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A blog written from the point of view of a martial arts beginner, which I am. You can find the full blog at http://yghmartialarts.blogspot.com. Here on AikiWeb, I'll post only those entries which are relevant to aikido.
Do you remember the old vending machines that sold coffee, hot chocolate, and sometimes tea or soup, dispensing them out of a nozzle into a little paper cup for a few quarters? I do; there was one in the lobby in the science building in college (the machine has since been replaced by an entire Starbuck's--kids these days don't know how good they have it).
I myself developed the coffee habit in my early 20s, when, as a "cub" reporter for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., I had to stay awake while writing phenomenally boring stories about municipal government. I got my coffee from a vending machine that also sold hot chocolate and chicken-noodle soup; all three liquids squirted out of a single tube, and they tasted pretty much the same.
I took a class this week from an aikido instructor who reminded me very much of one of those old machines.
I have been investigating the possibility of moving to another club for some time now, both for reasons I have discussed in print and for unrelated reasons I'm not going to put on the internet just yet. Only recently, I've started actually visiting other clubs.
The club I visited this week is home to several former members of my current club. One of them, a friend of mine, sent me an e-mail shortly after he left, inviting me to come take a look at his new club. I'm not sure how I feel about this kind of recruiting, but hey, I'm looking. So I showed up, worked out with an old friend, and got to see a different kind of aikido.
As it turned out, I think it was a little too different for me.
The instructor was a very nice, very friendly, very capable man with a background in many different martial arts. His expertise extended far beyond aikido into kung fu, boxing, muay Thai, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, among other things. He didn't wear a hakama.
His class felt strange to me. We trained with bo (six-foot-long staves not commonly used in aikido). We finished techniques with jujutsu-style armbars rather than what I know as aikido pins. We practiced gun disarms, some based on recognizable aikido techniques and some not. It was lots of fun, to be sure, but I had to look very hard for things I definitively recognized as aikido.
I asked the instructor afterward how accurately the class I'd just taken represented a typical night at his dojo. He admitted the gun disarms were a rarity, but said that otherwise what I'd just experienced was pretty typical of the classes he liked to teach. He told me that he liked to bring the perspective of other martial arts to aikido, to show that aikido can be a deadly (his word, not mine) martial art.
I'm going to abstain here from any argument about whether or not deadly is a word that ought to be used in reference to aikido. It's not really the subject at hand and I'd like to give the benefit of a doubt to a man whose experience and skill so obviously exceed my own.
What did concern me was the nagging feeling that I was getting aikido from one of the old coffee machines: so many flavors had become mixed together that I was having a hard time telling one taste from another. I couldn't help thinking that this instructor was trying so hard to bring all his martial arts experience into play that his aikido class had become an eclectic self-defense class instead.
There are probably those who don't see this as a bad thing, but I don't think I'm entirely comfortable with it. To be sure, aikido is a malleable martial art that can be fit into many molds. I don't dispute that, and I certainly don't dispute the value of crosstraining. But I decided when I began two years ago that aikido is an art form with its own value that transcends its material usefulness to me (ars gratia artis and all that); if I change aikido to suit my needs, then I'm afraid that decision was a lie.
I will almost certainly visit this club again. Even if I don't join, I'm sure I'll drop in from time to time just for the chance to work out with my old training buddies. In either case, it's unlikely I'll become a regular attendee of this particular instructor's classes.
Give me that old-time aikido; it's good enough for me.