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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.
I never really payed any attention to the External Blog Posts board before now, but now that I have noticed it, I realize that what I am posting here are most certainly external blog posts. Therefore, future posts from the Young Grasshopper blog will be posted on the External Blog Posts board, because that is their proper place.
I hope readers who have come to like my blog will take the time to look for them there.
I'm going to begin here by directing my few readers to a better and more widely-read internet writer than myself. This particular writer happens to have the same parents I have.
My brother recently wrote a wonderful piece on The Inclusive about video games. Specifically, he aired his beef (shared by many of us who grew up on the NES, Sega Genesis, and SNES) with the kind of social games on Facebook and the iPhone that he calls "Villes" (think Farmville, Cityville, etc.). The purpose of these games, says my brother, is not be fun or interesting, but to hook players on a progression of increasingly difficult and expensive rewards. The goal in developing these games, he says, is to get a few gullible people so addicted that they're willing to pay real money for benefits that exist only in the imaginary world of the game.
My brother compares these games to B.F. Skinner's operant conditioning chambers:
This is why these games are free, brightly colored, and cute: if they get enough people in the box, some people will keep hitting the button. If there are time delays constricting how often the button can be pushed, some people will pay for the privilege of hitting the button sooner. Although this sounds like a Dire Metaphor, it is almost literally accurate: pay fifteen in-game-currency units (sold at ten for a real-life dollar) to get the Pig Pen now, rather than waiting to accrue that many units over time.
My brother, mind you, has a much bigger and much more important po
The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
- Pete Seeger, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy"
I may not know much about the martial arts, but I do know a little something about teaching.
In order to teach material, a teacher must first know the material. He must be able to lead students through it, answer questions about it, and find a way to make it relevant to different students with different points of view. A teacher who doesn't know his material simply can't teach.
There is something worse, though, than a teacher who doesn't know his material: a teacher who doesn't know his material and yet insists on moving forward as if he does. These are the teachers students alternatively laugh and grumble about, and peers whisper about behind their backs. These teachers don't just make fools of themselves, they drag their students down with them.
We've all had these teachers at one time or another, and I've always wondered at their motivations. Can the prospect of owning our ignorance really be so daunting that we're willing to humiliate ourselves and inconvenience others instead? In my own experience as an educator, I've found it's much easier and much less painful for everyone (including myself) if I just say, "I guess
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, w
From time to time, I enjoy catching an episode of Penn and Teller's cable television show Bullshit!. For those of you who don't know, Bullshit! involves the popular illusionist duo picking something they find dishonest, underhanded, or just plain wrong, and tearing it apart with all the wit and humor they can muster--which is a considerable amount. I don't always agree with the things they have to say (Penn and Teller are staunch atheists and libertarians), but I always enjoy hearing them say it.
Over the past few years, Bullshit! has taken on conspiracy theories, religious movements, pieces of legislation, political organizations, and New Age fads, just to name a few. Their commentary is caustic, irreverent, and usually heavily laced with profanity (as the name of the show might suggest).
It was with some trepidation that I recently sought out a particular episode that I'd read about on a martial arts message board. It turns out Penn and Teller had done a Bullshit! on the martial arts. I had to find it, of course, but the idea of Penn and Teller tearing into one of my favorite activities certainly made me nervous.
Would Penn and Teller tell me that my training is, well, bullshit? Would their show be ruined for me forever? Worse, would they challenge my belief in the validity and usefulness of my martial arts training? I almost couldn't bear to watch. But, of course, I did.
In their 30-minute attempt to burst the bubble of the martial arts mystique, Penn and Tell
There are many martial artists (and I used to be one of them) who take real offense at their arts being called sports. They believe they are practicing something more noble, more real, and more valuable than sport.
I don't know whether or not George Ledyard Sensei takes such offense, but he exemplified the kind of high-minded sentiment I'm talking about in a recent post to his blog George Ledyard's All Things Aikido. Here's an excerpt:
Aikido is a form of Budo. Budo is basically the use of the martial arts for personal transformation. Aikido as Budo is a "Michi" or Martial "WAY" (the "do" in Aiki-do). O-Sensei, the Founder, actually believed that through Aikido, the whole world could be brought into a state of harmony; he called our art "The Way of Peace". For him, Budo was a life and death matter. Given the right level of commitment one could truly become a better person, less fearful, stronger, braver, more compassionate. One could, in his or her own Mind and Body understand that everything in the universe is essentially connected. His creation of Aikido represents a radical transformation of how Budo was viewed historically. It is a unique art. It is not a "hobby", it is not a "sport", it is not a "workout", it is a Michi, a Way.
Before I go on, I would like to make aboundantly clear that I greatly respect and admire Ledyard Sensei and recommend his blog. I have never met Ledyard Sensei, but his online writing alone has been a tremendous influence on my fledgling for
Do nothing which is of no use.
- Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings
An injury has kept me out of aikido for the better part of the last three months. My recent return to the mat came with a boxing wrap on my left wrist and no small amount of trepidation about that wrist's future. I am a guitar player, after all.
In the meantime, as I feared, my source of free taekwondo has dried up, at least for a while. Aikido and I are left alone with each other, and I confess to some discomfort with that idea that has kept me anxiously thoughtful during my hiatus.
I have written extensively (here, here, here, and here) on the question of whether or not aikido is--or can be--everything I want it to be in my life without something else on the side. It's a question I've struggled with during my absence from the dojo, and one I wanted answered beyond all doubt before I returned and exposed my wrist to any possibility of re-injury.
What I concluded after three months of deliberation is that I come to the dojo looking for three things: (1) a martial art, (2) exercise, and (3) a tool for discovering and changing myself.
I won't stress much over the third item on the list, since I think any activity that serves as an object for mindfulness and perseverance can become the kind of tool mentioned therein. But there is some aikido, I think, that doesn't fill those first two criteria.
There is a breed of aikido that functions more like yoga or tai chi: a meditative dance that bu
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.
- Henry Ford
I admit it: I'm never going to be a great martial arts master or champion. If I ever had a chance to accomplish something like that, I have surely missed it.
I'm not old, or even middle-aged, but I'm already nearing the age at which professional athletes either retire or become their teams' "veteran leaders". I know my body does not have the potential it had ten years ago, and moreover I know that the vast majority of people who become great achievers in any physical sport--the martial arts included--master the basics of their sport when they're teenagers or younger. That opportunity is long gone for me.
The world is full of 30- and 40-year-olds who start martial arts training believing that, if they train hard enough, they can become great warriors capable of taking on hordes of opponents Bruce Lee-style. Most people who have have no emotional investment in the martial arts find this kind of thinking laughable, and I'm with them. I have no such illusions.
I have no doubt offended some aikidoka with what I have written so far. "But Matt," I can hear them protest, "my instructor didn't start aikido training until he was an adult. He's in his sixties now and is still getting better. He just earned another dan rank."
This is a popular sentiment in aikido, and in many cases there is much truth to it. It needs clarification, though.
A few weeks ago I introduced my small readership to a much better and much more famous online martial arts writer than myself, Rob Redmond of 24 Fighting Chickens. In that entry, I examined my own martial arts in light of one of Redmond's biggest criticisms of modern Shotokan karate practice: a failure to embrace martial artists' individual creativity.
As I continue to read Redmond's work, a few more recurring points are starting to jump out at me, and one in particular cuts very deep for a practitioner of aikido and taekwondo.
I must admit that one of my goals when I began martial arts training was to make myself into a better person. I have even suggested on this blog that the lofty moral goals of aikido and taekwondo justify my preference of them over more realistic and practical arts. So this crticism of Redmond's is a little more uncomfortable for me to turn on my own arts than the last.
Can aikido and taekwondo really make me into a better person? What if they can't--have I wasted the last year-and-a-half?
In light of history, a few concessions must be made right away. Being a master of aikido didn't keep Steven Sea
Last Thursday night, plagued by a nagging wrist injury and still not sure I was getting everything I wanted out of my aikido training, I payed a visit to a nonprofit Shotokan karate club on the north side of Milwaukee. If nothing else, it was certainly an educational experience.
First of all, I learned karate is not all that much easier on an injured wrist than carefully practiced aikido. This seemed strange to me, since I haven't found the same to be true of taekwondo, which is similar to karate in many ways.
There were other lessons, though, that were much more profound.
To this point, I've mostly had experience with the more lighthearted side of martial arts training. I don't mean to suggest that the people I train with don't take their arts seriously enough or try to do their best, but there has never a question of why we're all there: we enjoy martial arts training. Training in the dojo or dojang is not primarily a matter of honor, devotion, or even necessity for us. We train to get a workout and to do something we enjoy.
What I found at this karate club, though, was very different.
We ran to line up at the beginning of class. We bowed as we were curtly ordered by the senior student, first to the shomen (we were in a gymnasium--where was the shomen?), then to the instructor. We stood silently as the instructor introduced me to the class, then lectured on the history of Japanese karate and how serious an undertaking karate is. He told me that some people c