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My first experiences with any form of martial arts came in my childhood. For one thing I was the smallest kid of my grade throughout elementary school, and for another, the people I grew up with always seemed interested in being tough. I found that my friends, who were about a foot taller and twice my weight in some cases, could always beat me in contests of strength. The best I could do against them was to outsmart them or somehow stall out thier efforts to overpower me. Given that WWF and Hulkamania were in full effect, I took ukemi for many a pile-driver, body slam and even the occasional suplex. I remember specific moments where I was forced to learn how to not get hurt...and indeed I was lucky I didn't. I landed on many pine cones and exposed roots and rocks.
As I said, the culture of my area was heavily based on toughness. The golden era of Gangsta Rap began with the popularity of NWA, Eazy E, etc. so you can see why many of my generation might have gravitated toward thuggish behavior. I've known enough criminals to have a relatively competent understanding of various forms of crime and from what I can tell assault is a highly unreported crime that should be taken seriously.
So, my lessons in how to engage people bigger than me, coupled with my lessons from a violent componant of our society instilled in me a sense of need for self-defense as well as a basic direction to move in. In high school I decided I would learn a martial art so I began reading about various styles. I was attracted to the ideas of unity and mindfulness I perceieved of Aikido. By chance, a friend was going to check out an Aikido dojo and invited me along. When I arrived I was impressed by the dojo itself. It was in a beautiful mountain setting next to the Pilchuck River and it was exciting to actually be in a dojo, complete with warriors swinging wooden swords and staffs and throwing each other all over the place. The people were "chill" and laughed a lot while they worked hard. Quickly I began to think it looked fake though. Some of it looked real tough/effective, but a lot of it seemed too easy...almost as if the attacker was letting the defender win. I left and got distracted and didn't seriously think about learning a martial art until I was 19.
I dropped out of college and got a job and suddenly had disposable income. By chance, I was driving aimlessly through the mountains and I suddenly had the vague memory of the Aikido dojo I visited back in high school. Sure enough I found it and introduced myself and decided to give Aikido a try. At this point in my life I was battling with pretty bad depression and I didn't care that it seemed non-martial. I was interested in the meditational quality Kannagara Dojo seemed ready to provide.