MY STORY

April 2021

This story is about what happened to me in my early twenties.

I was sexually assaulted by one of my first Aikido teachers.

This should not have happened.

 

My story is difficult to tell. I have reflected upon it for many years. My hope is that telling it will give it less power over me, more power to help others, and open the possibility to create change. 

I started my aikido training in 1994, while in college. My passion was always to teach Mathematics in the inner city, so this guided me to enter one of the largest dojos in a major city on the east coast. I trained as much as I could. After I graduated college in 1996, I made the choice to move into the dojo to be a live-in student (uchideshi). I was 22 years old.

 

During my uchideshi days, I was a serious student. I took as many classes as was physically possible, sometimes 6 hours in one day. I chose a Sensei who was a high-ranking teacher in that dojo and whose aikido inspired me. The student-teacher relationship was something I wanted to experience in order to deepen my full understanding of aikido as a life path. I felt and believed that this spiritual goal was the basis for my relationship with my Sensei. However, time and time again my Sensei would overstep this student-teacher boundary, and ask me to go out to the bar with him and his friends, even after I would refuse. On one occasion, he even told me I could call him and come to his apartment, if I ever wanted to. I quickly said no. My Sensei’s reputation with women was not a secret.

After my time as an uchideshi, my Sensei decided to move, to open his own dojo in a different city. I applied to and was accepted into an MA program at a university in that city. I moved, studied at the university, and helped my Sensei open his dojo. I wanted to train in every class, and I was encouraged to train as much as possible. Just go to the dojo, train, and take ukemi!

Once a week, it was customary for members of the dojo, including Sensei, to go to a Vietnamese restaurant after class. I started to join these social outings. I was often tired at night, as I had to start my day early in the morning, but it felt important to join the aikido community off the mat. Like the dojo members as a whole, the group was mostly men. They would tease our regular waiter at the restaurant and the core of the joke was that I was a single available woman. The waiter asked for my number, but I did not want to share it with him.

 

One day, I got a call from the waiter. I was completely shocked, and very angry. I asked how he had gotten my number. He said that the aikido men at the table had given it to him. I was furious at this violation of not only my privacy but my sense of safety. When I mentioned this to the dojo members, they just shrugged. At that point, I did not know where to go to direct my complaint. Bringing up my personal concerns did not seem to be taken seriously or change any routines of the dojo members.

Sometimes on the weekends, the dojo members and Sensei would go out to the local bar. It became a regular hang out. One night, however, everything changed. I have not been able to talk about that night until very recently. I remember dancing to the music and drinking a beer. On this one particular night, the beer was my last memory because everything went blank -- until I woke up hours later in an unfamiliar room, alone with my Sensei, in bed, in the middle of the act of sexual intercourse. Once my eyes opened, and I became conscious, I was disoriented for a few minutes. I had no idea where I was or how I had gotten there. I had never consented to nor wanted to have sex with my teacher. And I had never in my life experienced blackout or complete memory loss. Once I gained control of my body, I got out of the bed, found my clothes, put them on, and left the room. It was the very early hours of the morning. Eventually I found one of the members of the dojo in the house. It was this man, someone I counted on as a friend, who had given me that last beer. He had watched me drink it. I asked him what had happened. He said something like, “Well, Sensei asked to sleep with you."

 

In my disgust and confusion, I turned away. I left the house, and found my way home, which took some time since I did not know where I had been taken. To this day, no one involved has ever said anything about that night. In hindsight, I think it is likely that there were date rape drugs involved.

 

This was the most isolating time in my life, and I had nowhere to go. After over twenty years have passed, I can understand the ripple effects from this trauma. I did not know what to do. Just train as usual, like my teacher said?  Or face the fact that I had just been raped and would need to figure out how to go about making a complaint? I did not even know who to complain to. I had heard so many times about the police and people not believing the stories of women.

 

I still wanted to study this Japanese martial art of aikido. I had already dedicated years of my life to it. Somehow, I convinced myself that what had happened that night was my fault, and that I needed to just continue as if that night, that act, had never happened. I decided that I should just keep silent, and keep training. And so I did -- until I could not keep silent any longer.

After several years of gender equity struggles within the organization that my teacher was part of, my experience felt important to share. In October 2020 I wrote a letter directly to the leadership of my teacher's organization. I described what had happened to me. I informed them that I intended to use my experience and my willingness to come forward as a way to personally heal and help other aikido organizations and teachers move towards more awareness and accountability. I hope this will generate conversations discussing how to create positive change in the future. If the sharing of my story can help prevent any other women from going through what I went through, it will be worth it.  

 

Since these experiences, I have confirmed my commitment to aikido and continued on my spiritual path. Over the years, I have helped to open several dojos across the country, filled leadership roles within other aikido organizations, and I currently have my own dojo, Clallam Aikikai, in Sequim, WA. 

Neilu Naini