View Full Version : Bullying at the Hombu dojo

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06-15-2013, 06:52 AM
Hi y'all. This is the first time I'm posting but I've been following the forums for almost a year now. I was a little hesitant to ask this, but it's been on my mind so I figured what the hey.

My husband and I have lived in Tokyo for a couple of years now, and last year I started going to the beginners' and women's classes at the Hombu dojo. I started to enjoy it alot, and was always really impressed by the higher dan people walking around in their black belts and hakamas.

After a few months, around last August, I noticed that I was getting pushed around in the locker room. At first I dismissed it as just my imagination, because the locker room is tiny and people are always bumping into each other. But it was always the same woman, and sometimes she pushed hard enough to be considered a shove. During class, she was aggressive even though I had only just started. I understand that a certain amount of pain is expected with a martial art, but I really got the impression she was deliberately trying to cause pain.

Around October, I brought it up with one of the other women (who was Japanese,) and she became evasive and shut me out. I asked another (foreign) lady, and she told me something similar had happened a year or two before with the same woman. A young student of this bully's favorite sensei had started coming to the dojo, and the woman bullied her so much she's afraid to come back. In addition, there was at least one other girl this woman was bullying as well. (I know bullying is - sadly -somewhat cultural in Japan, but in this case the bully was a foreigner.)

My husband and I decided the harrassment wasn't worth losing the enjoyment I was getting from aikido, so I stopped going to the Hombu dojo. Since then I've found a dojo much closer to home with a great sensei and students (just passed my 5 kyu!) so something good has come out of it! However, what I am wondering is how does one deal with this kind of situation? I sometimes think I was too timid. But I also got the feeling that everyone knows what's happening, but they all turn a blind eye.

Would appreciate any and all input. Thank you!

Mary Eastland
06-15-2013, 09:04 AM
Hi Michelle:

I appreciate you sharing this.

06-15-2013, 11:34 AM
Hombu of which aikido organisation?

06-15-2013, 02:59 PM
That's really tough to deal with, especially when you're new. The fact that she's bullying you and others shows that she can learn a lot from Aikido. (That's my diplomatic way of saying she's being a b****. ;) ) So, I hope she learns quickly to think like an Aikidoka.

I'm no expert on the subject of bullying. But in my experience, the best way I've learned to prevent being bullied (and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure) is to think, feel and act self-confident, calm, emotionally stable, cordial, unapologetic and non-supplicating. Exhibit these characteristics through body-language. You'll also want to have a strong, fairly large social circle that respects you as a valuable member of the group.

Self-confidence is a tricky term because, in my mind anyway, it's more of a general internal awareness of being able to handle whatever comes your way. Self-confidence is really what all this is about. Everything else I mention are really the characteristics that a self-confident person will exhibit.

Calm and Emotionally Stable
Generally, you'll want to be in a calm, relaxed emotional state when talking to people. Bullies seem to prey on those who exhibit some sign of weakness such as nervousness. Breathing deeply, relaxing your muscles and lowering your center of gravity into your hips can help with this.

By "cordial" I don't mean be "super nice." I mean be cordial. It's not the needy friendliness of a weak person but rather the strong, confident, unconcerned cordiality of a leader.

You'll want to be comfortable with conflict and be capable of dealing with it in a cordial, assertive, understanding way.

Supplicating is what we often do when we feel needy or helpless. We beg. "Please like me." "Please don't be mean to me." Occasionally, in extreme cases we may actually supplicate verbally. But the most common and insidious supplication is expressed through body language, particularly through the eyes and eyebrows.

More than anything else, body-language will give your emotional state away. The good thing is, in my experience, there seems to be a two-way connection between body-language and emotional state. For example, you know how they say that smiling actually makes you happier? The same seems to be true for all body language.

Relax your muscles throughout your body. Keep your weight in your hips, as opposed to the upper torso (just like we're taught to do in Aikido). Breath deeply from the diaphragm. Smile only when appropriate, as opposed to a nervous perpetual smile. Relax your eyebrows. Keep them low except for expressive effect.

Keep your head up and maintain eye contact.

Social Circle
If 75% of the other members of the dojo have "got your back," no one will likely bully you. Most of the time, it seems like bullying is related to high social status in some way such as gaining it or demonstrating it. So, if you have an unshakable high social status, a girl who tries to bully you only makes herself look like she needs to gain social status because she lacks it. In other words, she appears needy and weak to the group which is the exact opposite effect that she wants the bullying to have. So, if she's smart, she won't bully you. If not, then she just looks ridiculous, will be ostracized from the group and will lose all social status.

When all of this comes together, those would-be bullies may actually start exhibiting the characteristics of someone who lacks self-confidence, i.e. doing the exact opposite of everything I've just mentioned. They may become nervous. They may act "super nice" to you (as opposed to being just cordial). They may apologize profusely. They may give you that begging look that says "please be my friend."

06-15-2013, 06:21 PM
I had another thought about this. If you look at the way of dealing with bullying (the behaviors and way of thinking and feeling) from "Aiki" perspective, you'll see that you're not fighting or even resisting the bullying at all. You're also not angered or hurt by it. You allow the person to go in the direction she wants to go.

It's like, "Oh, you want to go that way? OK. That's fine with me. Please, by all means, proceed. I'm not going to stand in your way. I'll get out of the way. In fact, let me help you go that way." Suddenly, both her attack and her motivation are diffused.

Another way of looking at is, if, for example, she shoves you, you could express verbally, through body-language, etc. that she wins and you yield. Sort of like "tapping out." Even the most hard-core MMA fighters (except for sociopaths) would not respect (and would even despise) another fighter who continued to attack an opponent after he had tapped out.

Your attacker's motive was probably dominance and status. When you show her and everyone else that you don't need dominance or status and that you're OK with her having it, the opposite appears true for her. She appears to need dominance and status (because she clearly does need dominance and status). Ironically, in the eyes of her peers this makes her appear to be the weak one and you the strong.

06-15-2013, 07:25 PM
I am wondering if the responses are different because you are actually IN Japan?

The "standard" method for dealing with bullies here in the states, particularly Texas, is quite different and you probably know what it is. It isn't very "aiki" in concept however, but neither are here, the bully's, actions. Neat conundrum, and something that could have eaten the heart out of your enhjoyment of practice.

I think, not that my opinion is of much import, but that your solution, is probably a good, perhaps the best, one. In the end, the higher dan grades are either aware of her behavior and silently condoning it, or they are unaware of it, and don't know it/she need correction. Either way, there is a problem brewing there.

Ellis Amdur
06-15-2013, 09:12 PM
I wrote an essay on this in Dueling with Osensei - How the Japanese accept bullies in the dojo as part of the ecology. I was discussing male culture, however. I do remember a student of Chiba sensei's, back in the 1990's. She considered herself the toughest woman in honbu (she wasn't - but that's what she thought). Anyway, a very seasoned student of Yamada sensei's came to Honbu, and the former woman just beat the hell out of her for an hour, and at the end, was heard to say, "I thought that bitch was supposed to be tough."
So, women do this too. (anyway, my essay talks about the general dynamic of this - in many Japanese dojo, the bully is viewed as fulfilling a function.
It's unfortunate that you are no longer at Honbu, so you can't try this experiment. Hypothetically, imagine you are still there. She walks towards you with rough intent. You say loudly, BUT cheerfully: "Oh, you are walking towards me with your left shoulder dropped. You are going to hit me with your shoulder, right in the chest. Here you go!" It really messes the bullies mind up.
Now, as for training, you look her dead in the eye and say, "I won't train with you." "Why not?" "I don't like to be hurt, and you like to hurt people, so I don't think we'll match up very well." Then walk away. It's not a dialogue: it's a boundary.

Ellis Amdur

06-16-2013, 01:45 PM
As someone who trained at Hombu for several years, I am really sorry to hear that you had this experience. It certainly is not the norm, but it does happen. There are senior students at Hombu who, if they observe such behavior, will take care of it directly--but it depends a lot on who is around and what class it's happening in and how blatant the bullying is. Other people will choose not to see it. Just my view and I could well be wrong, but I feel like if it's an issue between foreigners, many Japanese members will think a foreigner should take care of it, and if it's between women, it may not even be noticed.

From what I've seen, bullying seems to happen no matter what country you're in. It's unfortunate that dojo culture has been interpreted in such a way that one has to take whatever a sempai dishes out. In my opinion, especially if you are a beginner studying Aikido for your own enjoyment, that's simply wrong. (May be a different story for uchideshi and "serious" trainees--and, now that I think of it, Japanese university students.)

At any rate, the bottom line is that when you train with someone and take ukemi for them, you are lending them your body for their practice. If they don't respect it, don't treat it with care, you absolutely should not put up with it. Just disengage, bow out, and go train with someone else--in a group of three, or whatever. You can say something, as Mr. Amdur recommends above, or just say nothing--the bully will know perfectly well what your problem is. If the instructor asks you why you stopped, simply say you didn't feel safe. If that's a problem, you need to find a different instructor, a different dojo, a different art. There is absolutely no reason to put your physical well-being at risk for the enjoyment of a sadist.

I would add that sometimes a person might not realize their practice is too much for their partner. Having a partner bow out on you because you're being a jerk is a good wake-up call, tends to make you much more sensitive to your partner's abilities. So the result can actually be quite positive.

The locker-room thing, I don't have much advice for. That's just bizarre. I guess I would just say really loudly, "Oh, I'm sorry, am I in your way?" to call attention to the behavior. After two or three rounds of you calling attention to it, I'd be surprised if the shoving continued.

Anyway, I'm glad you found a good dojo and that you're still enjoying Aikido! Ganbatte!

Lyle Laizure
06-17-2013, 05:47 AM
I agree that you have to call attention to it, first by confronting the offending party in the manner previously stated. I think however that it is important that you "make a scene" when you do. Not a full blown drama but enough to make it clear to those near you and hopefully the sensei is nearby so that it is understood as to why you are choosing to discontinue practice with that person.

In the locker room. Here if you are aware she is coming set her up to take the fall. If she is coming in to make contact, as one of the other folks stated, get out of the way and let her energy carry her to another place. (That is the nice way.) If you were confronted on the street and you see the attacker coming, you know or have a pretty good idea, as to what she is going to do, then simply step in and physically stop her. (You have to be careful that the situation doesn't escalate or if it does, and it ceartainly has the potential to do so, that you are willing to escalate as well.)]

Lastly, if "everyone" is aware of the bullying and they are willing to ignore it then it doesn't sound like a place you should be training. If the sensei and/or the other students see her behavior and do nothing about it then it reinforces to her that her actions are acceptable and will definately continue to behave in said manner.

I am happy you found a new dojo where you can continue your training.

06-17-2013, 11:05 AM
First it would be good to examine what exactly bullying in aikido practice is. Is it perception of the danger coming from practice where the techniques are executed above the limits that uke can take it? If yes, I think it is an excellent opportunity to work on our ego. If I as uke, can’t absorb/redirect power of the technique, it means that my skills are not good enough. So I should be honest to myself and to Nage and simply ask him to reduce his power, so I can gradually learn and improve myself.

I have impression, that in most cases it would be as simple as this. People perceive honest intention and adapt their practice.

Unfortunately many times this kind of communication doesn’t exist, because uke has a big ego and is not able to honestly admit “yes, my ukemi skills suck”. Instead, they reject blame on nage and trying to overpower him. People perceive such intention easily as well. Then ‘bulling” problem is being raised…

I think a real abuse in aikido world is marginal and very rare. I did practice in few continents last 30 years in dojo and seminars in different federations, never met any case like that. Sometimes practice was very intense, dangerous, over my limits, but I never felt bad intent.
May be I was lucky, who knows...

06-17-2013, 11:15 AM
So pushing people around in the changing room is simply a kind sempai trying to teach kohai how to loose their ego?

06-17-2013, 12:05 PM
So pushing people around in the changing room is simply a kind sempai trying to teach kohai how to loose their ego?
or teaching them 360 degree awareness? :) O sensei did it for his deshi with live sword during the night in the mountains...or may be it was bulling? LOL

06-17-2013, 01:42 PM
I've tried something differet. Not as much physical as bullying in a very subtle but nonetheless ruthless verbal manner.

It was wrapped as kind advice and instruction but it always left me feeling sad and annoyed.

In Kendo I have experienced physical bullying. It was meant to help me discover my weak spots (of which there were plenty) but it was fueled by a desire to manifest a more powerful technique and demonstrate superiority.

Both things was hard to recover from - and some have a hard time doing it. In both situations somebody stepped in. Directly or indirectly. But it helped.

If you see somebody pushing other people to hard then ACT. It is not for the people on the mat to decide how much push to apply to their fellow students. It is only for the sensei to decide and the tool should be used with caution.

To the original poster: I am sorry about your experience. It is in my book bad behavior by this woman and it would not be tolerated in my dojo. It makes me think of a study I once heard about. It proved that muggers (and other bullies) have a tendency to pick on those that look like victims. So maybe something in the way you behaved in the situation was making you look like someone that could be easily bullied. After all she did succeed. If you were not at that time able to display the air of confidence and inner power that make you stand out as someone not easily bullied then it is extremely difficult to follow the otherwise very good advice in some of the posts above.

They all contain good advice, but it is so very difficult to break character and act with confidence and inner power, when you feel like you are being bullied and pushed around. So I understand the way you acted quite well.

Choose your battles - and leave those that you are not in a position to win. That is what you did, and I think it was wise. I am just happy that you kept on practicing Aikido, and once you feel you gain the strength and you have pondered this enough - then maybe you can go back to hombu and act in a manner that will no longer make this person feel that you are easily pushed around.

I hope the best for you. There are a few people out there that dosen't really act like I believe a good aikido ka should do. Don't let them ruin it for you.



06-17-2013, 02:52 PM
Here's my two cents.

There are a great many unknowns in this situation, and the greatest area of unknown is the motivation and mindset of the bully - you could speculate about these and get it pretty far wrong, so I'd skip it unless you're interested in an abstract discussion about bullying (with limited practical application to your situation). One thing I'd bet on, though, is that the bully does not expect you to respond as if to an act of aggression. She's playing a game in which you're supposed to pretend that the shove was accidental (in which case, why not apologize?) and that the on-mat behavior is a sempai sincerely trying to help. When the dojo is complicit in this, as I see it, you basically have two choices:

1. Treat an aggressive act as an aggressive act. When shoved, stop telling yourself, "Oh, maybe it didn't happen," or "Oh, no one's going to help me." Help yourself. It's easy to defeat a cheap-shot shove, and if you've spent time on the subway, you know how to set yourself so that the shover is the one who gets rocked.

2. Become a master at not showing any visible disturbance at the behavior. If she shoves you in the dressing room, act like you tripped over a bag instead. If she's an animal on the mat, get up one more time than she throws you, every time. Never let her see you rubbing a shoulder or holding a wrist. Don't try to brainwash yourself into believing any stupid crap about how this is "good training" - it isn't, it's garbage - but don't show any outward sign of distress, ever.

And, ya know what? To hell with aikido as a solution. Sorry, but it's a copout to tell a brand new student to solve a bullying problem by using tools that they're just starting to learn and that the bully has ample experience with. To hell with that. Use whatever tools you've got. If, that is, you decide it's worth it.

06-17-2013, 08:29 PM
And, ya know what? To hell with aikido as a solution. Sorry, but it's a copout to tell a brand new student to solve a bullying problem by using tools that they're just starting to learn and that the bully has ample experience with. To hell with that. Use whatever tools you've got. If, that is, you decide it's worth it.

Amen ;)

06-18-2013, 10:26 AM
As a beginner I would:
- Either report it to some of the experienced students
- Or change dojo straight away

Knowing myself I would have just changed the dojo.

I understand some of the older sensei could have used some similar behavior to teach something to his/her students, but there are different ways and different approaches also considering a situation with a multicultural environments with people from other continents. :)


James Sawers
06-18-2013, 03:25 PM
I've read all the suggestions with interest and I tend to feel that most everyone is trying hard to be "aikido" in their responses. I'm not a great "believer" in violence, but it has its place. My experience is that bullies do not respond to logic or reason. If they did they would not be bullies. They need to be stopped, period. Lyle and Mary had some of the most direct suggestions, which I agree with, but would add this: If confronted with a bully you need to stop the process cold. That means verbally letting them know what they are doing is unacceptable and if that doesn't work, then you need to get physical. You don't have to win, but you must be willing to oppose this kind of behavior. Bullies are afraid of people who fight back. If you are not willing to get into a scrap with someone, then perhaps the martial arts is not for you.

Michael Hackett
06-18-2013, 05:20 PM
Bullies generally won't challenge anyone they perceive as being willing and able to defend himself. They seek out those they think are weaker and unlikely to fight back. When they find someone who will fight back, they tend to move on to another victim. If the victim takes his pound of flesh, it is rare for the bully to bother him in the future. The victim may get his fanny kicked once, but won't have to continue to suffer the fear and humiliation a bully can bring to the table.
Amdur Sensei's response to on-the-mat bullies is excellent and a whole different dynamic. If you can't adequately defend and protect yourself from a mat bully, it is far wiser to do just as he suggested.

06-20-2013, 12:45 AM
A big thank you to everyone for the thoughtful responses. I was hesitant to post this at first, but now it's clear a lot of people have thought about this subject and have insight and experience to share.

I think some of you are right in that I was probably too timid in the situation and could have stood up for myself better. At the time I was in a new position and didn't know if this was part of the accepted behavior at the dojo. The woman is a black belt and had obviously been at the dojo for a while. As several people pointed out, bullying can be seen as "training." I didn't know whether kicking up a ruckus would make more people start pushing me around as a punishment. I also didn't want to cause problems as a newcomer. Since I've lived in Japan for a few years, I've seen that sometimes things for foreigners get filed under "doesn't understand the culture" and then swept under the carpet.

Now I know that I probably had some polite or discreet options available rather than quitting the dojo completely. The dojo I am now at is small but everyone is very nice and helpful, and the sensei is very patient with my floundering around! If I had continued going to Shinjuku, the experience may have soured me on aikido. It is also only 15 minutes from our house, whereas the Hombu dojo is almost an hour away. So I don't regret changing dojos in the least.

As for the woman, my limited understanding is that she bullies people who she feels threatens her position with her favorite sensei(s)? Like bullying the young student of the sensei. But I was clearly never a threat to her so I'll probably never understand why she targeted me. I did wonder whether she bullies others and they just don't realize it.

Thank you again for the thoughts and advice. It is really nice to know support is out there!

06-20-2013, 02:00 AM
Should have dosen't matter. We always do the best we can in any given situation - so did you. It's okay to ponder on how a situation could have been handled differently, but don't beat yourself up. Just be happy you found a way to stay in Aikido. I am. The more the merrier :)

Have a great day