Dojo: TC Aikido Center
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Join Date: Jul 2000
Wow, this is a long story.
I am not sure why, but I've always been interested in martial arts. Maybe I watched too much "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"(though perhaps not...it didn't make me want to become a teenager, nor a turtle...I always was a pretty selective little kid), but for some reason I liked to grace and power of it. When you knew a martial art, I thought as a wee lad, you could better follow your own destiny, without other people interfering. I think a miserable experience with Boy's Club(ie, bullying, etc) also fueled the fires.
So, around age 6, I convinced my mom to let me take some form of karate at the local YMCA. That lasted for about 4 or 5 months, IIRC, when I was promoted to Blue Belt. Shortly thereafter, however, my family moved to Minnesota.
After several years here, I wanted to resume martial arts. Near our house was a dojo(in a loose sense of the word)- it was part of a statewide chain, named oddly enough, "National Karate". The name was a complete misnomer- it was neither national, nor was it karate. Instead, it was a highly modified, really expensive form of Tae Kwon Doe, though extremely Americanized. The focus was mainly on sparring(with lots of expensive pads...notice a pattern here?), and forms(long series of techniques performed solo...kata perhaps is the japanese word for it- I'm just starting to pick up the vocabulary)). There was little explained about the significance of the forms, and the sparring was rarely developed to an art. It was little better than school yard fights with a standardized set of techniques- not brutal, necessarily, but without any science/art to it. We weren't taught very well to look for and exploit open areas, nor were we taught very many attacks or defenses. It did teach discipline, and I gained a great deal of flexibility and even a smidgen of combat effectiveness. It wasn't a negative experience, but it wasn't inspiring, either. It was also very costly, so my mom was glad when I quit about 4 years ago.
So for four years, I puttered around, remembering how much I enjoyed martial arts, and wishing I could find something to replace them. At one point, about a year ago, I tried Aiki-Ju-Jutsu for about a month, and I enjoyed it fairly well, but it was a bit over my budget($40 dollars a month was my budget. It was exactly that, leaving me no spending money). I kept looking into martial arts- a friend recommended Kali, and there is a studio near my house, but that was even more expensive. Finally, while driving to a resturaunt, I saw the Twin Cities Aikido Center out of the car window. It was conveniently near my mom's office, but still I didn't really look into it that much- just sort of stored in in the back of my mind. Well, when summer was nearly upon us, I started to feel the need for an interesting activity, and remembered seeing this Aikido dojo. I frankly had no idea what aikido was- I'd heard somewhere that it was about "using your opponents momentem against them", so I was intrigued. I stopped in, grabbed a brocure, and read it. That was part of what hooked me(Note to future dojo founders- ALWAYS HAVE GOOD BROCURES!!!!) Then I went and watched some classes, and I was even more intrigued- here was this beautifully graceful martial art, with a non-maiming/majorly injuring/violence in general mentality(at this time, I'd been a tad concerned, as the only way I really knew how to effectively defend myself would be to attack vital areas- neck, kidneys, groin, etc, which can cause pretty lasting damage), for a very good price($20/month for students like me!!!), and it was within biking distance. I took a few classes to see what it was like, and became totally hooked. The cooperative nature of the class and teaching style, I think, are what did it. You are never wanting for personal attention- if your partner doesn't know how to execute the technique, and you don't know how to, you just as the sensei. Usually, as a beginner, you get paired with a much more experienced partner, and learn quite a bit. Also, you never feel left behind, or patronized. Perhaps its just this dojo, perhaps the aikido mentality lends itself to this sort of wonderful cooperation, but it works, and its an excellent teaching device.
I think, though, that a more important question than the one this thread asks is "Why will/have you continue(d) in aikido?" I think that the main reason I will continue is that it is unlike any sport/physical activity I've done before. Its not like the pretty much mindless physical workout that so many people do. Its very different from "National Karate". Its a very graceful, and beautiful martial art. Its almost like dance in many ways, and to an outside observer, even more so. I particularly like its emphasis on nonviolence, or non-hurtful violence(we need an english word for this), and "outsofting" your opponents rather than out-muscleing them. You don't need to be a 7 foot tall, 350 pound, all muscle gym-jockey to do aikido. You can be, as many of the aikidoka at my dojo are, an unassuming average height, average build person of pretty much any age. Aikido, though I've only been doing it for a short period, is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling activities I've engaged in- thats why I started, and thats why I think I'll continue.
Sorry, that was a bit long,