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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.
When I'm in a songwriting rut and my guitar lies dormant in its case on my floor for weeks at a time, the cure is to start listening to new music. I put in a new CD (yes, for me it is usually still CDs) and listen to it several times in a matter of days, picking up on new chords, new kinds of melodies, new lyrical ideas. Soon, I feel compelled to try my hand at these new tricks.
It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that my return to blogging has been brought on by the discovery--and subsequent devouring--of the collected works of an online martial arts writer, Rob Redmond of 24 Fighting Chickens. Redmond is a lifelong karateka who writes with a biting wit. His observations about karate have implications that reach far beyond his own art.
One need only read a few of his short pieces to discover a pervasive, recurring theme: his fear that modern karate students are not being taught to cultivate their own creativity, and that, consequently, karate is becoming a stagnant set of techniques rather than a living art (look here for probably the clearest example of this).
Much is made nowadays of whether or not the martial arts are truly martial, but Redmond seems to stand alone in asking an equally important question: are they truly arts?
Almost immediately, I felt a need to turn Redmond's scrutiny on my own martial arts. Of course, my creativity is limited by my inexperience, so I can only go so far with this, but still I came to some interesting conclusions almost right a
No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength.
- Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
I had to restrain a really, truly violent student for the first time two weeks ago.
For the sake of those involved, I won't go into details. It's enough for now to say that when I arrived to respond to a frantic distress call, the situation was already well beyond any solution but physical intervention. A very large, very angry adolescent needed to be stopped now, and I was going to have to be the one to do it.
Procedures were forgotten. Training was forgotten.
I should have known better, of course; besides my regular training in aikido, I had been through training specifically for situations like this through the school system. But I charged in mindlessly, shoving a desk out of my way, with no plan except to be bigger and stronger than the student.
The trouble is, I almost wasn't.
I like to think that regular martial arts training and exercise makes me a little stronger than the average musician/teaching aide, but hell hath no fury like the pent-up rage of a large tweenager. It took everything I had to stop his charge without hurting him, and a little more I didn't know I had until then to avoid hurting myself. Had he been any bigger, or had I been any smaller, I likely would have failed to stop further violence.
What did I do wrong? Well, nothing. And everything.
The hold I tried on him was indeed one prescribed by
Every few weeks, I decide to look into what martial arts options I have to choose from besides aikido.
This has been going on since just a couple months after I started training: I'll have a particularly fun taekwondo class or a bad day at the dojo and decide I need to see if there's something out there that won't hurt my joints so much, or frustrate me with mystifying connection exercises, or make me wear a skirt. Then it's time to fire up Google.
The list of links that results from my search I have pretty well memorized.
There are some that make me turn away immediately: two branches of a cheap Midwest-wide taekwondo chain that promises a black belt in three years; a "dojo" where the uniforms are red, white, and blue and the martial art taught, as far as I can tell, is called "martial arts"; and a mixed martial arts gym whose website is awash with pictures of large, angry-looking shirtless men who seem ready to jump out of my computer screen at any moment and beat me into submission.
It's easy enough to cross these off the list right away. There are plenty of more attractive options, though.
The dojang where my taekwondo instructor learned his art isn't too far. Rates are relatively affordable, though still twice as much as the dojo's, and the founding master is from the Korean old school that does not approve of cross-training and pushes an entirely false nationalistic history of the art.
Just across the street from the dojo is a place where traditional
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
There are various Ways. There is the Way of salvation by the law of Buddha, the Way of Confucius governing the Way of learning, the Way of healing as a doctor, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, tea, archery, and many arts and skills. Each man practices as he feels inclined. It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways.
- Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings
My journey into the martial arts has been nothing short of an obsession over the past fourteen months. I have trained, I have exercised, I have read every book I could find, and I have researched every available source on the internet. There are days when it seems the martial arts are the only thing I talk about. My wife, bless her heart, has managed not to complain much, because she knows the martial arts make me happy.
But not so long ago, music made me happy. I spent my evenings in the living room with my guitar, playing old songs and writing new ones. I spent my weekends in the downtown shopping district of Waukesha, Wisconsin, singing at bars or playing outdoor concerts during the summer. My guitar never used to get put away; it would live in a chair or on the couch for days at a time. Music, more than anything else, has been my life's work to this point.
The opportunities in Waukesha have slowed to a standstill this winter, and the guys in the band have bigger economic problems to worry about than reviving our schedule of low-playing bar gigs
I have been asked before how I chose aikido as the martial art I wanted to train. The truth is, I didn't.
I never painstakingly researched the relative merits of different of martial arts. I never asked for a lot of input from experienced martial artists on what would suit my goals or my body type. I never took introductory classes in different martial arts to see how they felt.
What I did do was go online and look at the web site of every martial arts training center within 20 miles: taekwondo dojang, judo dojo, kung fu center, whatever. If what I saw looked interesting and there was an e-mail address provided, I shot them an e-mail asking for more information.
My questions were, I thought, pretty reasonable ones. What styles did they teach? How much did they charge? When were their classes? As it turned out, nearly all of the people I contacted were unwilling to part with even this most basic information. The responses were all the same: come on in, see a class, and we'll talk about it.
I, for one, didn't want to devote an evening to seeing a class and listening to the instructor's pitch if I didn't think the program would fit my budget or my work schedule. So most of these places never heard another word from me.
A funny thing happened, though. The e-mail I sent to a small nonprofit aikido club got a reply in an hour-and-a-half. The reply gave detailed information on the club's class schedule, fees, and monthly dues. The dues were reasonable and the classes