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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.
Though a beginner, I do consider myself a serious martial artist. I strive at all times to approach the martial arts as a serious pursuit, and have a tendency to look down on those who treat them like childhood playacting. Aikido, with its (relatively) safe kata-style training, its ritualistic kneeling and bowing, and its traditional weapons and garb, is particularly susceptible to the playground mindset, and attracts no small number of fantasy enthusiasts looking to get their geek on.
I like to think that I'm above all that, but the truth is that I'm a fantasy enthusiast myself. I spent my youth absorbed in novels, role-playing games, and video games full of romanticized medievalism. Every time I step onto the mat, there is a great temptation to wrap myself in childish fancy. Usually, it's a temptation I can resist, but there is one thing that still always brings out the nerd in me: the bokken.
Throughout my formative years, I rolled dice and pressed buttons to pretend I was swinging a sword. So the first time I took a bokken off the rack, bowed, and took up a kamae, I was in nerd heaven. Repetitive suburi exercises became samurai training out of a bad Eighties movie. Kumitachi was particularly geektastic, creating the feeling of being in a samurai duel.
I'm slowly getting the nerd moments under control, but the thrill of actually doing something I'd previously given up to the realm of fantasy never really goes away. And I can't help thinking that it should.
I write this from the site of my greatest defeat in life.
My wife is currently suffering from an injury that prevents her from driving, so I am her chauffeur to and from this evening's night class. She is now working on her master's degree at the same small private college where we first met ten years ago as music students. That time, she left with a bachelor's degree.
I did not.
I wasn't a wild partier or a headstrong rebellious type; that would make for a much better story. The truth is that I simply paralyzed myself with a poisonous combination of fear and apathy. The more complex a task, the more I feared to face it. And the more I feared, the more likely I was to seek escape in my guitar, my friends, or my roommates' video games.
Of course, there is really no escape, only ignorance. I ignored my way through four years of college, and then left with a lot of debt and no degree to show for it.
My failure here at the college is a weight I carry constantly, one that holds me back both personally and professionally. I work at a school now, trying to help kids stay the educational course. But why should they listen to me? I didn't stay the course; I couldn't. Who am I to tell them they can?
On occasions like this, when I am forced to revisit campus, the wounds are opened anew. Just down the hallway from the lobby where I now sit waiting for my wife is the classroom where I attended my first CSS (college success seminar) with a group of freshmen. I was full
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards
- Bob Dylan, "Changing of the Guards"
This year has been marked at the dojo by the loss of instructors.
One sensei, a former football player and judoka, finally needed to get a hip replaced after a lifetime of abuse in sport and the martial arts. He'll be back, but we don't know when. Another, well into his seventies and a recent veteran of two surgeries, is simply not physically capable of training (at least as we do in the dojo) on a regular basis anymore. Still another, our primary weapons instructor, is taking a "leave of absence", though I don't know why or for how long.
We do not have a shortage of instructors. We still have three who were teaching before this momentous turnover, two yudansha who joined us in the middle of the year, and one more who has recently earned his black belt and begun teaching. Still, the change hit many of us hard, especially beginners like myself.
I'm still learning what aikido is, how it works, and what it means in my life, and half the people who were teaching me that are gone. They've been replaced by capable teachers, but teachers with different ideas about aikido and different methods of teaching it. It's been confusing, to say the least.
Frustrating, too. Two of the lost instructors I mentioned above were the head instructors during the classes I came to watch when I was considering joini
The trouble is, my instructor at the Academy is now following USA Taekwondo rules about not promoting his own students, which means that, in order for him to conduct a test, he needs to bring in an instructor from the outside. And, this time at least, that instructor was only available during the school day. That's all well and good for the kids, but of course I'm working then.
Sure, I probably could have worked it out for someone to cover me for the length of a test, but I really don't want to be that guy who looks for enablers so he can do personal business on company time. I told my instructor this; he understands, but since he doesn't have another instructor at his beck and call all the time, my green belt test has been postponed to a date and time to be determined.
Since discovering this, I have slacked off on my taekwondo training in favor of more aikido and shorter workouts. The kids were at a tournament last weekend, so it's been a week-and-a-half since I've actually trained in the dojang. I haven't felt the drive. I haven't been in the mood. It's hard to convince myself to keep practicing for a test without any promise that the test is, in fact, coming.
I can't honestly say I'm sure I'll ever have the opportunity to test. My instructor is not professionally obligated to me the way he is to the kids. What's more, i'm still not sure the Academy, my source of taekwondo, will even be around after this school y
I spent last Wednesday and Thursday at nonviolent crisis intervention training. This is something required for all staff at the Academy, due to our abundance of students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
The training covered how to deal verbally with a student in crisis, how to escape a violent attack from a student, and how to physically restrain a student as a last resort. It was, as I said, nonviolent crisis intervention, which means all of the above needed to be accomplished without harming the student.
A couple of the other teachers had trouble with this. It bothered them that, in a situation in which they would feel totally justified in striking back, the wellfare of the student remained their legal responsibility. For my part, aikido's precept of minimizing harm to the attacker had already prepared me for this conundrum.
In fact, I found that my meager year of aikido gave me a head start on much of the material covered in the training. The stages of dealing with students in crisis verbally were very reminiscent of the way Thomas Crum applies aikido principles to interpersonal conflict in his book The Magic of Conflict. Some of the physical techniques covered in the training could have come straight from an aikido class.
One restraining hold, for instance, had me next to my restrainee, him bent over, my hip against his, my inside hand on his upper arm and my outside hand holding his hand tight to me, palm-up and elevated above his shoulder. Anyone fa