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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.
Anyone who spends much time talking about the martial arts on the internet (which, as evidenced by this blog, I do) rapidly becomes aware of a very vocal e-contingent of anti-traditionalists.
They are all over YouTube, hurrying in droves to insult and belittle videos of taekwondo belt tests, karate kata, and aikido demonstrations. They are ready at a moment's notice to harshly assert their opinions on others' martial arts choices (not that anyone asked) on any message board, whether or not it is a martial arts message board.
To them, if you're not training in one of a select few modern full-contact martial arts, you're not really a martial artist at all. And they'll tell you so. And if you insist on suggesting your way has any kind of value, get ready for a caps lock firestorm.
What's a traditional martial artist to do? Ignore them? I do plenty of that, for sure. The problem with just dismissing them outright, though, is that they're a little bit right.
No matter how long or how hard I train in aikido and taekwondo, I'll probably never be able to stand toe-to-toe with a Muay Thai kickboxer or competitive mixed martial artist who has trained as hard as I have. If the martial arts are defined simply as methods of fighting, there is frankly no reason at all to train in aikido, taekwondo, karate, or kung fu when one has Brazilian jujutsu and krav maga to choose from.
I need to accept this truth in order to move past the criticism: not that I can't learn real marti
The word has come down from on high: there is a slight chance that the Academy will not be around next year. I won't go into the details, except to say that some people in the school district aren't sure we're worth the trouble of maintaining.
Now, let's set aside the important questions about my job and my future for a second and ask the question most pertinent to the subject of this blog: would the end of the Academy be the end of my taekwondo training?
It's a two-part question. Part one, whether I would have the time or money to pursue taekwondo on my own on top of my aikido training, has no answer yet, since I don't know what my next job would be. What I'll address here is part two: do I really need to continue taekwondo training at all if I'm training in aikido?
It's not an easy question. To be sure, aikido is quite fulfilling on its own. It has made me a healthier, happier, more complete human being. And no matter where my martial arts journey takes me in the future, aikido will always be an important part of my understanding of what the martial arts are and ought to be.
All that said, there are days when aikido training feels more like pondering a koan than practicing a martial art. I'll sometimes go through two hours of aikido without even breaking a sweat and end up confused and wondering what I was supposed to have learned. Aikido is not an art for those seeking a quick gratification or the most strenuous workout.
On the days when I'm not actually training in the dojo or dojang, I work out in my apartment complex's aforementioned gym. Besides my original goal of losing weight (I lost 30 pounds of my intended 40 and seem to have have hit a plateau since then), I think of it as a martial artist's duty to take care of his body and make sure he is in shape to practice his art.
But what does that mean, exactly? For sure, I need the flexibility to properly perform techniques and the endurance to train them repeatedly. But what else? Do I need the chiseled torso of Bruce Lee? The lean, powerful legs of Jean-Claude Van Damme? The bulging arms of a UFC heavyweight champion?
No doubt, it would be great to see these things in the mirror, and my wife would certainly appreciate them. But (a) are these things really a necessary part of being a dedicated martial artist, and (b) are they worth the time and effort I would have to put in to achieve them?
My wife thinks I already spend too much time in the gym. She's probably right. We rarely get a whole evening together at home anymore, and it seems a little selfish of me to take an hour-and-a-half of that time and devote it entirely to myself. What's more, even the hour-and-a-half isn't anywhere near enough to turn me into a fitness model.
Like most things, it seems this quandry comes down to deciding what's important.
It is important that I don't go back to being the out-of-shape slob I was before I started martial arts training. It is
I have a couple of instructors at the dojo who sometimes lament that we get so caught up in trying to master the softness and subtlety of aikido that we forget to make sure that our aikido actually works. To be sure, there is a temptation to get lost in the more internal aspects of aikido and end up practicing something that is more meditative dance than martial art.
I suppose there's nothing wrong with that; I'm sure there are plenty of benefits of practicing aikido that way. But I came to the dojo with the goal of becoming a martial artist, and my intention is to use my dojo time to pursue that goal.
This is hard to remember sometimes when the sensei wants to work on connection and softness and ki and I still haven't grasped the basic movements of the technique. It's not that I doubt my teachers have a purpose behind what they're teaching; it's that the purpose is not always readily apparent. And because I don't want to question my teachers at every turn, my unasked questions about purpose and practicality often remain unanswered indefinitely.
No doubt, some of the aikidoka reading this would reply that waiting for answers to reveal themselves and discovery of truth over time are a part of aikido. And they'd be right. But that doesn't make it any easier.
This is one of the reasons, I think, that I haven't been able to give up on taekwondo, despite my previously documented conclusion that aikido is where my future lies. In taekwondo, I never have the opportunity
"Mood?" Halleck's voice betrayed his outrage even through the shield's filtering. "What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises--no matter what mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing [music]. It's not for fighting."
- Frank Herbert, Dune
The good news is that a snowstorm has closed school tomorrow, so I get a day off work. The bad news is that the same snowstorm has closed the dojo tonight, so I am missing an aikido class.
I like classes in the dojo or dojang. Of course, I like them because of the environment, the cooperation, and the qualitiy instruction, but there's more to it than that. On the mat, I have someone telling me what to do. I don't have to decide that I want to keep working on my shihonage or my front foot roundhouse; I just do it because I'm told to. It's quite liberating, in it's own way.
Tonight, though, I have no such luxury. I have no dojo to train in, no instructors to guide me, no training partners to assure me that my mistakes are no big deal. The only way I'm going to get any training in tonight is on my own. And that won't be easy.
There is no room in my apartment to work out with my aikido weapons or perform taekwondo kicks, and the weather in Milwaukee has not been conducive to outdoor training since September. That means that I'm going to have to trudge through calf-deep snow in my workout clothes to the apartment complex's little gym, where dodging treadmills and weight machines will become a part of e
The Academy rents its space from a convent, which means that, despite our charter through a public school district, we are often in contact with nuns and religious imagery. While most of the students have come to accept this as just part of the scenery, I still occasionally manage to look at the convent through Christian eyes.
My favorite part of the convent starts on the second floor and stretches up to the third: a big, beautiful Nineteenth Century chapel.
It has lovely stained glass windows, mosaic ceilings, a huge pipe organ back in the choir loft, a smaller pipe organ in the front, marble pillars and altar, the works. The acoustics inside are enough to make a singer like myself salivate. Stepping into the space inspires a strange mix of feelings in me: awe, wonder, insignificance, closeness to God.
The last time I stepped into the chapel (I snuck in for a few moments to listen to the organist practice), a strange thing happened, or rather almost happened. I felt an urge to bow as I went in. Not bow my head in prayer, mind you, but rei, the Japanese bow I perform when stepping into the dojo or onto the mat.
This opens up the floodgates for a staggering number of questions about how the martial arts have affected my thinking and my spirituality in the past year, but I'll start with the biggest and most important: have I begun to equate the martial arts with religion?
To be sure, my martial arts training, especially the aikido, has a spiritual element to it.
The businessman turns out to have a lot of zanshin. Translating this concept into English is like translating "fuckface" into [Japanese], but it might translate into "emotional intensity" in football lingo.
"Emotional intensity" doesn't cover half of it, of course. It is the kind of coarse and disappointing translation that makes the dismembered bodies of samurai warriors spin in their graves. The word "zanshin" is loaded down with a lot of other folderdol you have to be [Japanese] to understand.
- Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash
Usually, when my sensei at the dojo brings up zanshin, she is reminding me to maintain my stance at the completion of the technique. I am slowly learning, though, that there is much more to zanshin. And the more I learn, the more apparent it becomes that I don't have it.
Zanshin seems to be related to the Buddhist principle of mindfulness. It means being aware and ready before, during, and after a technique. It means devoting all one's attention and energy to every detail of what one is doing. It means total, focused commitment to every motion.
I have a hard time scrubbing a dirty plate with zanshin, let alone performing an aikido technique.
There is a new yudansha at the dojo. His style is very different from ours, which often makes him confusing to work with. But sweet Lord, has this guy got zanshin. Every movement of his arm is a deliberate cut with an imaginary sword. There is a purpose for his every step. At the end of every technique, his hands are
A little over a year into my journey as a martial artist, my conundrum remains the same: aikido and taekwondo competing for my time, my energy, and my attention. Aikido seems to be winning, but taekwondo isn't going away.
It was starting my job at the Academy, a school where all the students learn taekwondo as physical education, that piqued my interest in the martial arts to begin with. Taekwondo's beautiful poomse (forms), the acrobatic kicks, the statuesque stances, the rush of sparring with a friend or just punching and kicking pads or a bag. It's exciting, it's a great workout, and it makes me feel like the star of a martial arts movie.
Taekwondo does occasionally come up short in the area of intellectual and spiritual stimulation, though, and there are times in my training when I feel like 28 years old is too late to start conditioning my body to perform head-high kicks when I've never been able to touch my toes before.
When I took my martial arts search outside of work, I found aikido. Compared to the hard, simple punches and kicks of taekwondo, it's very gentle and yet very demanding. Rather than simply striking or kicking my opponent, aikido expects me to harmonize with his movements and take control of him. Sometimes that's no easy task.
I find peace in aikido's traditional ettiquette and ritual, and I find completeness in the fact that its philosophy and ethics are readily apparent in every technique. Sometimes it isn't much of a workout, though, and t