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Old 02-18-2016, 12:40 AM   #1
"Wary Brown Belt"
IP Hash: ff290ae6
Anonymous User
Unhappy Cohort Setting off Alarm Bells

Dear Aikiweb,

I've been doing Aikido since 2010. My cohort includes another person who showed up at the dojo about a month later than me, a veteran, and now, my husband. We are all testing for another brown belt rank soon.

At first, the veteran and I got along very well. He was coming out of war, I was coming out of a physically abusive home as a minor and we both wanted to figure out how to defend ourselves without doing anymore violence. For a long time, I got to train way more than him. Then, I started getting injuries, and eventually fell insanely ill for about a year. I couldn't train. Now a days, we are pretty direct peers.

However, since I've come back from the dojo this year, I feel a lot has changed with my relationship with veteran. I checked with my husband (since I am still fairly frail from being chronically ill) and he agrees that veteran is using a lot more force in his throws. Another person who has been with us for 3 years doesn't like to even practice with him since he forces the throw with her. However, as they are basically at two different dojo location that doesn't crop up so much.

He smiles a lot less and has become so serious. Last practice, when we took break, he spent the entire time just slashing the air with a tanto. I was sitting on the side drinking water and started feeling insanely uneasy as he was doing this, increasingly in my space; over the years, I've come to trust my instincts when it comes to potential violence.

I don't feel like I can train with him the same way anymore. He seems like he's trying to act like my senior, giving instruction and dealing with any weak patches in his technique by just cracking my limbs. It used to be we were partners in training, giving suggestions (since often we are wrong about what we are failing at) and saying what we noticed didn't feel right. Now a days it's do this, not that.

I think he is still a good person, but I think he is going through some brown belt funk wanting to prove something. But, I don't want to spend part of my Aikido class worrying if he is going to hurt me to prove some macho b@llsh!t. Additionally, we would be going up for black belt in a year (all things going well) and I don't see this getting better then.

I know I need to say something if I want this to get better. But since we have drifted apart, I don't know how to start that conversation. Part of me also wants to talk to our chief instructor about this, since he is my mentor, to get help on how I should deal with this and he has helped me grow so much as a person since I came here. However, I that is going about it sideways and has more potential to piss off the veteran than help, even though I really want some advice.

I also have good relationships with other yudansha and am considering talking to them, as I look up to them.

Sorry for the word jumble, I just would love to hear your thoughts. If you have any questions for me, please ask and I will be happy to provide more info.

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Old 05-05-2016, 03:14 PM   #2
Jonathan Lewis
Location: Boulder, CO
Join Date: Aug 2002
Posts: 35
Re: Cohort Setting off Alarm Bells

we both wanted to figure out how to defend ourselves without doing anymore violence.
I'm late to the thread (I'm not here much) but safety is important. If the situation is not resolved by now, do you think it would help just to ask him his motivations for doing Aikido? If that would help but you don't feel able to do it yourself, maybe your Sensei can make it a general request that people think about this.
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Old 05-07-2016, 07:42 AM   #3
Garth Jones
Dojo: Allegheny Aikido
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 166
Re: Cohort Setting off Alarm Bells

A couple of thoughts - first off in my experience many people get a bit dangerous somewhere in the brown belt ranks. They have the basics of the techniques down and are developing some real power. However, they have no idea how hard they are being and have not developed the sensitivity to understand what is happening their partners' bodies. I"m always careful when working out with a brown belt I don't know until I have a sense of where they are.

Second thought - since you've been sick and haven't been able to train, it sounds like your body can't take what he's dishing out. Remind him of this and ask him to ease up. We all have different limits and this is yours right now. It doesn't make you less than him - it's just the limit of your body right now. He should be able to respect that. Maybe this is where to start the conversation.

Best of luck,
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Old 05-08-2016, 10:00 AM   #4
Dojo: Open Sky Aikikai
Location: Durham, NC
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 430
Re: Cohort Setting off Alarm Bells

I hear a few things here.

You are a victim of violence with strong negative reactions to any perceived threat of violence. Your instincts may be right. Your history is part of who you are; same for all of us.

I was unclear if you had to stop training completely for a year? While he kept training?

He is a veteran, and as part of that there are horrible statistics on PTSD, suicide, difficulty coming home. Not just personal, but also anyone he served with - friends will have likely melted down, been admitted to psychiatric wards, killed themselves, or it could be a birthday of someone he watched get blown up, or he might have had a flashback nightmare to his most frightening close quarters combat. No questions, no way to know. Your own safety comes first of course but the one guideline from O Sensei's religion is to reconcile dicotomies.

Brown belts also need to break away from safe, predictable kata practice and now get into multiple target randori - most schools I have seen just throw people in, and few schools address the psychology of the exercise explicitly in my experience. Things that can be sitting on the back burner or repressed most days have a way of getting pulled out. I am not sure how to run the classes best myself. I never served, but as a nurse I would come to practice after watching a patient die. It affected my practice. PTSD is a huge issue for the USA now, and I'm guessing many a dojo is dealing with someone affected now.

Vets can have baggage. They can also have experience and insight that no amount of safe dojo training can ever bring. It helps my Aikido to pick their brains. One guy in our dojo was asking questions about martial effectiveness which caused several senior students (who never served) to roll their eyes and judge him harshly. Turns out he was in the army and had been deployed for years, so his questions were partly memories. After cutting him some slack it turns out he's a very gifted visual artist in multiple media. He can't explore a martial side of himself at home with his wife and two young kids, so he became part of a dojo.

I would go to the instructor, if you are no longer comfortable talking with your former friend. Talking behind someone's back with a dozen members of the school wIll probably end badly. Stay safe, but try to do this with some empathy and with a goal of having this resolve well for everyone. It's kinda what we are about.
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Old 05-09-2016, 10:43 AM   #5
Location: Massachusetts
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 3,202
Re: Cohort Setting off Alarm Bells

I agree with John's conclusion, although my reasoning is a little different. You say that your dojo-mate is a veteran; you don't say when or where he served, or in what capacity. PTSD is a serious thing, but it's not a military thing per se: many members of the military never hear a shot fired in anger, and there are many causes of PTSD in civilian life (including abuse). Lest we add insult to injury, let's not forget the women who have served and who have PTSD -- as a result of sexual assault by their fellow soldiers.

But, not to derail, you have a dojo-mate whose behavior you find troubling, and who may or may not have some issues, perhaps relating to his service, perhaps not. You know that you yourself face some challenges as a result of your history. Before laying the present problem at the feet of any of these issues, I think it would be good to check in with a detached observer who has had time to observe both of you train. The questions that seem relevant to me are:

- Has this guy changed? Do others notice it? What do they think of it? Do they have ideas as to the cause?

- Is his conduct on the mat within normal and accepted parameters? If so, is he someone who has some limitations in who he can be a good practice partner to? I tend to think that almost all of us have some of these limitations, btw. Whether he's within or without accepted parameters, is he aware of his limitations? Has anyone spoken to him?

- Do you have limitations of your own regarding what kind of training you're comfortable with? How's your "comfortable with discomfort" ability? Any learning experience means going outside your comfort zones, but do you have any hard limits that normal training would cross over?

Summary: I think you should go to the head instructor or another student whose judgment and objectivity you trust, and put these questions to them. The first step is to identify the source and nature of the discomfort, and then to do some thinking about what you can do about it. Speaking as someone who has also experienced trauma and who lives with that legacy, I feel that ultimately the responsibility for my comfort in the world is on me -- not because I ought to suck it up or any of that get-tough bullshit, but because I'm the one who has the most power over it. I accept that I can't make every situation comfortable for myself -- but nobody can be totally comfortable in all situations. What I can do is work on my mental flexibility and develop some insight into what's happening around me. It's not an academic matter -- I have found that that insight, that understanding of "what's happening here", makes the whole situation much less charged for me, and I can respond from insight and not from simple reaction. And sometimes, the answer I come up with is, "Mmm, nope, this is not a good situation for me to be in", and I need to walk away from it. But I want to do so from a place of understanding and conscious decision, not reaction.
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