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Unwanted 02-23-2013 03:18 AM

No-one wants to practice with me
 
I practiced aikido for 6 years as a teenager/young adult. A few months ago, after spending 4 years off the mat and moving to another city, I decided to start it again. I've found the art itself fascinating, but I'm discouraged by the fact that no-one in my club wants to practice with me. When it's time to choose your partner, everyone turns away from me and tries to bow to someone else. When I try to be fast, the others are usually faster or pretend that they don't notice me (sometimes it's so obvious that it makes me want to cry). So, over 90% of the time I'm the last one who gets a partner and when there's an odd amount of us, I have to join an already-formed pair.

At first I didn't understand it at all. Why did everyone avoid me? What was wrong with me? Then I started to notice a pattern: In this club people just want to practice with their own friends, those they get well along with off the mat. For example, "Tom", "John" and "Sam" are very good friends and maybe 80-90% of the time two of them practice together. "Tom" also likes to practice with "Bob", but I don't think I've ever seen him practicing with "Dan" or "Steve". Situations like that are common in this club, so I'm probably avoided just because I don't have any friends there. Unfortunately I have social anxiety disorder (kind of an extreme form of shyness) and I'm unable to join group conversations even if I want to.

I'm going to quit aikido. I'd really love to learn more about the art, but there are no other aikido clubs in the area and being rejected all the time... It hurts. Sure, I understand it's nicer to practice with a good friend than a relative stranger, but doesn't any one of them ever stop to think about how it makes the others feel? Has anyone even noticed that I'm almost always the last one without a pair, or are they all too busy having fun with their friends to pay attention to such things?

In my previous aikido club we were always encouraged to practice with as many different people as possible, including those we didn't get especially well along with. Our sensei kept saying that it makes wonders for your technique and personal growth. I don't know if it was really true, but I do know that that's the kind of an environment where I want to practice. So, I'm trying to find another art, one I can practice without feeling constantly unwanted. I've already visited a few other dojos and the last one looked promising. I hope I'll have better luck there.

robin_jet_alt 02-23-2013 04:47 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
That does not sound like a good situation, and I don't blame you for wanting to leave. I hope you find a better dojo for whichever art you choose.

Ellis Amdur 02-23-2013 05:41 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Don't quit. Seriously. I don't know your age, your sex, your race - it may be bigotry. Maybe you are unskilled. Maybe you are too strong. Maybe you aren't part of the group, like you say.

But none of that is aikido. None of that is budo. Until you find a more congenial community, practice. You say you love aikido. What is it? People simulate attacks (uke) and you learn to deal with it. People put sometimes painful techniques on you and you learn to divert the force/pain with good ukemi, or even reverse it.

You have a dojo full of uke and in addition to nikkyo, you'll be learning keeping dignity. Maybe they'll come around, maybe they won't. But dignity is its own reward. Friendship is merely good fortune.

Keep practicing.

Ellis Amdur

Graham Farquhar 02-23-2013 06:30 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Great post from Ellis! Please bear this in mind! It happens it's not Aikido it's human nature. Deal with that and you will get more from your Aikido. See it as a test one that only you can win over! Would O Sensei have thrown in the towel and given up? Some of us have been there with people who don't want to practice with you but persevere it will change!

Persona Non Grata 02-23-2013 07:23 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Ah, "Unwanted," there went I, back in my earlier days of training when I was shy and unsure. Whenever it came time to pick or change partners, my inner Insecure Self went through its usual turmoil of angst. Somehow, I felt that the others were all friendly with one another, and no one would want to train with inexperienced, mediocre me. It became a self fulfilling prophecy as I began to simply lower my eyes and walk toward someone in hopes that he or she would let me connect.

Some years and a school switch later, I have a lot more confidence in my "worth as a practice partner." If I see people training with the same small coterie of partners, I use my more senior status to break up the pack and interject myself into them. I'll say something like, "Mind if I cut in? You've danced with him (or her) long enough, depriving the rest of us love lorn aikidoka of a chance."

Of course. when you're a newcomer you don't have the benefit of rank or time-in to pull off that kind of thing, but you could try using a similar vein of gentle humor to make your entry into a cliquish group. It's hard to believe that your dojo mates don't realize that you're getting the brush-off. Make them smile and they will probably let you in.

And don't make the mistake I did in my early days, of lowering your gaze and acting like a wallflower. That will just result in your continued wallflowerdom. Play "chicken." Make eye contact like a pedestrian triple-dog-daring the oncoming driver to mow you down in the crosswalk. Then hold out your hands and gently pull your mark into the dance.

petebreeland 02-24-2013 01:40 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Have you considered talking to either the sempai or the instructor after class or before class. (when you speak with the instructor or the senior student, please don't name or point out people.) Most instructors are instructing because they want to make aikido more accessible - not because they want to only train with a few friends. please persevere at least awhile longer.

Adam Huss 02-24-2013 09:07 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
To start,

seniors should be mingling with the junior students throughout class. I, along with many of my friends, are guilty of pairing up...particularly if its a robust technique...to train with each other based on each other's knowledge about how hard we like to train. Its a joy to be able to go 'all-out,' at least for me, because its not always possible every class.

With that, the more mature attitude (on the part of the senpai) is to ensure students are paired up with peers being reviewed by seniors, or paired with seniors. Whenever I am training with a friend and see a couple white belts struggling to get through a technique I feel really bad and run over to help. Sometimes it just happens and its not always personal.

However, the physical aspect of aikido, whether its self-defense or fitness, is a small part of the benefit of training in budo. Overcoming negative aspects of yourself; fear, selfishness, lack of empathy, can all be trained in budo. With that, realize others reflect back what you put out there. If you are shy and awkward interacting with people, then its likely those people will feel awkward interacting with you...though your seniors should be used to shy and awkward people in the dojo and know how to bring them along. If you don't feel comfortable interacting with others....fake it. Your brain doesn't know the difference and you can develop recruitment patterns that will eventually hardwire you to feel more comfortable around others. One homework assignment for an advanced aikido class in our dojo is to go out to strangers, give them a big ole grin, extend your hand and ask them how they are doing. More often than not, if you are genuine, they will respond in kind. If they shirk you off, it doesn't matter. Like bowing, you are putting yourself out there, extending positive energy toward that person. That is your training and its already benefitted you. If they shirk you off, that is their loss, not yours. Its a good exercise. Think about it, if someone approaches you like that, you will probably, without knowing it, have a silly grin on your face, shake that persons hand, and feel good around that person. Conversely, if someone at the dojo comes up to you and asks how you are, and you respond by complaining, or hanging your head and mumbling, not making eye contact, that person won't want to interact with you much longer. But anyway, this is getting longer than intended and I am loosing my train of thought. Point is, if you put positive energy out there you will eventually get it back. And, if you conduct this training and you no longer are nervous around others and don't mind getting rejected occasionally, well that's way more beneficial training than learning a pin or throw.

Hope it works out!

Hellis 02-24-2013 09:41 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Hi
If this selection problem has been going on for several months ? then I doubt it will change anytime soon. I am surprised your Sensei has not noticed – or maybe he has, and chooses to ignore the problem. Your problem is a much wider one than you may imagine. I have seen these `aiki-friends` attend large seminars where they should enjoy meeting and practising with many new people, they don’t, they still practice with `their aiki-friends`.
I hope you do not give up on Aikido, but you need to move from this dojo.

Henry Ellis
Co-author of `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Peter Wong 02-24-2013 09:59 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
I know the feeling well. I would if I could find another dojo or art where the students are helpful and friendly. I learn best when I'm in a comfortable environment
Good Luck!

Cady Goldfield 02-24-2013 10:46 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
I like the "round-robin" tradition where the group forms two facing lines, you train with the person facing you, then everybody moves down one and trains with the next person facing them. No choosing, just train.

In a regular day-to-day dojo enivironment, the choose-your-partner concept is reminiscent of those miserable phys-ed classes in junior high school and high school, where the designated outcast always found him/herself being the leftover when the appointed "captains" were allowed to pick their team. Some might say it's how kids learn about "life" and the law of the jungle, but I find it loathesome.

Michael Douglas 02-24-2013 01:13 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Move on, ... find a place with better people.

Ellis Amdur 02-24-2013 02:44 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Michael - the OP wrote that there are no other aikido clubs in the area - hence the encouragement to keep training. I'm basing my perspective on my own experience - in Japan, as it happens. Some dojo I trained at were hostile to me, either as an outsider to the dojo or as a foreigner. In some cases, I stuck it out and became - eventually - a welcome member. In other cases, I did not - but in every case, I got stronger. With the exception of the rare case where someone tries to injure you (which was, more or less, my welcome in aikido as I write in Dueling with Osensei), it's more a matter of social unpleasantness.

So let's speculate the OP doesn't move for two years. In that time, they will be, if they really train hard, shodan level, and that's a much nicer skill level to start in a new dojo, that two years absencse and starting all over again.

Ellis Amdur

lbb 02-24-2013 04:22 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Quote:

Cady Goldfield wrote: (Post 323911)
In a regular day-to-day dojo enivironment, the choose-your-partner concept is reminiscent of those miserable phys-ed classes in junior high school and high school, where the designated outcast always found him/herself being the leftover when the appointed "captains" were allowed to pick their team. Some might say it's how kids learn about "life" and the law of the jungle, but I find it loathesome.

...except that we're adults. Right? Seriously, do you think this is typical in a "choose-your-partner" dojo? Adults can generally function without creating "designated outcasts" like a bunch of attitudinal tweens.

As OP describes this dojo, I don't think that removing the "choose your partner" option would make things any better. Sounds like a pretty broken place.

mathewjgano 02-24-2013 04:27 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
For what it's worth (and taking into consideration that I know almost nothing of the situation), I agree with the idea of viewing this as a part of your personal training. I've also dealt with social anxiety and in my own case, I've tended to shrink away from situations where I didn't feel completely welcome. It kept me from doing my best in many cases and formed a habit of retreating in the face of discomfort; which can be a bad habit to get into. In line with Ellis's point on dignity, it has been my experience that dignity (e.g. how I engage my own sense of personal worth) has been a big factor in my being able to not care what others think about me. I remind myself that I mean for only the best and that because of this, the people around me would be fortunate to have me around them...even if they don't know it yet. :D In my own case at least, this reminds me of what for me is at the heart of my sense of dignity and it creates a kind of mental space allowing me to focus on something else for a while, like figuring out ikkyo or what makes "Billy Bob" laugh or what have you.
I have to deal with it less today than in the past, but I still deal with it from time to time: it's part of my shugyo; my path of self-victory.
Breathe; relax; and try try again. Others' views of you are never so important as your own; enjoy yourself.
...That's how I try to approach it, at least. Good luck!
Gambatte!
Take care,
Matthew

Cady Goldfield 02-24-2013 04:46 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Quote:

Mary Malmros wrote: (Post 323920)
...except that we're adults. Right? Seriously, do you think this is typical in a "choose-your-partner" dojo? Adults can generally function without creating "designated outcasts" like a bunch of attitudinal tweens.

As OP describes this dojo, I don't think that removing the "choose your partner" option would make things any better. Sounds like a pretty broken place.

Yes, we're adults. And yet, I have seen this behavior at other dojos and was even subjected to it. Adults can act alarmingly like overgrown kids on the playground. Age does not necessarily correlate with maturity; insensitivity can last a lifetime. Adult cleverness just allows older folk to come up with pretty words and excuses to rationalize childish behavior.

I wasn't stating that this is how the OP's dojo should be run, nor did I say that the round-robin method of training will cure a dysfunctional dojo (and, I agree with you that the OP is describing a dysfunctional dojo), but it may instill civil behavior. These people apparently were not taught basic manners and inclusiveness as kids, and perhaps the rote "forcing" of civility will at least cause them to wear the veneer of civility.

But if the OP can find a better place to train, that would be the preferred option, in my opinion.

Mary Eastland 02-24-2013 05:45 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Have you spoke with the teacher about this?

I encourage people to pick a partner as part of their training. Assertiveness is the start of self defense. When I was excruciatingly shy I expected other people to know how I was feeling and do for me what I could do for myself.

If you quit Aikido, you can blame them but it will be your choice an your loss.

lbb 02-24-2013 07:03 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Quote:

Cady Goldfield wrote: (Post 323924)
Yes, we're adults. And yet, I have seen this behavior at other dojos and was even subjected to it. Adults can act alarmingly like overgrown kids on the playground.

Sure, they can, but (digression alert) do you think this is typical? I don't know myself, but I tend to think not. I'm pleased to see the advances that we're starting to make in recognizing bullying in adolescents and children for what it is, and I recognize that it's something that many adults dealt with as kids and then carried that pain into adulthood. Still and all, I'm sometimes a bit concerned at what I see as a new tendency to view so many behaviors through this filter. If the shoe fits, by all means wear it. If it doesn't, though, are we perhaps giving new life to old ghosts by viewing so many things as vestiges of kid bullying, instead of addressing the present reality?

Quote:

Cady Goldfield wrote: (Post 323924)
I wasn't stating that this is how the OP's dojo should be run, nor did I say that the round-robin method of training will cure a dysfunctional dojo (and, I agree with you that the OP is describing a dysfunctional dojo), but it may instill civil behavior. These people apparently were not taught basic manners and inclusiveness as kids, and perhaps the rote "forcing" of civility will at least cause them to wear the veneer of civility.

I agree, if they're seriously that childish, it's a place to start. A good stern one-on-one talking-to by sensei also seems in order. Honestly, I'm completely taken aback at the description of the situation. At my dojo, it's a pretty strong convention that you never train with anybody twice until you've trained with everybody at least once. We disregard this in some situations (for example, when there's a brand new newbie and only one person senior enough to train with them in a safe and helpful manner), but in general it's Just Not Done that you'd skip over someone to train twice with your "preferred" partner.

Cady Goldfield 02-24-2013 08:16 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Bullying behavior is not what I was postulating. More that these sound like insecure individuals who are also insensistive. They don't want to extend themselves to a new person, apparently preferring the unchallenging familiarity of each other. Seen it plenty in a variety of groups, ranging from children's summer recreation groups to senior citizens at a senior center! It's a human thing, not just an aikido or martial arts training thing.

Fortunately, there are plenty of schools where an atmosphere of sharing and mutualism is encouraged, and those tend to attract like-minded people with a positive attitude. Water seeks its own level.

Eric in Denver 02-24-2013 11:37 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Have you tried asking the other students or the instructor what is going on? No reason you have to be in the dark about this.

beenthere 02-25-2013 12:54 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
I have been through this and seen it happen many times. i think reasons can range from misunderstandings- being shy I know that sometimes I look so uncertain and withdrawn people figure I want to be left alone - to yes, really, no one or at least some people don't want to train with you, and they tell you so. from my experience, the best thing to do is make sure as much as you can you are communicating a desire to train and be friendly, try to avoid people on the mat who seriously won't train with you, and try to find people who do respond to you. if there isn't anyone today, there might be tomorrow. find someone even newer than you and reach out to them. or just wait. It will change.

That said, better to quit aikido than to struggle unsuccessfully with real bullying, which this behavior can be if its part of the dojo character. Sticking around to be abused is not good self defense. Its unusual for it to get that bad, but I have seen it. if you already have social anxiety, you really don't need that.

beenthere 02-25-2013 01:09 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
I have been through this and seen it happen many times. i think reasons can range from misunderstandings- being shy I know that sometimes I look so uncertain and withdrawn people figure I want to be left alone - to yes, really, no one or at least some people don't want to train with you, and they tell you so loudly. from my experience, the best thing to do is make sure as much as you can you are communicating a desire to train and be friendly, try to avoid people on the mat who seriously won't train with you, and try to focus people who do respond to you, even a little. if there isn't anyone glad to train with you today, there might be tomorrow. find someone even newer than you and reach out to them. or just wait. It will change. those guys might even get wise.

That said, better to quit aikido than to struggle unsuccessfully with real bullying, which this behavior can be if its part of the dojo character. Its unusual for it to get that bad, but I have seen it. if you already have social anxiety, you really don't need that. But usually this is just thoughtlessness or too narrow and possibly egotistical a perspective on the part of some students (often brown belts). that you can work with, it really isn't about you.

fulcrum 02-25-2013 04:11 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Since the Original Poster (O.P.) mentioned moving to a new city and wanting to cry, I wonder how much of the situation the O.P. describes is the direct product of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
I would like to point out that there are positive aspects to getting to train in a three-person group (breathing space, having an extra training partner, having time to oneself), and that it should come as no surprise that some people are friends with certain people.
Also, sometimes, people are jerks, which is too bad. I've met some, over the years, both on the mat and in daily life. And yet, even the jerkiest had their bright sides, just as the brightest have their moments of ignominy. Give yourself the chance to give others a chance, and so on. How endlessly reciprocal is social life!
In the end, six years is a pretty good start. Keep training; you will continue to improve. Meanwhile, it might be good for Aikido to not be your singular outlet for social activity.
Gan batte!

Not to Be Named 02-25-2013 08:08 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Well, the reason could range from a basic problem such as body odor, bad breath, or other physical thing on your part all the way up to social stereotypes on their part. If the former, fix your problem and continue training - if the latter, it is still your problem because you are allowing their behavior to affect you; you need to fix to your problem by not allowing their behavior to affect you.

Bottom line is that it is your problem one way or the other and that it is you that needs to do something about it - problem now a days is that most people always look outside for causes of their problems and expect others to do something for them to fix it - in this case, try doing something for yourself to fix it by continuing to train and learning how to deal with this problem within yourself.

lbb 02-25-2013 10:27 AM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
Quote:

Eric DesMarais wrote: (Post 323937)
Have you tried asking the other students or the instructor what is going on? No reason you have to be in the dark about this.

Excellent advice. Getting another perspective seems like a great idea.

David H.1980 03-05-2013 12:14 PM

Re: No-one wants to practice with me
 
I understand the original posters position. the there's always 2 sides to a story and I don't want to sound I just want people with the same question and in the same situation. When a student find some cells in a situation where they are isolated from the other students on the mat it may be because of a reason the student is not aware of. poor hygiene personality or attitude that is conflicting with the the that is conflicting with the other students. Sometimes some new students that are rejected in practice by other students is because they need a warm up time to get use to the new student. the established students may need some time to get used to a new student especially their personality or may may not meet the standards of the group. I was in the same position once and it took some time for me to adjust to the group that I needed to that was not acceptable to the to the group for them to accept for them to accept me. But once I conformed to the group I did not have a problem fitting in and having training partners.


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