By Erik Hofmeister
You’re an experienced, but enlisted-ranked, military firefighter and arrive on the scene of a fire. There’s an officer on the scene from another unit with no firefighting experience and a lowly ranked private already fighting the fire. Do you A) tell people how to put out the fire or B) wait for the officer to give orders or C) allow the private to continue their efforts? There are three types of authority in rank-structured organizations like the military and the dojo: rank-based, positional, and situational.
Rank-based authority is the most obvious. A brown belt gives instructions to a green belt because they are a higher rank, and so have authority over the lower ranked students. Obviously, this authority extends only within the dojo and with karate-related tasks.
Positional authority is that given in titles independent of rank. At Athens Yoshukai, this is the instructor structure- Head Instructor, Senior Instructor, Instructor, and Assistant Instructor. Students in the instructor hierarchy have authority when it comes to the management of the dojo and teaching of students. If a high-ranked student bows in class who is not in the instructor hierarchy, they then turn the running of the class over to the highest instructor.
Situational authority is often dependent on who is on the scene first with some ability and knowledge to handle a situation. If a student has an injury, the first person to tend to them with any first aid knowledge can give others orders, regardless of their rank or positional authority. If you encounter a situation that needs management, you must give specific orders to individuals (e.g. pointing at a person, “YOU, call 911!”) as opposed to diffuse orders to a group (“Someone call 911!”).
The interplay of each of these is unquestionably complex and requires consideration. Layered on top of this is the dichotomy of dojo-associated activities and non-dojo-associated activities. When in doubt, ask a high rank or the head instructor what the appropriate course of action in a given situation is.