can make you better in the long run, and you have to prepare yourself for it.

Bullies Who Act Dumb

This is something you’ll see quite often in martial arts gyms, especially if they’re not teaching bullshido like a McDojo. Sparring is an essential part of learning martial arts because fighting skills require pressure testing in order to be properly learned. You may be able to throw a beautiful roundhouse kick, but it’s no good if you can’t hit it against a resisting opponent.

Such stories are common throughout martial arts, excluding gyms and schools that discourage sparring. Every gym worth their salt is bound to have stories involving people who don’t seem to have any control over themselves. A major part of martial arts mastery is being able to test one’s ability to fight against another trainee through sparring.

There are two main forms of sparring, hard and soft. Hard sparring, also known as full contact sparring, is effectively fighting, throwing attacks with full force. Soft sparring, also known as technical sparring, is basically sparring without full force in order to test one’s skills against a resisting opponent without the risk of significant damage.

It’s weird to say that technical sparring is a fairly new phenomenon, even in traditional martial arts. You’d think that sparring that allows trainees to test themselves without incurring brain trauma is something that would be immediately seen as beneficial, but even masters have been seeing it as a watered-down version of sparring that is simply a waste of time. Therefore, those who are brave enough to have sparring would only mandate hard sparring, thus creating a false equivalency between sparring and barbarism.

To think that learning how to fight involves not fighting, which is then equated to learning how to be a better fighter, is quite perplexing.

That leads us to the topic of gym bullies, which are trainees who have become proficient enough to thrive in hard sparring by deliberately hurting other trainees. They’re unethical, unfeeling, and unsympathetic. They would be talked to and ordered to lighten up, but then continue to hurt other trainees. That then makes them labeled as dangerous, and everyone else would then refuse to train and spar with them, and they would justify that by considering them cowards and weaklings who are unable to keep up with them.

Even in the gym I come from, there was one guy everyone talked about in hushed whispers. Fortunately, I never had the displeasure of meeting the guy. He became infamous throughout the years for being a gym bully. He would always go hard in sparring and never show an ounce of care for his sparring partners, even if he hurts them badly. To him, they’re just rungs of the ladder he had to climb in order to become the best martial artist he could be.

Of course, no one wanted to train with him because of that.

Unfortunately, the gym I come from never learned the merits of technical sparring as the culture there was centered around the older perspective of self-defense that, in my opinion, has since become outdated. From what I can understand, the head instructor stopped all sparring after a kid got picked up and slammed by a hot-headed trainee during a sparring session in the past.

The wrong way to respond to such a disaster is to stop sparring altogether. May his soul rest in peace, but that’s one thing our teacher got wrong. Otherwise, he was an amazing teacher who got everything else right, including demystifying and decultifying our martial arts practice.

Once I started training there, that sparring ban had long been established, although one instructor did sneak in sparring sessions to the disapproval of the head instructor. Therefore, looking back, my skills ended up being raw and unpolished. It took some difficult and ego-crushing sparring sessions years later to correct my path and lead me to being able to properly consolidate my skills, albeit not yet completely.

Unfortunately, they never learned that technical sparring can be an immensely helpful training tool, as Muay Thai fighters in Thailand have known for decades. Those who don’t understand the merits of technical sparring would refute it as unrealistic and unhelpful due to how it doesn’t emulate the tremendous pressure that you can expect from a fight or self-defense situation in real life.

However, the opposite is actually true. Disaster preparedness has emergency drills, martial arts has technical sparring.

Technical sparring is all about self-honesty. If your sparring partner throws something like a roundhouse kick over your head, you should recognize if that kick would’ve actually landed flush if they had thrown it for real. On the other hand, you don’t do bullshit techniques that you can only land because you’re not going hard.

It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about learning. If you go into technical sparring with the intent to treat it as a real fight, you won’t get anything out of it. Technical sparring is where you start learning about how to apply what you’ve learned thus far and see what aspects of your fighting still need work. It’s where your defense is tested and your offense is measured.

But because of how it’s purely a training tool, it also means that no one truly wins or loses a technical sparring match. It’s not competition, and treating it as such is not only disrespectful to your sparring partner, but also to the training as a whole. This is where gym bullies get exposed as those whose egos are unable to comprehend what technical sparring is about would end up getting frustrated and throw something with full power to hurt the other guy.

That’s also why it’s best to not take pictures or videos of the sparring session, especially for social media. If you do have to take photos or videos of a sparring session, both parties should be in agreement. If it’s to be posted on social media, it must be done with respect towards the purpose of the sparring session as training and nothing more.

Not only is this done to not spoil the sanctity of training, but it also avoids future problems of one guy lording a “win” in sparring over the other, which usually results in interpersonal conflict. Such crass behavior only serves to take away from the process and make martial arts less about self-improvement in the long term and more about stroking one’s ego in the short term.

Best Have a Zero-Tolerance Policy

When it comes to cases like this, whether big or small, there should be as close to a zero-tolerance policy whenever possible. It’s up to you whether you should really be as tight as skinny jeans over a muffin top, but it’s best to start strict and gradually loosen over time instead of the other way around. Being lenient to begin with makes it difficult to get tough when the situation calls for it as the expectation of low pressure has already been set.

Personally, I find it best to have a two-strike policy — warning on first major offense, immediate expulsion on second major offense. This ensures that there is still some fairness while also being as strict and stringent as possible. Many may find such a strategy to be too much, but there’s rationale behind such intense scrutiny, so long as the goals and mission of the organization remain ever-important.

It’s basically like the old viral story of the bartender who immediately kicks out nazis, even if they haven’t done anything yet. Weighing between having their business and the establishment gradually becoming their stomping grounds, it’s best to refuse their business in order to avoid the risk of them becoming rooted there. If the latter ends up happening, the business owners will have to move mountains in order to get rid of them and their influence.

The same thing goes for the toxic, the rotten, and the exploitative in any establishment or organization. As much as you’d want to treat everyone equally as human beings, they may not have the same good intentions you have. In the end, the displeasure of the few is outweighed by the continued satisfaction of the greater whole.

Whether you see it as political or practical, this is something you’ll end up having to deal with if you ever become the head of something bigger than yourself, whether it’s a social group, organization, or business. If you’re still unconvinced, you may want to gather testimonies from those who have had experience dealing with such problematic individuals or groups.

I thought this was worth writing about because it’s something I’ve seen over and over again across different fields, from gaming communities, martial arts gyms, pro wrestling promotions, schools, business establishments, neighborhoods, and so on. I’m sure there are a lot more examples of similar behavior beyond what’s covered in this blog post, but I’ll end it here for now. Godspeed and good fortune.

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