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Kevin Wilbanks 08-05-2002 10:33 PM

Communication and attitude out in the wilds.
I have recently run into a difficult situation, and I'm interested in opinions or relevant stories (warning - this is long).

I practice at a small University club in which there really is no 'Sensei'. I am fairly new to the group - 5 years of consistent training experience at a thriving dojo, but only 3rd kyu rank (I was stubborn about testing for long periods). There are only 2 others at the club at roughly 'peer' level - 1st and 2nd kyu, with around 7 years club experience + some seminars. The other dozen or so students are all 4th kyu or less, with less than 2 years club experience. We have one black belt, who teaches once per week, but is not really the group leader, or, from what I can see, actively training himself, outside teaching the one class per week.

Anyway, to summarize, issues of authority are rather nebulous in our group. Up until recently, I thought it was such a small and tight group that this would not pose any difficulties. However, one of the the junior students has started to behave in a disrespectful, rude, and incommunicative way towards me, and I'm having difficulty figuring out how to handle it.

On the first occasion, when I suggested to him that his distal hand placement during a shomenuchi gokyo practice was backwards (ikkyo), he insistently disagreed. He refused to continue training until the senior student leading the class settled the dispute - he even called her name across the mat. This is actually one of the rudest incidents I have ever witnessed in terms of proper 'dojo manners'.

During the next class, he tried to prevent me from warming up the class when the senior student was late. Then, when I was practicing with him, I did a standing pin on him from Ikkyo. He cringed and gasped in pain. His wrist was injured, yet it was not taped - despite the fact that both I and the senior student had advised him to tape such problems as a signal to partners on several occasions in the past. I apologized for causing pain nonetheless, but when he got up, he made a vitriolic comment about how my pin was not the demonstrated one.

Anyway, it seems relations are deteriorating. I didn't get a chance to talk to him after, but I sent him an email asking him to explain his animosity towards me, and get things out in the open, as opposed to playing passive-agressive games, which tend to throw a pall over practice. I related that from my past experiences, the kind of goading he was engaging in could incite a training partner to engage in punishing behavior, although I would not. I think I phrased it clearly enough that it would not be perceived as a veiled threat. No response.

So, that's the story. I'm just curious as to what attitude or approach others might take to such a situation, or if others have had similar experiences. If there were a clear leader/Sensei, or authority structure, there would be an obvious solution. In my view, he needs some serious schooling in proper budo manners, but I don't really think I have the authority to administer it.

If it were a less harmonious art, it would be acceptable to use physical means to induce him to either show some more emotional control and respect, or quit. There must be a more Aikido way.

I suppose I could just ignore it, let it go on or escalate, and focus on not letting it interfere with my training mindset, but that sounds more Gandhi than Ueshiba... I talked to another junior student, and he said that he has had some problems with this guy's attitude, and deliberately uses 'kid gloves' when training with him, to avoid conflict. This doesn't sound like a good solution to me.


guest1234 08-05-2002 11:11 PM

How about not 'teaching' when you are not the teacher? I'm not a big fan of this type of behavior, anyway (for the record, THAT was considered EXTREMELY rude and unacceptible behavior at my first dojo, the only one talking on the mat was Sensei), and you obviously are not a welcome addition to this student's progress. How about just letting him learn the technique in his own way, and trust the instructor to correct his technique when needed, unless and until the instructor tells you that you should be instructing.

Your role as uke is to give good honest attacks so your partner can practice the demonstrated technique. That's what I would focus on were I you.

You don't mention how new you are in relation to the junior ranked student, but you did say you were relatively new...could it be that you are actually violating some of the dojo rules without knowing it (eg who leads warm ups for instance...perhaps the university will not allow classes to start without the instructor present).

Just the opposite side of the coin to consider. If you can honestly say that none of the above applies, and that that standing 'ikkyo' pin that was not demonstrated was somehow needed then and not some sort of relatiation (again, doing something other than what was shown was major rude in my first dojo), then try discussing it in person rather than email.

Kevin Wilbanks 08-05-2002 11:43 PM

At my old school, 'teaching' or talking on the mat when not the class leader was frowned upon and discouraged. Here, it's necessary and generally encouraged.

I don't think you have quite grasped the lack of enormity of the situation: there is no dojo, this is wrestling mats in a raquetball court.

In terms of warmups, the senior student explicitly told me that she preferred someone, including me, to start warmups on time. On time is the priority.

I'm curious about your views. You think it is more rude for someone with 5 years experience to correct a beginner's hand position (who is obviously hesitating and showing confusion) than for the beginner to halt training, call 'hey sensei' across the mat, and insist on trying to prove the more experienced student wrong on such an elementary point?

As far as the 'not demonstrated' point - is this generally considered as some sort of egregious offense? If I'm concentrating on the initial part of the technique, and I just use whatever pin feels natural at the end, is it really a beginner's job to disdainfully and obliquely correct me?

As far as the email issue goes, I agree that in-person is better, but he disappeared at the end of the class. I emailed right when I got home - it seemed the most immediate and direct option. Even if using email is some sort of faux pas, what is ignoring the email?

If my behaviors are wrong in the context of the dojo, I have no problem with learning and adapting. However, I expect to be communicated with directly and respectfully, at least. My impression is that this student may have formed his own idiosyncratic ideas of what is proper and has taken to expressing his disapproval in very strange ways. Another possibility is that I have inadvertantly done something to offend, hurt, or insult him, but because he refuses to communicate, I have no idea what it might be.

Deb Fisher 08-05-2002 11:50 PM

Colleen, you're right if this is a regular dojo situation, but as Kevin describes it there is no sensei and often no instructor. This does muddy the waters, and I think this is what Kevin is wanting feedback about.

I don't have enough dojo experience to have an opinion about what to do dojo-wise. But on a personal level, it seems important to honor the informal, club atmosphere when dealing with this guy. By sticking to the social context that exists and remaining friendly and peer-to-peer, it might be easier to get your message across to someone who sounds like he may be acting defensively.

I guess just on a human level, when someone is getting defensive with me, the first thing I do is check myself: Am I being too intense or bossy? Am I not giving the other person an opportunity to be a decent human to me? Coming down to the level on which things are actually happening (rather than the level that things 'should' be happening), being self-deprecating and momentarily siding with the other person - being empathic - often works. Because sometimes I can be too hard to create a real dialogue.

Aikido is hard and frustrating. Maybe it would work to 'blend' with this guy's angst, rather than correct or oppose it?

These are just observations that are taken from my teaching experience - I don't know anything about making this aikido-specific, especially in this freaky club context that I have never really encountered.

There's your advice, along with the big grain of salt. Good luck, sounds like a lame situation.


Kevin Wilbanks 08-06-2002 12:10 AM


Thanks. You're right. If it wasn't such a rinky-dink club training situation, these incidents probably wouldn't even show up on radar. I'll try to find a way to develop some empathy for his point of view, but it's very difficult. He seems to be in this petulant, tantrum-prone psychological space that is very difficult for me to relate to. Especially since, contrary to C's insinuations, any kind of anger, retribution, or antagonism is completely foreign to my way of being on the mat - which is why these behaviors seemed so out of the blue and had such a negative effect on me. To me, cranking on someone during practice to indulge some kind of resentment or sadism is an unthinkable pollution of what I'm doing. If I somehow got so angry and bent on getting into a physical altercation with a fellow student that I couldn't restrain myself, I would confront them off dojo property, and Aikido techniques would not be the first to be used. It seems hard to imagine that anything would ever go that far though... and I've had a guy physically threaten and taunt me on the mat before.

Deb Fisher 08-06-2002 12:43 AM

Hey Kevin,

This is more not-very-informed, but very honest reaction: It sounds like you feel much, much more comfortable with physical conflict than most (also reading this from other posts... aren't you the guy who got set on fire?).

Physical conflict is *not* customary in our culture, and it freaks people out. He's a beginner. He probably doesn't feel the same way about physical conflict that you do. You are so comfortable - not just with the nature of conflict, but with the syntax and grammar of it. You are capable of controlling yourself within it on the mat, you understand how a physical conflict unfolds.

Most people don't feel this way. I had a lot of trouble with this when I was a beginner - I thought people were always mad at me, I was raised to take the conflict very personally. It took me awhile to get really comfortable with physical conflict, and even now weird things unfold that surprise me and really piss me off or scare me, and I have to work hard to control myself and the situation, to not escalate.

I don't know whether that's happening with your friend, I am just taking a stab at what you've presented. I still sometimes have a hard time relating to the more agressive guys on the mat. They speak a different language that can make me feel stupid and weak. And well, as a woman, I am made to feel that way often and can handle it with some grace. If I were a man who were having the same feelings, in our culture, I might lash out.

Blah, blah. Enough talking about things I know not of...


Kevin Wilbanks 08-06-2002 12:58 AM

No, I wasn't the one who was set on fire. You may be right about the beginner thing. The possibility that I have been inadvertantly smacking him around is definite. In general, I think I default towards being too soft and nice as nage, and too cooperative as uke, but you never know. I am very comfortable with the physcial aspect of what's going on during training, and am not worried about getting hurt. Conflict-wise, though, I'm not very comfortable. I tend to get pretty emotionally frazzled during unpleasant confrontations of any type - although I don't show it. Thanks for the input. I wasn't really expecting any magic answers or psychic insights from this, and I realize that it isn't a major long-term life issue or anything. It's just that I'm in a new city and don't have any Aikido pals to listen to me piss and moan at present.


ian 08-06-2002 06:01 AM

I can sympathise with you to an extent - any small club which is not strongly established will have its probelms; and any characters who behave inapprpriately will have a larger influence over a smaller club.

Have you thought of setting up a proper organisational system? Have the instructor as the chairman to start off with. Have monthly meetings, with a proper itinerary, and discuss problems. You need to make sure;

i. there is someone in authority who is responsible for everyone else

ii. there is someone who deals with the administration (mats, money, advertising)

ii. that you encourage new people into the club

If you don't sort this out it's likely training will just degenerate. In terms of authority, you should have insurance, and in the UK the instructor has to have their own insurance - ultimately the instructor is responsible for any injuries or deaths on the mat. If the instructor is not always there you need to get additional insurance for another instructor (who is then responsible).

All authority defers to them, since they will be the ones in prison for negligence. Don't forget; aikido techniques can and do kill people. Hope this helps,


Genex 08-06-2002 09:02 AM

i think having someone reprisenting an instructor is a very good idea although i must say at our club which on a thursday we do have an instructor and on a monday we dont, we do tend to help each other out and talk about the moves, sometimes advice sometimes criticism and its all taken well, for instance my friend was doing Nikkyo on me and wasnt getting the twist right so i'm like

No no point my hand towards my forehead AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH...yeah thats it!

we help each other, some ppl may not be open to this i guess but when your a small club you kinda help each other to perfect technique n stuff

you could always confront them face to face and just ask "hey man what have i done?"

if he's offensive then what the hell is he doing learning Aikido then? show him to the nearest Karate club ;)


Bruce Baker 08-06-2002 09:25 AM

Way of Harmony
Guess what?

You have come across a lesson in learning to find the harmony of the universe, and finding the true way for yourself.

When your good intentions fail, as in trying to share what you have learned and you are not the instructor of a class, don't share what is not accepted freely. Practice your practice with each partner and move on.

As for overdoing a pin or a technique when an injury is present on your training partner, I would make sure that everyone in the dojo is reminded to tell their training partners of said injurys and not rely on taped or obvious supports for injured areas. Trying to train at full capacity with an injury is not only childish, but dangerous to both partners as pain can send some people into condition red ... an animal rage that knows no pain. (that is another story)

Whoever is in charge, whether it is by concensus or a black belt who supervises, sometimes if there is a conflict it must be brought into the open and settled.

The other thing about cranking down on your training partner .... sensitivity. Sensitivity is very difficult to master. Feeling the taughtness of your partners limbs, body, or their balance in not only awareness, but sensitivity. You might have to steel yourself to not say anything during practice, but work on your clearing of the mind during practice also.

The most difficult part about growing old is learning how to separate the emotions that cloud your thoughts to those that enhance your awareness. It takes practice, and sometimes it takes many years if you do not understand the difference between the two.

Step back. Take a new look at what has happened. See the situation not from emotional attachment, but with the clear mind that understands.

When words are not accepted, then crank the wise ass down and speak your peace calmly, succinctly. At this time, I usually give my little speach about how they can do whatever they want away from my presence, but in my presence I would have respect. Besides, it would be to their advantage to have me as an ally not a foe.

At least you wil have tried to smooth it over by all other means, before having a little talk when all else has failed. (this is only used when you can not walk away, and must maintain contact with the offensive individual.)

SeiserL 08-06-2002 10:15 AM

IMHO, there is a good reason for structure and organization. There is a need to have a clear leader and guidelines for instruction. Without them, you may be training together, but there is to rules to say someome was rude.

You may have a power struggle with certain individuals that may be of your making, of thier making, or just a lack of blending between the two of you.

At our Dojo (Tenshinkai Aikido under Sensei Phong), we as higher belts are encouraged to assist the lower belts and correct errors we see. This is what "big brothers" do in a family. Its not taking over the "father's" positiion of power. Many of the higher belts almost did "tag team" teacher when I started because there were so few lower belts. They told me to pay them back by helping others as I advanced. Its like practicing the pinciples in our relations, not just our actions on the mat.

Your "club" may need to sit down and have a "family meeting."

Until again,


Erik 08-06-2002 12:04 PM

A few thoughts.

Rank is not always right.

Dojo conflicts happen with or without rules and regulations.

Conflict is often good.

I've seen environments where it became, "I'm senior and I'm right!" Nothing changes. At least in this case you have a clear conflict to work with. I'd just open things up for discussion with the guy, which you've done, listen, and see what happens. I wouldn't chastize or chew him out either, well, to be honest I might, but it's not the advice I'd give and it wouldn't be my best work.

DaveO 08-06-2002 05:05 PM

I have to back up Lynn here; but I'm going to go further. It sounds to me like you're taking charge in the absence of a leader, and the junior student is resisting. This is a classic example of breakdown due to lack of leadership, not necessarily personality. You said "If there were a clear leader/Sensei, or authority structure, there would be an obvious solution". If there were a clear leader, the problem likely wouldn't have occurred in the first place.

My advice would be this: set up a meeting with your 'peers' - the other 2 senior students. Decide amongst yourselves who is in charge - it should be the most senior, but if they can't or won't, someone must. You could, I suppose, ask the black-belt that comes in weekly to help, but he/she isn't there all the time, he doesn't know the personalities involved as well as you yourselves do.

This sounds like a side problem, that the main problem is one student's attitude. In fact, it is not - the student's attitude is an effect, not a cause. He feels in his own mind that you, who have taken leadership upon yourself, are not suitable as a leader/instructor and therefore refuses to accept your leadership/instruction. With the leadership organized, he wouldn't have the option, he would be required to accept, or find another dojo. If that sounds harsh, too bad - no school worth the money paid lets the student elect his leader/teacher. That's the real issue here.

Hope this helps.


Kevin Leavitt 08-06-2002 08:17 PM

Agree with Lynn, who the hell is in charge?

Been in that situation before. I can somewhat relate to your issue. Been training martially for about 10 years. I consider myself a decent, experience martial artist.

Aikido since 1996...but only about 2nd Kyu. I probably do as well as some shodans, other I don't. Just never cared about testing. (still don't to be honest!) But I also don't expect to be looked at as any authority either.

And yes, it is hard to sit back and shutup sometimes especially when you know in your heart you are right!

I quit studying several years ago, when we had an instructor change over. I had a hard time adjusting to the new instructor. He is good, but different...and I didn't always agree.

In my situation I had a clear leader. Two choice. Shut up and study or quit. I choose to quit until I could figure out what I needed to do.

Both me and the instructor were correct. No right or wrong. just differences. But I was wrong to stay if I could not change my attitude.

Who lost? I did...two years of training due to my ego.

I am now back studying with him. (by the way I always respected him and his years of study). I am a changed person in many respects.

I recommend that you guys figure out who is in charge first. Then if it is you great. If not, then you need to accept the new authority and train or move on. Life is too short and egos are too long to get in the way of good aikido!

Kevin Wilbanks 08-06-2002 08:50 PM

Thanks everyone. I think the jist of these last replies is correct. The real problem is the overall situation and the fact that I want to get more out of it than it really has to offer. I want to study Aikido. This club is the best group in town. However, my old dojo was run by two 5th dans, had 70-some students, many of which were much more experienced than me. In short, I've been spoiled.

It is difficult to watch techniques being demonstrated in ways that I was previously taught as seriously in error, and to have only a very minimal amount of training time with ukes that allow for more intense, dynamic training. I have been feeling a pull toward training in other arts taught at a local dojo that has legit teachers and committed students (JKD, Kali, BJJ), even though the arts themselves are less appealing to me. It's a dilemma.


Kevin Leavitt 08-06-2002 09:00 PM


Definitely know how you feel. As I stated above, I went almost exactly through the same situation!

While it is important to cooperate and harmonize and all is important to remember that you ultimately are there to take care of yourself. If it is not cutting it...finding a new home that will help you grow may be the best thing!

On another note...if you are truly good at aikido...give it some time....they will figure it out and turn toward you.

I know all too well exactly where you are coming from!

Kevin Wilbanks 08-06-2002 10:32 PM

I'm beginning to think that the situation is so half-assed that remaining connected to it is only going to end up as a means of tormenting myself. I have tried to arrange for open training time, and/or an advanced training time just for the 3 of us who could do it, or even just one-on-one time. Unfortunately, neither is very receptive, for different reasons. The black belt's style is very hard and mechanical and he doesn't even train anymore, he just teaches once per week.

Waiting around for people to gravitate toward deferring to me doesn't really seem desireable either. I'm good on some of the fundamental principles, but I'm not good enough to legitimately teach... unfortunately, none of us really are, and there's the rub. Even if I thought it would benefit the others, it's not really what I should be doing. I should be tending to my own training.

If I really want to teach, I can teach fitness classes or do personal training for money, and I'm actually qualified to do it. The trouble with my other martial art options is that they just don't seem to have the aesthetic beauty or philosophical depth of a budo like Aikido, and I doubt they'll contain anything as fun as ukemi.

John Bernhard 08-08-2002 08:19 PM

Hey Kevin W,

When you said you trained with two 5th dans, are you refering to Hooker and Doc Jones Sensei's in Orlando by chance. As for the club situation. I can COMPLETELY feel where your comming from. We made a dojo structure, and heres how we did it. We had a President, Vice President, etc. (These people were elected from with in the student body in the dojo) These guys RAN the dojo, they may have not been the highest ranking but they ran the dojo. They made sure stuff was there, they settled disputes with students when it was a personal type matter, and the person teaching settled disputes with technique. If you are the more senior of the two (uke/nage) we always did it as the more senior was correct. As a senior student you are supposed to help Uke learn when the techniqe is being done wrong or could be done better. As for this guy whos causing the problem, you need to ask all the other students if they have been experiencing the same problem, if so, ask them for a meeting about this, and decide what to do. Tell him to knock it off, or ask him to leave. You are the controlers of the club as you are the students so you have the power to do with the club as you wish. IN our club becuase of university rules the President of the club had the highest amoutn of authority even more so than the Sensei or the Faculty advisor as far as the University was concerned. As far as who taught that night it was the person who had the most time in Aikido. If you are both 2kyu's one has 5 years and the other has 3, the 5yr 2nd Kyu taught with us. I would also recommend talking to one of your old instructors about what he/she would do. There is nothing better for insight than someone who knows you as a person. And I'm sure that if your sensei's got to the rank of 5th dan, then they ahve run across this once or twice. Best of luck. Later

Kevin Wilbanks 08-08-2002 10:16 PM

No, my prior senseis were John Stone and Robin Cooper, in Madison, WI.

Thanks for the assistance, but I think the dilemma is solved for the time being. We had a class a couple of days ago that was just too lame - it was the straw that broke the camel's back. There was some weapons practice and the demo was so sloppy and had so many rudimentary problems that I couldn't take it. In demos, I've seen too many grabbed punches, looking down, stiffness, etc... The membership of the club is unfit, uncommitted, and no one there, including me, should really be teaching classes regularly... it's like playing at Aikido... The bottom line is that it's just an unacceptable situation for me, and I have to face up to it.

I probably won't be in this city for more than 2 years, then I can move wherever I want. In the meantime, I'm going to give JKD and BJJ an earnest try - these arts have a much different spirit, and a huge array of techniques, ranges, and strategies that are unfamiliar to me. I get to be a beginner again. And, there is nothing half-assed about this school, its instructors, or students.

I think I have to just let go of Aikido. If a worthwhile situation presents itself later, so be it - if not, so be it.

paw 08-09-2002 08:02 AM


Thanks for the assistance, but I think the dilemma is solved for the time being.... The bottom line is that it's just an unacceptable situation for me, and I have to face up to it.
Sorry to hear that.

I'm going to give JKD and BJJ an earnest try - these arts have a much different spirit, and a huge array of techniques, ranges, and strategies that are unfamiliar to me.
Well, then...welcome to the dark side! ;) Out of curiousity, who are you going to be training with?

Warm Regards,


JPT 08-09-2002 06:27 PM

I have been on both ends of the experience of being corrected too much & correcting somebody else too much. Both incidents ended with a short sharp word to each other but no lasting damage to friendship. Its not always easy to keep your mouth shut when you can see so many things wrong, but it best to correct only one or two things and let Nage figure it for themselves or you just end up annoy people.

As for the hand grip well as the expression goes "there is more than one way to skin a cat" So it is possible that it could be a valid way of doing the technique. I've seen alot of differences in hand grips (& techniques) over the years none are really incorrect just some suit my body better than others.

Something to bear in mind is that perhaps he has some problems off the mat. Its not always easy to leave the day to day problems of life behind, he might be having a bad day/week/year.

I believe that either yourself or the other 2 guys would have enough experience to run the Dojo. While your techniques may not be brillant you still know enough to teach the others & should still be able to improve by learning as you teach, or working with each other & discovering things for yourself.

Finally you might want to try and persude a few guest instructors to come down on a regular basis, you never know you might be lucky even if they do live quite far away.

:triangle: :square: :circle:

p.s. Do the JKD & BJJ as well !
p.p.s. Out of curosity I just check the Dojo search there are 4 Aikido clubs in Jacksonville maybe you could train at one of the others instead ?

Kevin Wilbanks 08-09-2002 06:47 PM

Hey Paul,

The BJJ guy is named Lionel Perez, under one of the Gracies, but it will probably be a month before I get into that.

The JKD is headed by Lee Peacock, who is definitely for real. He is the chief fight instructor for the Jacksonville Police, an NHB tournament fighter, and his JKD/Kali credentials come directly from Inosanto. He also teaches a Vale Tudo/NHB class for serious tournament fighters which I will NOT be attending, thank you. Right now I'm avoiding the Kali, as I don't want to learn a bunch of complicated partnered weapons forms only to move away and have no one to continue with - been there, done that.

Are you still doing the same stuff up in Madison?


If you are talking about the ikkyo/gokkyo issue, it is not a matter of opinion or interpretation. In an elbow control, if the distal grip is overhand/pronated, it's ikkyo, and if the grip is underhand/supinated, it's gokkyo.

If you are referring to grabbing punches, or any strike in Aikido for that matter, this is also not a matter of opinion - grabbing is wrong. It's not possible to grab for strikes and keep a broad, open awareness, as you have to look where you are grabbing, which shrinks your field of awareness to a tiny little area about the size of a hand. Strikes should be met with tegatana/forearms and guided with musubi before grabbing, and the field of awareness should be many times larger - encompassing the whole uke at least.

paw 08-10-2002 06:04 AM


We moved to Milwaukee, but yeah, still doing the same stuff.

Take Care,


JPT 08-10-2002 04:12 PM

Sorry I misread your post about ikkyo/gokyu grip thing, you are correct. Too many late nights is my only excuse!!!

:triangle: :square: :circle:

giriasis 08-11-2002 05:34 PM

Kevin I know that there is an USAF-East dojo in Jacksonville. I have trained with some of those folks at seminars (I train with Peter Bernath in Ft. Lauderdale). Their aikido is pretty good from my standpoint. They might not be exactly what you want, but you could try training with them for the time being. At least you will have senior instructors to work with at an established dojo.

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