“Dojo Busters,” by Nev Sagiba

Dojo busters still exist. Many have morphed from the wild-west type of the moves where a gang of thugs stand outside yelling profanities and challenges to either the teacher or his students, into other possibilities to be cautious and aware of.

Dojo busters are still with us in some form or another. Some more insidious than others.

I recall clearly about 1989 or 1990 visiting a dojo where the old founding sensei, a true gentleman who had pioneered a dojo at his own expense, with authentic skill, out of love and caring. It was a meeting in a hall and for some reason I was allowed to sit in. I can never forget the disgraceful treatment of this humble but weak old teacher by a bunch of whippet-snippers in suits lording it over a weeping old man. This meeting where arrogant and incompetent young bucks doing a “corporate takeover” type of deal bastardising and misusing the corporate rules and regulations of association, in order to effect said takeover. They wanted profits.

Not six months later, that dojo folded.

Then you get the greasy “oops-sorry” brigade who pretend sincerity to join up, then deliberately effect injury and fake contrition.

Mr. Shioda of Gozo Shioda fame had the best answer to these. You break their arm and say, “Oops-sorry.” With a smile, of course.

Do not tolerate them!

A close relative of these are the sneaky king-hitters. There are lots of ways to cure this ill. One of the best is to assist them in into delta sleep. Then resuscitate them, smile and ask them if they are OK.

One of the most insidious of organizational cancers are the disgusting degenerates who spread gossip, rumors and innuendo in an attempt to destroy or damage a reputation to destabilize a school, or an individual, or relations between individuals within a school, by using false or out of context quotations and other disparaging means to invoke disrespect and cast doubt on someone’s good name.

This can be particularly toxic. Although the problem lies within the malignancy of the perpetrator and his resentful attitudes, some mud may stick for a long time, since where there’s smoke, it is presumed there will be fire. Even though the only fire was lit by the troublemaker.

If you don’t have first hand knowledge of something being amiss, either get it, or treat such information with caution. The old saying, “Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear, “ holds true here.

A good aiki is to give the gossiper something juicy to work with and follow the trail. Once discovered, take whatever action you deem appropriate.

As for bureaucratic weaklings who leave to create an alternate organization, such as these are better off elsewhere. But when they use devious means to poach your students as well; all well and good if the dojo is not your food source income. But it can be hell if that’s your only income at the time.

That’s how you discover the fidelity of true students of Budo, and spineless ship-jumping fair weather trainees, you don’t want anyhow.

But in the event it stops you eating, or paying rent on the hall you are hiring, that then becomes a serious matter of survival. Consider it an attack.

In feudal times you could then rally support to wipe them out. Today, the best bet is to move to a smaller hall, your lounge room, or a garage. You won’t have the attendance lots of mushrooms, but the quality of your art will improve exponentially, because only those with integrity and serious training intention will stay and continue to train. And stick out the storm with you. Fellow warriors. Band of brothers.

Of course there will be other variables as well as combinations of the above.

Over the years I’ve either witnessed or experienced some of the described.

The best defence is good zanshin. Never let your guard down and screen applicants carefully. Then test them on the journey. The dilettantes will drop out within either a week or anything up to a year or two. There are many ways to test newcomers. Use your imagination.

The old way was sheer physical attrition. That’s good if you want a dojo of unbreakable freaks, and some injury lawsuits. But you will have to be a freak yourself to survive.

If you prefer to associate with reasonable human beings and enjoy helping the weak and sincere to empower themselves, then help them become immune to the distracting effects of verbal abuse. No, do not be abusive, but press their every button you can find, until they simply smile back and still execute good waza calmly.

The best way to deal with bureaucratic manipulators is to run the dojo as a primal hierarchy of absolute dominance, only affording trust to those who earn it consistently over time. Even then, watch everyone all the time.

Never misuse this power. Rather exercise it with compassion, and above all to maintain respect and to preserve safety. Above all, the integrity of the dojo and all in it.

With king-hitters, drop, finalize.

If they persist send them away.

If they still try to abuse trust, apprehend and call the police. Press charges if necessary. Warn once. Next time act.

The “oops-sorry” brigade, allow them one chance then ditto.

The disgusting degenerates who use rumors as weapons, are best brought into the open. They spread mental poison which can harm human relations and make divisions where none need to exist. Reveal them for what they are in front of everyone, then expel them for life. If follow-up becomes necessary, if the problem is authentic and you have evidence that it affects valid income, you may have sufficient cause to follow up through the courts. Otherwise send them a legal letter to cease and desist. If necessary follow through for damages in the courts if they don’t.

After that, simply ignore them. These unwell individuals invariably tend to implode when everyone wakes up to what they are up to.

The bureaucratic weaklings who leave, are free to do so. They must not be permitted to form a separate clique within the dojo. Dojos are not places of politics.

Calm confrontation and a caution often works well. If you have to do this more than three times expel. I’ve never had to, because the underhanded and those with bad motives in every case, expelled themselves. Once they realize people know what they are up to and are up to speed about their bad motives, they usually stop training out of shame and fear and don’t come back.

Those that leave for “greener pastures,” you never needed. Let them go. They will get the awakening they need.

Whether you accept some back in the course of time is up to you.

An old fashioned yardstick used by police in the days when police were police and not midgets, was the attitude test.

If you smell a rat, without getting paranoid, trust your intuition. The best bait is red herring. Simply follow the trail.

If you smell a spy, realise that not all spies are bad, Especially if they are those protecting the country in which you live. In times of war or global disruption, dojos can be a cause for concern, as in some rare cases may house recruiting places for radicals. If you are a contributor to the wellbeing of the country in which you reside, and conduct a dojo of strict etiquette you will generally have nothing to worry about. If that country is infected from within, you could have problems unless you are serving the system. Is such cases you may need to evaluate your personal choices.

Active operatives will stay briefly, assess and move on. If you are an active, faithful, just and law-abiding citizen of your nation, you will have nothing to worry about. If not, what do you expect?

As for highly disciplined, clean living, bad people. They are rare. To be honest, I’ve found, radicals, thugs and criminal minds to be lazy and undisciplined and they hate even the softest dance training. They are “too busy” and soon leave.

As for the person you imagine is a spy. He will most often be retired and no longer formally employed in that capacity, perhaps just tasked unofficially to keep an eye on things. Teach him your best secrets when he becomes ready. Most of these can be an asset to a dojo as well.

If, on the other hand, the “spy” is from another dojo, it will usually be from the one that started the alternate organization, which will by now be failing. So they send a rat to steal techniques. Don’t worry about it. They will not be paying him enough. He won’t be paying enough attention and won’t last.

In any event, you will likely have closed down the empty hall you were paying rent for, on account of lack of funds.

As for those from other dojos, you can always do what O’Sensei did, simply get the prospect to have a contest with your most junior student. Tell the junior his life depends on it and to use the one technique he know (which should be Ikkyo) with all his might. The condition being the visitor must win to qualify to join. Of course you have to be a good teacher to deploy this one as the student will reflect your level of skill.

If he loses the bout it speaks of who you are and then you will have to keep your word and recruit someone you didn’t want.

Wisdom it is to participate in Aiki expos, Friendship demos and the like and openly exchange ideas. Far more fruitful than sneaking around.

Irrespective of the situation BE MINDFUL. Avoid ranked deadwood as such can also be a pestilence.

A real dojo contains one sensei, several, sempai and lots of kohai. Be suspicious of other titles. They’ve usually been purchased.

There will be other variables of the dojo buster. Sometimes from without and sometimes from within. When not nipped in the bud, a dojo buster can have virulent effect and may even destroy a dojo. If you are a warrior, you will not let this happen, but will use your skills to mitigate such possibility. Conversely, you will learn from mistakes and get it right next time around.

A true dojo is a place of integrity and propagating the best core values you know how. It is also a place for honing awareness and such defects as dojo busters from to time, are to be expected as a natural part of life.

My philosophy is this: When travelling around, I’m just starting and a beginner in someone else’s way of doing things. Wear a plain gi and belt and be modest and quietly train.

Afford the same courtesy to visitors. If they ask to train they should be welcomed. If they ask that their “rank” be recognized, treat them as the wankers they are. Their rank should mean nothing in your dojo until such time as they may prove themselves as a quality contributor participating in the best interests of your dojo.

Notwithstanding, respect must be absolute and be shown.

If someone is too arrogant to accept these terms, send them away. With respectfulness of course.

You would be surprised as to how many dojos, all wrapped up in their trip, blindly allow the most motley variety of misfits and trouble-makers to pass through a dojo.

Never let this happen as the consequences to your dojo can at times be dastardly.

We have to remember that in olden times, the dojo, was the meeting place of the han or clan. Your family and relatives.

It was a privilege and not a right to attend; and each meeting was considered sacred. Well, the survival of the clan was reliant upon getting it right.

I’ve heard of some “instructors” people in the sixties and seventies, confronting and beating up gossipers, malingerers and people who undermined a dojo. That may be one way, a thuggish way, one not entirely recommended.

Today the global family of humanity is your clan and your local region where you live is thereby held in your trust and your utmost care.

A high standard of exemplary behaviour is the most powerful influence in society.

Therefore protect the dojo and its integrity as a place of propagating wholesome wellbeing to the individual and welfare to society at large because it develops strong, good individuals..

Let nothing rotten infect it. That’s part of the sensei’s ongoing training.

Many more trivial things should be simply ignored. Hard training and sweat will purify mental impurities.

No matter what happens, you will know who the true students of budo are. Through thick and thin, they will still be there, having ignored the rubbish, as they attend to train and improve themselves. And nothing else other than to support the dojo that supports them.

Salt of the earth!

From Yamomto Tsutsenomo’s Hagakure
Beware of gossip
“To speak this and that of people’s affairs is a big mistake. Even words of praise are not becoming. One should be clearly aware of one’s own capacity, giving one’s best to one’s practice while keeping guard over one’s mouth.”

Nev Sagiba


  1. Bruce Baker says:

    Ah, there are even more insidious ways to cause these take-overs, the rumor mill, gossip and false statements that aikido is some religious undermining, which always starts with idiots who have no idea what the students are practicing.

    I have seen the faces of the Catholics who walk past our Aikido class in the community center, and I know what most of them are thinking, what are those strange people doing? Are they practicing some black pagan religion to turn our members away from Catholicism? But, you never hear them say that to your face, they just keep it to themselves until it is time for the board members to renew the contract to rent space in the center and it comes down to “how much money Aikido brings in verses what the state or federal program will pay”. Yep, good old greed and financial burden wins every time…. the sneaky back-door bully that pats you on the back and says,” .. sorry, either you rent a smaller space or get out.

    Then there is the NINJA TURTLE KARATE McDOJO chains, where the parents are investing in yearly contracts so their children can participate in tournaments, and demonstrations in malls or shopping centers displaying their ninja turtle stuntman skills they have learned which look so polished and impressive! My goodness … just like a ballet, isn’t it?

    Don’t get me wrong, there is foundation in some kind of martial arts, but what are they hitting, and what effect is that technique supposed to have on the human body, let alone how effective is it against a skilled fighter? Just a thought.

    Never mind. Nev is RIGHT!! At some point the advanced students and teachers need to learn the advanced levels of aikido and so most of our teachers and advanced students learn .. there are knockouts for the simplest of techniques we do in aikido … and … learn the revival techniques also!

    The true secrets of aikido are not just the simple techniques or training the mind to connect to the body beyond the speed of light, but to learn the mechanics of the human body that cause life to function, and how certain manipulations of the human body will cause either unconsciousness, or injury, and in some cases death which is unrevivable. That is the most secret secret of all martial arts, and it is hidden in the study of medicine, acupuncture, and found in the application of pressure points in martial arts. (Yeah, it is in aikido, but WE DON”T TEACH IT!)

    Pay attention if you watch a knockout demonstration with pressure points because it will be an immitation of the movements, angle and direction of what we do for Aikido!

    It is not always the sledge hammer smashing the egg, but sometimes a gentle tap of a fingernail that breaks the eggshell, if I must use a metaphor. Never mind .. I hope I made my point.

    I guess the real trick is to know when to stand up to tyranny, when to hide, and when ask others for help. What compromises do have to make to survive, or to exist as a group? What are the long-term and short-term repercussions or liabilities you will have to deal with?

    Bottom line, we must survive, and if that means going underground until the social atmosphere improves, or we must move to another location to teach .. that option must be seriously considered instead of violence.

    My favorite technique is to numb a wise-guy in some technique so it takes them a few minutes to revive the numbed arm or leg, but if they persist, I guess it is either time to call the police, or decide if something more drastic needs to take place to get your point across, but … do you have these skills? Do you practice them outside of the normal aikido class? Can you feel with your hands, in your gut where the breaking point is for injury verse pain for each person you practice with? That is my point .. because everyone I have ever met in Aikido depends on physical injury, not the advanced use of pressure points .. go figure. (that is not totally true, some advanced students do crosstrain but they never apply that knowledge in aikido class.)

    WE try our best to come to a peaceful solution, but when push comes to shove society itself must be prepared to destroy a threat that will not be pacified by individuals or small groups. And therein lies the solution. Call to arms society, both morally and with physical action when compromise fails.

    It may take a while to wake up the majority of society to a wrong, but if you can survive long enough, keep morally focused and mentally on track, society will come around as the detriment to society, the thug, the bully, just becomes too much for society to take anymore. The corruption and the burden will eventually spark a revolution. Question is, what do you have to do to survive until society supports you and comes to your rescue .. or not?

    Yeah, I know “NOT” getting help is more often the result than getting help, right?

    Do what ya gotta do, but try to keep your moral compass on track and in the good category along with your actions is all I am saying. I won’t be easy, but do the best you can.

  2. …sometimes simple curiosity is sufficient to “kill the cat”. i’ve “taken the hint”, not very subtly conveyed and left schools. probably why i train in my back yard and sometimes the local park with a couple of Chinese guys who got interested in my stuff.

  3. On Dec 16th, 2009 at 11:02 pm Joel wrote:
    I knew the most I’ve ever known about aikido when I was about 4th kyu (in 1995 or so). One day a 70-year-old man showed up in our dojo (City Aikido in San Francisco) wearing a brand new gi and white belt. We trained together on ikkyo irimi, and I showed him several important details. He smiled and graciously said “Thank you!” over and over.

    The next night he returned to our dojo wearing a hakama(!), and our sensei introduced him as Peter Ting rokudan. He had trained with O Sensei a couple times, and had practiced martial arts since he was four years old. He had even been a bodyguard for Gen. Patton in Europe in WWII. Within a month he was in the regular teaching rotation at our dojo where he taught until he passed away a few years later.

    The twinkle in his eye when I was “instructing” him taught me what aikido is all about.

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