Addressing Bullies

As a Sensei 先生, coach, leader and teacher we are responsible to protect and stand up against fascists and bullies. it is our responsibility and obligation to display both admirable moral character and to teach by example. Being Sensei is privileged position of leadership. As Sensei 先生, we are under scrutiny at all times and from all directions by both those senior and junior. For these and many other reasons, we must hold true to the position, in the interest of our students, to shield both ourselves and our community, club or dōjō from being victimized or exposed to actions of bullying as well as not to become a bully, as every now and then, Martial Arts instructors unknowingly convert from victim to offender. 

For example, some leaders of organizations, associations, clubs or Dōjō in the past have become victim to their own downfall due to their leadership having abused authority with their membership base.

This unfortunately included threatening, stalking (online) or intimidating members verbally, mentally, politically and even physically or having introduced censorship or some type or level of totalitarianism or having privately or publicly humiliated and demoralized under the guise of “Martial Arts seniority”, for self gain, power and or control. What is really unfortunate is that in todays day and age these actions are easily and often automatically recorded by email, social media and threads, ‘blog posts’, and text messages.

Growth and popularity can serve as a blessing or as a curse. With it, a bully disguising themselves as Martial Arts leader may incur new rules and regulations written broadly to control specific members or students whom certain leaders feel are a challenge to their technical ability or level, intellectual competence, adoration or popularity. A leader of this demeanor is a weak link in the Chain of Command (Shiki Keitō 指揮系統) and hierarchy. For the most part, this same leader is unaware of this interpersonal flaw and it is nearly impossible to self-diagnose nor accept if informed.

The ‘Merriam-Webster Dictionary’ defines a bully as “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those whom the bully feels are of a weaker demeanor” and; further as a verb: “one who uses their superior strength, position or influence to intimidate (another), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” SafeSport further defines “Bullying” as repeated and/or aggressive behavior that is intended or likely to hurt, control, demoralize, demean or diminish another person mentally, emotionally, physically or sexually. In addition, synonyms of a bully include oppressor, tormenter, antagonist, coercer and intimidator. Strength or power in this description do not necessarily refer to physical ability. Strength or power can also be perceived as popularity, intelligence, education, status or even rank (grade).

Recognizing a bully – Deshabari 出しゃばり

Bullies will more often lie by commission and omission and, will re-interpret circumstances or a situation, communicating the actions of others to conform with their reasons of substantiation. Bullies, having a twisted mentality, sometimes have no idea they are in the wrong and often redirect blame. In addition, bullies often feel they are clever, cunning, privileged, smarter, more correct and stronger physically or mentally than whomever they have targeted as their adversary and bullies are noticeably artificial or lack diplomacy and general lack sympathy. 

Bullies are those intent to injure or diminish the mind and spirit of their target even if the body is not physically harmed. Their actions should not be rewarded with the attention they crave. As instructors and there-by definition ‘leaders’ and ‘protectors’, Sensei 先生 should never adhere to ‘bullying’ type of behavior ourselves and counter the actions of others displaying such.

One option of dealing with an aggressive individual (bully) is to stand up, or deny the attention they cry out for. This type of action is difficult for many and easy for others. It is somewhat easy to deliberately walk away from dubious circumstances or situations having lost nothing. This can backfire to exasperate antagonists, thus putting them in a position that, as bullies do, further their actions in public forums thus revealing their true intent. 

Another option and common recommendation or solution, is to smother a bully with compassion. While the bully continues to sabotage themselves and distance confidants, we cannot allow ourselves to plummet with them for we’ve done all we can. To respond with compassionate maturity can set an example for the antagonist.

In a gesture to establish international uniformity to display good character, association leaders of most Budō 武道 organizations have gone out of their way to publish letters to address such behavior. And most of these documents are also applicable to bullying online and in public settings.

Leo Lipinski Shihan offered the following in a communication string as input to a delicate situation. 

“In any karate (budō) organizations we must follow our given chain of command.  Without the chain of command, the order, hierarchy and functionality of the group will collapse. 

There is the exception to the occasional leader, whose management skills are lacking or nonexistent.  This includes anyone who belittles others publicly, online or by shared email. 

With this circumstance you should report the dysfunctionality to his seniors without hesitation.  Otherwise, by letting these types of issues go unreported the problem manifests allowing additional complications and giving them room to expand their provocations.

We must deal with the (these) individuals maturely and hopefully starting with diplomatic methods.  Those creating the problem will either show their true colors, conform to appropriate standards or they should leave altogether.

Leo Lipinski

8th Dan. Gōjū-Ryū Karate-Dō Seiwakai 剛柔流空手道誠和会

Kokusai-Bu (International Division) 国際部

Use caution when dealing with bullies. We don’t know what demons lurk in their mind; if they are depressed, experiencing personal problems, loss or may have been exposed to bullies themselves. The best solution of all is to ‘bow out’ and distance yourself until they’ve overstepped all boundaries and find themselves in the legal system or a victim of their own circumstance.

Tengu ni naranai yō ni 天狗にならないように:  Don’t be a Tengu!


I’ve more than once experienced a horrific display of verbal bullying in karate and in particular the workplace. For example, when I joined a new technology company. The director of my department was known for his rants and had long been coined as the ‘administrative insolent’. In a general meeting and product review, when one of the senior product managers came in on her day off, the director of the department stopped the meeting to indirectly humiliate her for coming in after reporting she was taking personal day off for an at school event with her son’s special ed teacher and stating that “only an idiot would come into work on a paid day off,” and that “the new product release shouldn’t be reviewed if there are people that stupid on our team.” 

Clearly, she was disgraced. As she stood and approached the door, I joined in solidarity to set the example that the department director was a narcissistic. Just as I reached the door, six other team members joined us, another four left during the break and multiple others did not attend the open luncheon that afternoon. Four of us quit the following day. 

A few weeks later this department director resigned as a resulting wave of complaints, for previous actions, to the senior board and CEO of the company. Six months later I received word that several others in the department had settled out of court in a class action lawsuit. This is only one example of how to handle a bully, with an alliance of sheer numbers and a clear message.

At about the time of compiling this text, I again came across almost the exact situation as displayed in the workplace example above, however while attending a joint karate training session. 

Unfortunately, on this occasion, there was no broad show of support towards the bully’s target. The antagonist at the event, after ambushing his target and embarrassing the host, later continued with immature displays of harassment, bragging of his actions online via social media with the expectation of applause which was ill received. Over the years, and after initiating several incidents, attempts to politically undermine seniors and dismantle his base organization, this same individual filed his Jinin 辞任 (resignation) having lost face (Mentsu wo ushinau メンツを失う) In the eyes of the majority of his constituents.


In both scenarios, the bully took advantage of a general and open meeting to ambush a perceived opponent. In an attempt to publicly humiliate them before a captive audience the bully didn’t see that he irresponsibly and permanently lost face and undermined his credibility among his peers.

In closing, keep in mind that a bully can never take away the message that a student or his perceived adversary confers by simply bowing and walking away. As teachers or Budōka 武道家 it is our responsibility to protect the weak, stand up for moral character and guide the generations that follow us by setting positive examples and leadership.