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HarveyMandel

Member
14 May 2020
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Hi,
I've been a member of one martial arts club for a while, and have been looking to start up training at a second club to further my abilities (well, once Covid19 is over).
I found what seemed like a good second club, but on the membership form they wanted me to sign there were 2 questions that made me hold off for now:

1. "Are you a member of any other martial arts club?" (they made it clear that if I was I would have to quit that other club and be exclusive to them, or else I can't join)
2. "Have you ever had any mental health issues, and if so what?"

I feel it isn't any of their business what I do outside their club, that I should be able to train at 2 clubs if I so choose, and if I've had mental illness in the past I should be able to keep that private.
Does a club/gym have the legal right to ask these questions? And is this a legally binding contract, do I need to be 100% truthful in my answers on their form, or do I have any recourse if I refuse to answer their questions and they deny me membership?

I appreciate any advice on this matter.
Thanks
 

Rob Legat - SBPL

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What style of martial arts? If the style is very specific, just put the generic/family descriptor and whether they consider themselves ‘traditional’.

Are they a member of the Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA)?

And am I right in assuming that the wording for question 2 is exactly as it appears on the form?
 

Rob Legat - SBPL

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To follow up, I've now had a chance to review some of my documents. To disclose: I've got long-term involvement in martial arts, have written martial arts policies, procedures, and forms, and have held state executive positions in the MAIA in the past.

Of the two questions, the first is the harder to answer. And both of them can very much be in the 'it depends why' basket. I'll answer the second one first.

Mental health issue
TLDR: If they're asking to discriminate against you - not allowed. If they're asking for use in terms of legitimate health and safety - allowed.

As you're well aware, martial arts is usually a 'contact sport' (I'll use the common euphemism, and avoid the 'sport' argument ). Not all martial arts actually require contact - but there's a high likelihood of it, so they're all lumped in the basket.

Any type of organised physical activity - especially contact ones - require adequate health screening prior to participation. Application forms should have a range of questions about health and lifestyle (e.g. medical conditions, past operations, medications taken, physical restrictions/injuries and so on). There's no reason why mental health conditions should not form part of this.

The questions should be for the purpose of screening for the health and safety of the applicant, the club, and the other participants.

For example, my documents ask, "Do you suffer from a mental illness that would affect your ability to train in martial arts or exercise in general?" [emphasis added] Discriminating against someone who simply has a mental health issue is not on. That is, unless there is a reasonable excuse - and the reasonable excuse is for the health and safety of the person and others.

What's done with the information is also important. The whole purpose of the health screening should not be to mean the club can say yes/no to you training. (Usually) the instructors are not medical professionals who can determine what the responses mean and whether that signifies a risk. The purpose is to collect enough information for them to make a determination whether the applicant needs a clearance from a medical professional to participating in the activity - and then, no clearance means no participation.

Training in other styles
TLDR: Very difficult to pin down and prove. Not worth the argument.

We ask this too, and do it for several reasons. 1) If the applicant is not a rank beginner, we're not going to train them like an absolute beginner. Not only is that wasteful for both sides, it also means care needs to be taken in placing the applicant with people who are absolute beginners. 2) You may get checked up on to make sure there's no negative history. 3) Different styles teach people in different ways. Unfortunately there are styles which don't promote good habits. Some of these are actually deleterious (at least in our opinion). We'd like to know what possible bad habits the applicant is bringing with them. 4) Spies. It happens. Someone will come along to 'steal the secrets of the style'. Many traditional styles are jealously guarded and handed down over generations. It seems a little far fetched in this day and age, but it is still in the back (possibly front) of many instructors' minds. If it's a style that competes a lot, you might find that even if they're not traditional they're very keen to make sure their techniques aren't appropriated. Some styles verge on being 'cult like', other styles don't care and welcome everybody, some styles will even welcome you in and try to learn whatever they can from you.

Ultimately, discrimination in this manner isn't unlawful. It's an individual thing, much like refusing service to someone who refuses to follow the rules of the club. Unlawful discrimination would be based on gender, ethnicity, religion etc. Even if you could challenge it and be successful, your training experience would not be a happy one and you'd find yourself cut off from all but the most basic participation.
 
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HarveyMandel

Member
14 May 2020
4
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Thanks for your response, Rob. Lucky for me that you know the law AND the martial arts world!

The style is a traditional East-Asian martial art; I'd rather not be more specific in case anyone identifies the school in question.

The wording I used isn't exactly what appeared on the form, sorry maybe I shouldn't have used quotation marks, I didn't mean to imply they said that exactly, it was just along those lines. I don't have a copy of the form, so I'm just going off memory; when I saw the questions I told them I'd have a think and maybe sign up in future.

I'm not sure if they're a member of the MAIA.

For the mental health question, yes I believe it was part of a section of the form with all kinds of health questions. I think the wording was just have you ever had a mental illness, without qualifier of that would affect your ability to train.
So if I understand correctly, they are within their rights to ask that question, and if I refuse to answer they could deny me membership on health & safety grounds, whereas if I answer that I've had mental illness they can't simply refuse me outright on those grounds, but they can require I get medical/psychologist clearance to train?
I think it might be worth asking them for clarification of how confidential my answers are, and to make sure it's for medical clearance and not discrimination. It just rankles me a bit to think a little local sports club can demand to know about my deepest private issues, but I do understand the reasoning.

For training at multiple clubs, you raise good points, and I can see why it's good for a club to ask the question, but this particular club's position seemed to be you can never cross-train because we want your complete loyalty. I figured it was probably up to them, I just think it's an unfortunate attitude; martial arts should be about gathering the best stuff, discarding what doesn't work, sharing "secrets" with fellow martial artists.
I think my conclusion from reading this and giving it some thought, is that I'll be honest about training at another club, give my reasoning, and hope they come around, but I'm not going to have a shouting match or try to take any action against them, because it would no longer be pleasant to train there anyway.

Your point about fear of spying leads me to think of another club I considered in the past, whose membership form gave me pause - the form had fine print, something like you declare you won't teach others what you learn here without permission from the club. Does that mean if I train for 10 years under these guys, get a black belt, then want to go start my own unaffiliated club that teaches a hybrid of stuff I've learnt from various clubs including theirs, I could run into trouble? So many great martial artists have cross-trained and formed hybrid styles and broken away from their parent lineages...

Thanks again
 

Rob Legat - SBPL

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The “...would affect your ability to train...” is my additional wording. I doubt you’ll see it elsewhere. You can’t discriminate against someone solely on the basis of their medical situation, it has to have a justifiable reason. Anything that could impact the health and safety of anyone participating can be justifiable. Even having a cold is justification to not allow some one to train.

I‘ve trained students with mental and developmental conditions, and trained with them. It’s often hard work and very draining on resources. They can learn, behave, react, communicate, etc. very differently. Certain situations can trigger them, and responses can be violent. They can have a negative experience which ruins their enjoyment because an issue is misunderstood. I’ve got to be careful who I can partner with them. Maybe the school is just not capable of providing a safe service to them.

If I get someone come in with PTSD who is on anti-psychotic medication, I’ve got to know about it. If I don’t ask, and they get into a situation where they snap and seriously injure someone, then I’m going to get disclaimed by my insurer and absolutely reamed in court - and most likely bankrupted through the process.

As to the not allowing someone to teach, that’s part protection of the style‘s intellectual property, part liability protection, and part quality control. With my style, for example, to be an instructor you have to be minimum black belt level with us and be a current level 1 qualified sports coach under the NCAS or equivalent. That course is run via the MAIA and is extensive. It’s mandatory as part of it to have a child safety registration, first aid currency, and indemnity insurance.

That aside, there’s very little which is truly novel or unique in martial arts. Techniques and variations of techniques have been around for a long time. The issue is more likely to be damaging the reputation of the style by being a bad ambassador, or having liability come back on the style by association.
 

HarveyMandel

Member
14 May 2020
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That all sounds reasonable. And something to remember, if I want to start my own club one day.

So it sounds like the main issue with the teaching disclaimer would be if after 6 months of training I open a school that claims to teach the other club's style and they haven't endorsed me. Whereas if I train in various martial arts for 10yrs and start a club not claiming any link to them, they can't wander in and say "hey, that wrist-lock you're teaching looks like a wrist-lock we taught you years back, you need our permission to incorporate that into your style!"

Reading your responses has given me lots to think about. Thanks for all your help, Rob.
 

Rob Legat - SBPL

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This digresses a bit, but it serves to illustrate a point. Ever wonder why there is so many different styles of Chinese martial arts (generically called kung fu)? Students would often train under multiple masters, say Wing Chun and Ba Hoc. If that student opened a school and called it Ba Hoc, but mixed in Wing Chun (or even did Ba Hoc techniques influenced by Wing Chun), they’d have a challenge on their hands. The Ba Hoc schools would be out for blood, literally, because that person is damaging Ba Hoc’s reputation. This was apparently especially rife in Hong Kong, as well as rivalry challenges just for territorial/bragging rights.

But, if the student opened a school and called it something different, say White Crane Wing Chun, then that would be okay. They’ve established a point of difference. Extrapolate that over time....

Another aspect is amalgamation. In kung fu, “gar” loosely equates to style, group, or clan (my apologies if that isn’t right, I don’t know any Cantonese). The modern style Choy Li Fut, was an amalgamation of Choy Gar, Li Gar, and Fut Gar, by a student who studied each style.
 

HarveyMandel

Member
14 May 2020
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Interesting! Coming from more of a mixed-sport martial art background, these aren't things I would've even thought of. At least dojo stormings are (at least mostly) a thing of the past. I can see even in today's day & age though I need to be upfront with my various schools, now and if opening my own club in the future, make sure I'm not leading anybody on, try to avoid any bad blood.

Thanks again.