Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige may be a burgeoning ONE Championship superstar, and a leading women’s athlete in Thailand’s martial arts scene, but she did not always have a reputation for her combat talents.
In fact, before she equipped herself with martial arts, she had been a target for bullies.
During her childhood, Ishige was frequently picked on because of her appearance. “Tinydoll,” who is of Thai and Japanese descent, always sported a genuine smile with friendly eyes and was petite in stature.
The local bullies took notice, and made Ishige’s teenage life a nightmare. She often fell victim to mental abuse and physical attacks. All of that led her into the world of martial arts.
“I do not remember the first time I got bullied because I used to get bullied since I was young,” Ishige reveals, as she reflects on her adolescent years. “When I was a junior in high school, I was bullied by the seniors because I am only half Thai.”
“At first they made fun of me verbally, like calling me terrible names, and after that I was physically bullied. I got pushed from behind and had my hair pulled.”
“Tinydoll” did not receive much help from her teachers, and nobody ever stepped in to help. Even worse, she was not the only victim in her school. Bullying culture is one that has the tendency to spread quickly if it is not dealt with, and that meant difficult school days for many of her peers.
“If you have a weak point or are different, you can be the target of bullying,” she continues, with her slight figure and dual-heritage clearly putting a target on her back.
Each individual’s reaction to being bullied is different. Some lash out, while others could retreat into themselves.
Ishige had to find her own strength and way to cope. She did not want to add fuel to the fire, so she did her best to stay away from her tormentors, and out of the line of fire.
That was the first line of defense — and the most sensible one. In addition, she decided that she needed to be able to protect herself, should that line be breached, and her physical safety be put at risk again.
So, as a tiny teenage girl, hence the nickname “Tinydoll,” she stepped through the doors of her local martial arts school, and has never looked back.
“I did not learn martial arts to hurt people, just for self-defense,” she offers. “I decided to start practicing aikido and karate.”
As Ishige began to feel more physically capable, her psychological confidence grew on the same trajectory. This is just as important as the skills, as the two work hand-in-hand, enhancing each other at every turn. You get better, so you get more confident. You get more confident, so you execute your techniques better.
“I became stronger — not only physically, but mentally,” she explains. “I felt calmer and better at controlling my emotions.”
The bullies started to bother her less and less, until eventually, they faded away. Arming herself with martial arts and its accompanying benefits helped her to fight back, even if most of the fighting was done in her mind.
Ishige regained control of her situation, and has her training to thank. That is why she actively advocates martial arts to any young person having a difficult time. After all, she has been through it, and already learnt the lessons.
“You cannot change others, only yourself. Get ready to deal with every situation,” she asserts. “You should get physical strength by working out or practicing martial arts to protect yourself from physical or sexual bullying. Also, you will build mental strength for dealing with verbal bullying, including cyberbullying.”
However, what if you’re petite in stature like Ishige? There is still a martial art for you, as leverage and brain power can overmatch brawn.
“Jiu-jitsu helped me a lot, both in my normal life and in matches. It is good for small people like me,” she advises.
Today, she also has some advice for her bullies, who may well now be reading this articles or watching her compete on a live global broadcast to 1 billion potential viewers across 128 countries.
“Now we have become adults, and I think some have children. Please teach them to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. No one wants to be bullied.”
However, if resistance is your only means of survival, then you can look to Ishige’s example. It does not matter what your size is, you can always take steps to resist, and you should know that you will never have to stand alone.
Although Ishige had to endure countless experiences with bullying, it led her to martial arts, and she has become a strong, confident woman who is now one of Asia’s most popular stars.