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Injury and Responsibility
Injury and Responsibility
by The Mirror
02-15-2011
Injury and Responsibility

They were having fun, really going at it. I could hear the thuds way across the mat. Then everything stopped. "Should I call an ambulance?" I heard someone say. By the time I got to them, my friend was standing.

"No, no," he said. "I'll be OK." But I could tell by his white, white face and the way his arm hung that he was not.

"We have those ice packs you crack and shake," I said. I started after them but someone was already bringing them and ACE bandages. I went to get a cup of water instead.

Someone had found a chair for my friend to sit in. The seminar instructor had gotten my friend's gi top off, and my friend's practice partner had made a sling. They were using ACE bandages and the partner's tee shirt to strap the ice packs to my friend's shoulder. "Could you clap everybody out and get them cleaning?" the instructor said. "I'll get him fixed up."

"Thank you," my friend said. He took a big sip of water and a little of the color came back to his face. "But no need. My partner here is taking good care of me. Once he finishes, I'm going to wash up a bit and change, then go outside, call my wife, and head over to the Urgent Care so they can take a look at it."

"Let me drive you," I said.

"Then I'd have to come back out here to pick up my truck," he said. "It's just my shoulder. I can drive."

"I'll help you get changed," his partner said. They headed for the dressing room.

~ * ~

Several groups of people loitered in the parking lot, talking in low tones. As I walked by the first group, from our dojo, I overheard, "He was being way too rough and using too much force. I knew something was going to happen."

Passing the second group, from the partner's dojo, I heard, "Someone of his rank should be able to take that ukemi. It was uke's fault."

~ * ~

When I got to my car, I saw my friend and his partner come out the side door. Someone had brought my friend's truck up close to the building. My friend's partner opened the driver's door of my friend's truck, then walked around and put my friend's bag in on the passenger side. He came back to the driver's side to shake my friend's hand and close the door. My friend waved at me as he drove by, then at the groups of folks who still stood talking by their cars.

The partner came to stand with me and watch my friend drive away. "I am so sorry," the partner said. "I should never have let this happen. It was my fault. I want to pay his medical bills." He pressed large bills into my hand.

Later that night, I called my friend. He asked me if I'd come by to pick up his partner's tee shirt and return it the last day of the seminar. His wife had washed it. I sat on his couch and listened as he told me about the trip to Urgent Care. His shoulder was separated and he'd be out of work and off the mat at least a month. The doctor had put him into some kind of x-brace and a sling and had complimented the first aid he'd received before he got to Urgent Care.

"Your partner asked me to give you this," I said as I pulled out the wad of money. "He wants to pay your medical bills."

"He already apologized," my friend said. "And it wasn't his fault. It was mine."

"He really wants you to have this," I said.

"I can't take it," he said. "It was my fault. Please tell him thank you and I hope we're partners again on another mat another day."
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.
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Old 02-15-2011, 01:37 PM   #2
Benjamin Mehner
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Thanks for posting this. I think its an important subject and one that we all should consider. I take responsibility for myself in the dojo. I joined knowing full well that I could easily be injured during my journey through the world of Aikido. In fact, I expect that I will be injured at some point. That being said, I also take responsibility for my dojo mates. I view it as my job to consider their safety as well whether I be playing the role of uke or nage.

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Old 02-15-2011, 01:41 PM   #3
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

IMHO, Aikido is still a martial art.

If I get hurt, it is my responsibility to learn to defend myself better.

If I hurt another, it is my responsibility to learn better control.

Thoughts?

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 02-15-2011, 02:34 PM   #4
Susan Dalton
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Yes, Lynn, that's exactly what I was trying to get to. It's so much easier and more comfortable to blame "the other". What I admired about both parties in this situation was that they took responsibility immediately.
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Old 02-15-2011, 02:37 PM   #5
Susan Dalton
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Benjamin Mehner wrote: View Post
Thanks for posting this.
Thank you, Benjamin, for reading and commenting.
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Old 02-15-2011, 02:40 PM   #6
Janet Rosen
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

When my knee blew out, my uke felt terrible and also guilty. He was a big guy, way taller and outweighed me like crazy and very athletic...But I knew it was entirely my own fault as nage, knew exactly where and how it had happened. I made sure that he understood I appreciated his concern and was not merely being polite but really did take full responsibility.

Accidents DO happen.

The only thing I see that really annoys me is when a nage doesn't check that the place she is aiming her uke is indeed clear - as nage I have very often either adjusted my angle or done a full 90 or 180 to ensure safety, or bailed on the technique and given uke's balance back to her - why folks don't routinely do this is beyond me.

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Old 02-15-2011, 03:30 PM   #7
Michael Hackett
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

When my knee "blew up" my partner was attacking forcefully with a very strong yokomenuchi strike. If I didn't enter and blend he would take my head off - just as I wanted him to. I collapsed, thinking I slipped and got right back up. He was concerned, but I assured everything was fine and asked him to attack again. He did, and I had exactly the same result, except now I hurt badly. He felt terrible about it, but he had no responsibility for my injury, and in this case, neither did I. We were just training and the meniscus chose that moment to tear. Sometimes injuries happen without carelessness and disregard. We play in a rough sandbox and sometimes we end up with a mouth full of sand. As long as our partners aren't trying to injure us or being foolish, it is just an unfortunate event and playing the blame game serves no purpose.

Michael
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Old 02-15-2011, 03:48 PM   #8
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Lynn Seiser wrote: View Post
IMHO, Aikido is still a martial art.
If I get hurt, it is my responsibility to learn to defend myself better.
If I hurt another, it is my responsibility to learn better control.
Thoughts?
I totally agree with this. Accidents are bound to happen on the mat. If I get hurt, chances are that it wasn't malicious. You take it as a learning experience and try to move on. The only time I see fault in one person is when higher rankers are working with complete beginners. It is the higher ranking persons responsibility to take care of them because at this point... they aren't capable of taking care of themselves. You have the be the parent and baby-proof the house so to speak.

I'm nursing an injury now as a matter of fact and though I joke that "Alex happened to me." when people ask me what happened, I have to take part of the blame. We were both moving in at the same time and our feet happened to collide. His won and mine lost. Chances are that my foot will win on another day. I believe Dave Lowry wrote a good article about injuries on the mat. He basically tells a story about a high ranking black belt whopping him in the face (I believe) and the guy says "I'm sorry. You okay?" and they move on.

~Look into the eyes of your opponent & steal his spirit.
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Old 02-16-2011, 01:10 PM   #9
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Ashley Carter wrote: View Post
Accidents are bound to happen on the mat.
That is why they are called "accidents".

I wished I had enough faith in people to believe that everything is a conscious choice, but most of the time think we are on automatic pilot and not really paying attention.

I also believe that most people come from a place of positive intention but often process it through some painful or fearful psychology.

"Accidents" happen.

Thoughts?

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 02-22-2011, 02:10 PM   #10
Susan Dalton
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Lynn Seiser wrote: View Post
"Accidents" happen.

Thoughts?
They do, Lynn. You're right. But IMO we have to take care so they rarely happen, and when they do, we need to realize that blaming "the other" is a natural human response but one we should try to overcome.
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Old 02-23-2011, 08:13 AM   #11
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Hello Susan,

In connection with your last post, I have two anecdotes of my own. All concern high-ranking Japanese shihans affiliated to the Aikikai. For the purposes of this thread, they are Shihans A, B, C and D.

It came to my knowledge that a case of violence, leading to injury and also sexual harassment, occurred in a dojo run by Shihan A (8th dan). I brought up the matter with Doshu directly and the general question of dojo injuries was subsequently discussed at an IAF meeting. Shihan B (8th dan), who was at the IAF meeting, was very alarmed for two reasons. One was that he mistakenly thought that I was referring to him (as Shihan A). The other was he had been brought up to believe that suffering injuries during training was the natural order of things. He then qualified this comment with the observation that 'things had changed' and that the new generation of shihans had a duty to teach the importance of 'injury-free' aikido. However, as I looked at his practice, I cannot help thinking that he did have a certain nostalgia for the old ways and did not spare his ukes very much.

The second anecdote concerns Shihan C (7th dan), who had been injured by Shihan D (8th dan). They had been training together and Shihan C received some injury that was regarded at the time as minor. However, his wife informed me after practice that Shihan C was very happy, since he had been 'blooded' (as in fox-hunting in the UK) and could now look Shihan D fully in the face. Of course, there are complex Japanese cultural issues here and one cannot simply apportion blame to any of the shihans involved.

By way of a conclusion, I have been practicing aikido long enough to realize that people sometimes intentionally cause injuries during training and that this sometimes leads to outcomes that were not foreseen--like death. When this happens the injured party cannot come back and protest, 'No, it was all my fault. My ukemi was terrible.' Based on my own knowledge, I could actually rewrite your article with the fatal result, but the final comments would have to be made by the dead boy's parents. What was stunning for me was that the boy's parents actually started aikido, in order to understand what had happened to their son. If I had been the parents, I would have sued the club to extinction.

Best wishes,

PAG

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 02-23-2011 at 08:16 AM.

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Old 02-23-2011, 11:52 AM   #12
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

That is a sad story Mr. Goldsbury

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Old 02-24-2011, 05:39 AM   #13
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Ashley Carter wrote: View Post
That is a sad story Mr. Goldsbury
Yes, I was out of the country at the time, and when I came back I found out what had happened. I myself had taught the student who died.

I agree with everything that Susan has stated in her column, but I want also to stress that in my experience not all 'accidents' resulting in injury in aikido are clearly accidents, in which no one is to blame.

Best wishes,

PAG

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Old 02-24-2011, 08:29 AM   #14
itaborai83
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Yes, I was out of the country at the time, and when I came back I found out what had happened. I myself had taught the student who died.

I agree with everything that Susan has stated in her column, but I want also to stress that in my experience not all 'accidents' resulting in injury in aikido are clearly accidents, in which no one is to blame.

Best wishes,

PAG
Peter,

I feel terrible asking this, but what caused this fatality and, more importantly, how could it have been avoided? I think I never actually considered the possibility of something like this happening on the mat until now.

regards,
Daniel
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Old 02-24-2011, 01:10 PM   #15
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

A very dangerous place in ones Aikido practice is that intermediate place at which your ukemi is just fine... most of the time. Back when I first started I was training with a friend. We started slow and worked up. Both of us were normally careful with our partners but we had each thrown each other a dozen times, taken the break falls with no problem, and neither had any reason at all to expect anything different. Than, out of the blue, I simply froze on one technique. I didn't take the fall. He was going full out and I took the whole kotegaeshi on my wrist joint, heard it sort of crackle as it sprained, and then I took the fall... too late of course.

This was in no way my partner's fault. I had given him a false sense of security by taking all my falls with no problem and then with no warning at all, screwing one up. There was no way to see it coming.

One of my Nidans broke her arm when she panicked when her partner did a koshi on her and it wasn't clean. She mistakenly put her arm down to protect her, which was of course exactly not the thing to do. She landed on it and it broke. Her partner was guilty of nothing more than not having the skill at his level to do a clean koshinage.

Stuff happens. If accidents are truly accidental, they happen randomly across the dojo at all ranks. On the other hand, if a person consistently has partners who experience accidents, then it's not accidental any more. It's a pattern. The teacher is expected to deal with that. Assuming it's not the teacher who has this pattern of "accidents".

George S. Ledyard
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Old 02-24-2011, 01:24 PM   #16
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Daniel Itaboraí wrote: View Post
Peter,

I feel terrible asking this, but what caused this fatality and, more importantly, how could it have been avoided? I think I never actually considered the possibility of something like this happening on the mat until now.

regards,
Daniel
There have actually been several training deaths in Japan. To my knowledge, each was in a University club setting, no Shihan was presiding, and basically the issue was what we would call "hazing". The upper class seniors presiding over the class had the juniors training to total exhaustion. Things like 1000 break falls from shihonage. The persons killed ended up being to tired to protect themselves and took disastrous falls.

There's no question that this kind of thing is avoidable. But it involves a change in the dominant paradigm operating in these university clubs.

It's not that there aren't Shihan who are brutal. They injure folks all the time. It's just that their skill level allows them to keep a lid on it. When someone is really in trouble, they can usually find a way to avoid this kind of over the top injury. But some Nidan college kid doesn't necessarily have the sensitivity, the judgment, or even the developed sense of the consequences of his actions to be given that kind of power over his juniors. It's a recipe for disaster.

Aikido Journal Article About Injuries in Aikido

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 02-24-2011 at 01:39 PM.

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Old 02-24-2011, 01:39 PM   #17
Hanna B
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Yes, I was out of the country at the time, and when I came back I found out what had happened. I myself had taught the student who died.
That explains why you get back to the story after this amount of time. You've told the story before... http://www.aikidojournal.com/forums/...hp?p=5439#5439
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Old 02-24-2011, 02:57 PM   #18
itaborai83
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
There have actually been several training deaths in Japan. To my knowledge, each was in a University club setting, no Shihan was presiding, and basically the issue was what we would call "hazing". The upper class seniors presiding over the class had the juniors training to total exhaustion. Things like 1000 break falls from shihonage. The persons killed ended up being to tired to protect themselves and took disastrous falls.

There's no question that this kind of thing is avoidable. But it involves a change in the dominant paradigm operating in these university clubs.

It's not that there aren't Shihan who are brutal. They injure folks all the time. It's just that their skill level allows them to keep a lid on it. When someone is really in trouble, they can usually find a way to avoid this kind of over the top injury. But some Nidan college kid doesn't necessarily have the sensitivity, the judgment, or even the developed sense of the consequences of his actions to be given that kind of power over his juniors. It's a recipe for disaster.

Aikido Journal Article About Injuries in Aikido
George and Hanna,

Thanks for clarifying what happened in this tragic incident. I´m shocked with how beginners were treated in those university clubs. I won´t pretend that I understand the culture which allowed this kind of "hazing" to unpunishingly happen. I really thought that after being viciously thrown more than a hundred times, a bookish Japanese student would feel ok to respectfully bow out of the situation.

This is/was definitely a club that deserved to be sued to extinction.

regards,
Daniel
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Old 02-24-2011, 06:32 PM   #19
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Hanna Björk wrote: View Post
That explains why you get back to the story after this amount of time. You've told the story before... http://www.aikidojournal.com/forums/...hp?p=5439#5439
Hello Hanna,

Well, the story was first told by Fumiaki Shishida in an article summarized somewhere on the Aikido Journal website. When I checked, I saw that one of the examples he gave was known to me. I posted the discussion you quoted in 2000. What has not occurred, as far as I know, is further research on aikido injuries since Prof Shishida's original article.

Further to George's comments, in one case the situation certainly has changed: the club has very few members and in some years there have been no members at all. This is where the issues raised in my nihonjinron essay are still relevant: people still believe in the importance of the uniquely Japanese quality of 'fighting spirit' and this sometimes involves testing others to make sure they possess the quality to the correct degree. However, nowadays 'fighting spirit' has unpleasant overtones and does not appeal to modern Japanese students (unless they go to a university like Takushoku U, which is a 'martial arts' university, based on the concept). So martial arts clubs based on a strong sempai/kohai relationship are generally suffering from lack of numbers.

Best wishes,

PAG

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Old 02-24-2011, 09:01 PM   #20
JO
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
A very dangerous place in ones Aikido practice is that intermediate place at which your ukemi is just fine... most of the time. Back when I first started I was training with a friend. We started slow and worked up. Both of us were normally careful with our partners but we had each thrown each other a dozen times, taken the break falls with no problem, and neither had any reason at all to expect anything different. Than, out of the blue, I simply froze on one technique. I didn't take the fall. He was going full out and I took the whole kotegaeshi on my wrist joint, heard it sort of crackle as it sprained, and then I took the fall... too late of course.

This was in no way my partner's fault. I had given him a false sense of security by taking all my falls with no problem and then with no warning at all, screwing one up. There was no way to see it coming.

One of my Nidans broke her arm when she panicked when her partner did a koshi on her and it wasn't clean. She mistakenly put her arm down to protect her, which was of course exactly not the thing to do. She landed on it and it broke. Her partner was guilty of nothing more than not having the skill at his level to do a clean koshinage.

Stuff happens. If accidents are truly accidental, they happen randomly across the dojo at all ranks. On the other hand, if a person consistently has partners who experience accidents, then it's not accidental any more. It's a pattern. The teacher is expected to deal with that. Assuming it's not the teacher who has this pattern of "accidents".
I've seen accidents of the type you mention and a few abusive types as well. But the most dangerous types I've run across in terms of number of "accidents" are the indifferent ones. These are usually high kyu or low dan ranks that have very good ukemi themselves. They do the techniques as fast and "well" as they can and figure it is uke's job to survive by matching with good ukemi. This often leads to chronic wrist injury "accidents" much like the one you experienced. I've found this is often paired to aikido that is strong but which has little sensitivity or true connection.

Jonathan Olson
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Old 02-25-2011, 10:11 AM   #21
Basia Halliop
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Thanks for clarifying what happened in this tragic incident. I´m shocked with how beginners were treated in those university clubs. I won´t pretend that I understand the culture which allowed this kind of "hazing" to unpunishingly happen. I really thought that after being viciously thrown more than a hundred times, a bookish Japanese student would feel ok to respectfully bow out of the situation.
I don't know the specifics of the incident, nor do I know that much about Japanese universities, but on a more general level, I think a common feature of some initiation rituals -- both healthy and as in this case unhealthy ones -- is that the 'initiated' person often believes what's happening as well...

E.g. they may buy into the idea that the more they can withstand, the more worthy they are. And if this was a martial arts clubs with a certain 'reputation' the teenagers or young adults may have been exposed to some prior mythology about this 'initiation' and may have originally chosen to attend in some part because they themselves had bought into the idea that withstanding a lot of abuse proved something important and positive about their character -- this is just speculation but if it's the case it could make it extremely difficult psychologically ('shameful') to 'give up' or 'fail', even _without_ taking into account all the additional dynamics of the sempai/kohai relationships (which would add all kinds of other issues). Again, I don't necessarily know how this plays out in Japanese universities, but it's not hard to imagine that being a factor.
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Old 02-27-2011, 02:07 PM   #22
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Basia Halliop wrote: View Post
I don't know the specifics of the incident, nor do I know that much about Japanese universities, but on a more general level, I think a common feature of some initiation rituals -- both healthy and as in this case unhealthy ones -- is that the 'initiated' person often believes what's happening as well...

E.g. they may buy into the idea that the more they can withstand, the more worthy they are. And if this was a martial arts clubs with a certain 'reputation' the teenagers or young adults may have been exposed to some prior mythology about this 'initiation' and may have originally chosen to attend in some part because they themselves had bought into the idea that withstanding a lot of abuse proved something important and positive about their character -- this is just speculation but if it's the case it could make it extremely difficult psychologically ('shameful') to 'give up' or 'fail', even _without_ taking into account all the additional dynamics of the sempai/kohai relationships (which would add all kinds of other issues). Again, I don't necessarily know how this plays out in Japanese universities, but it's not hard to imagine that being a factor.
It is my understanding that a good deal of this "hazing" attitude is left over from the twenties and thirties when the militarists dominated the army. It was less true in the Navy but in the Army it was the norm. Recruits were treated very severely, certainly what we would consider abusive. This rigidly hierarchical, superior beats down inferior model was picked up by many of the modern martial arts which the ruling militarists used to create a citizenry prepared for war.

This was never, as I understand it, the way the koryu functioned. The koryu functioned more as a "family". People who have done modern Japanese martial arts are often surprised at how informal practice at a koryu dojo can be. Certainly everyone knows who is senior and there is a high degree of respect functioning but that respect is a two way street. And abusive behavior is not only not the norm but would be actively discouraged. Most of the people I know who studied various koryu in Japan said that the level of violence in the training was far higher in Aikido than in the so-called combat arts they studied.

So the "hazing" and slavish relationship of juniors to seniors one finds in much of the Japanese martial arts community is actually a holdover of a time which the traditionalists see as a period in which the martial arts were distorted. Aikido could certainly work to expunge this attitude and be better for it. Certainly, it would move the practice more towards what I think the Founder had in mind for the art.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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Old 03-01-2011, 08:05 AM   #23
Susan Dalton
Dojo: Greensboro Kodokan
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

I'm the Mama in my dojo--making sure folks throw toward the outside of the mat so no heads clunk, suggesting we work in groups instead of pairs when space gets too tight, generally trying to be sure no one is hurt. I probably err too much that way, though Sensei tells me he can't fault me when safety is my concern. Safety is the number one rule in our dojo.

I teach a college aikido class also, and I see a good bit of testosterone and youthful exuberance in a class full of 19 year olds, so that's probably why I've gotten in the habit of being overly vigilant.

I'm sorry to hear about folks intentionally injuring others.
Susan
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Old 03-02-2011, 01:19 PM   #24
Susan Dalton
Dojo: Greensboro Kodokan
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
I agree with everything that Susan has stated in her column, but I want also to stress that in my experience not all 'accidents' resulting in injury in aikido are clearly accidents, in which no one is to blame.
PAG
I overthink. I'm more comfortable in my head than in my body, which made aikido very difficult for me at first. But that trait also makes me take care because I can imagine many unwanted outcomes.

Many years ago my son was around 13 and we were camping at the beach. He had been hanging around his parents and 5 year old sister and was bored, so while we went on a hike, we let him go to the arcade alone. Some weeks later he told me what happened that night. A group of older kids began taunting him and he invited them to have carnal knowledge of themselves. The biggest and most vocal threw a punch, and my son stepped back, saw all the ways this kid was open, and stepped in a strike with his entire body. The kid went down hard, stayed down, and the others scattered.

My son told me he felt that this punch was his only option. He believed that if he turned and walked away, he would be followed and jumped by the entire group. I told my son that once the fight started, he had every right to protect himself. However, he needed to look at what he'd done to escalate the situation. What if the kid had hit his head on the asphalt and died? Is being called a few names a reason for someone to die?

You're right--we often have to look at what happened before the "accident" to understand the situation. A dojo culture that is proud of injury sounds dangerous to me.
Susan
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Old 03-02-2011, 02:34 PM   #25
Janet Rosen
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Re: Injury and Responsibility

Quote:
Susan Dalton wrote: View Post
You're right--we often have to look at what happened before the "accident" to understand the situation. A dojo culture that is proud of injury sounds dangerous to me.
Susan
I knew for sure I was changing dojos when the chief instructor where I'd been training asked about the result of my knee injury research and when I said half the dojos had NO serious knee injuries in the past 5 years he looked shocked, then said "then they must not be really doing aikido."

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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