Trainmanship – surviving the Leicester Elbow

Aficionados and practitioners of the gentle art of gamesmanship may be jubilant to note that per pro yours truly the art of survival in the busiest of public transport systems has officially been accepted recently and named “trainmanship” by the Greater Tokyo Old Rotters and Gentlemen Club as a subset of Japanmanship due to the increasingly huge, as yet unpublished, amount of research on the subject, quod erat faciendum. A feat worthy of celebration, I think you’ll agree.

* * *
Recently I was in yet another altercation involving the Leicester Elbow. In the same way London’s Leicester Square somehow attracts tourists to flock to it despite any obvious charms or worthwhile attractions, so does an elevated elbow, say one in the middle of an arm holding a suspended strap for support, attract the heads of those around it for no discernable or comprehensible reason, hence the “Leicester Elbow”. (see figure A)

Fig. A The Leicester Elbow

In my most recent case a demure and possibly drunk old salaryman had decided to wage war on my elbow by, eventually, doing backwards head buts with such force the crack of bone on bone was audible through even my earphones. I felt no pain, of course, but was irritated enough to not make any more space for the belligerent lollygagger as all he had to do was take a single step forward, back to the space he had previously occupied, for my elbow to no longer be an obstacle. This, in turn, prompted the man to turn around to have a word with me.

After having sampled and tested all manner of offensive and defensive measures it would seem ignoring the perpetrator is by far the most effective, but only if you can communicate that you are, in fact, ignoring him. This requires a passive aggressive non-activity which can be hard to convey, but the Leicester Elbow forms a unique natural solution, which I had cause in this instance to test with astounding results.

In turning to me the perpetrator sought eye contact which I was unwilling to lend him, as it would invariably lead to a cul-de-sac of verbal abuse. Instead I continued to stare at my mobile phone and moved my elbow ever so slightly as to make it occupy the space in between our heads through which the conversation was to be conducted. Not deterred the drunk merely tilted his head sideways to peek past my elbow and to reinitiate possible eye contact. To answer this move, I merely shifted my elbow ever so slightly back and again successfully blocked him from my view, never once looking up. (see figure 2) The dance can theoretically be perpetrated ad infinitum but in this instance it was repeated four times before the man got the message and meekly turned to move to a different space, far removed from this aggressively unwilling victim.

Fig. 2 The Sandwich Waltz

The lesson learnt is that simply ignoring the wrongdoer will yield no reasonable results so actively ignoring him while communicating loudly you are doing so, as with the Sandwich Waltz, is proven to be effective.

As a side note, the tactic did eventually lead to the man changing his position to near where another passenger would give up his seat at the following stop, allowing for the aggressor to sit in comfort for the rest of the trip while yours truly remained standing. So maybe it was not a victory in comfort, if it was one in the moral sphere of commuter survival.


  1. Andrew ArmstrongThursday, April 03, 2008

    You showed him :) I think the moral victory is better then the comfort, since you can take that home and put up a post about it :D

    Brief visits to a crowded London Underground makes me wonder what the various "moves" were called, and now at least I know one, haha.

  2. Congrats on your victory. Always a pleasure to read about new public transit survival strategies.

    I myself have become quite adept at ensuring I get prime seating, via a group of maneuvers lovingly referred to by myself as "the cut." I'll write a blog post about it sometime perhaps.

  3. Ahah. Made me laugh!

    What about the falling asleep tactic? When you pretend you are paying attention to his complaints but slowly close your eyes and gradually bow your head until eventually you are in a full *pretend* sleeping mode?

    Although risky - because he could attack you and your eyes were closed - this strategy would probably cause such confusion he would simply leave you alone.

  4. I'll sacrifice quite a bit of comfort in order to win, be it as esoteric as a moral victory or as simple as getting the right of way while driving.

    Your man might have been pleased that he got a seat, but he had already been figuratively unseated by a foreigner -- something he'll remember longer than a bit of train comfort.

  5. @Celso:

    Actually I`ve been using this technique almost daily on the Oedo-line. The trick is to keep one eye just slightly open, kinda like the `Sergio Leone sleep` so people think you are sleeping, while you actually still see what`s going on. I use my left eye, and am able to effectively scan the environment for potential threats (drunken kaishain or elderly women) or opportunities (a seated person alerted by the voiceover of the next stop) allowing me to strategically plan my next move accordingly.

  6. Pretending to sleep is too dishonest for the true gamesman. Besides, it removes the subtle interplay between the protagonists that makes the sport so much fun.
    One thing Trainmanship has yet to tackle is how to succesfully deal with those sleepers who consider you their personal pillow. Any tips in this field would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Japan recently introduced an information site. Foreigners who are relatively unknown in Japan to introduce the information. Surprise is full of information.
    We hope once the link please.

  8. The illustrations make all the difference.

    I have now practiced the "Sandwich Waltz" maneuver and will be ready when I visit Tokyo, I hope, next year. In the meantime, I'll try it when I travel to NYC this summer. I'll be sure to write you from my hospital bed. ;-)

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