Dojo: Wasabi Dojo
Location: Houston, TX
Join Date: Mar 2013
Re: Aikido didn't work, until it did.
Chris, I had a sort of similar coming of understanding with aikido. I started with a quasi-traditional Ueshiba aikido dojo when I was 8. I think the being 8 was interesting, as the instructor was doing my mother a favor by accepting me into the class to learn some self-defense and self-control (to stop being bullied and reacting about that badly and what could have easily turned self- or outwardly-destructive), nobody under the age of 20 in the class. I trained with him, and a bunch of other mid-Missouri country guys who all outweighed me by over a hundred and twenty pounds, and our instructor by sixty or so, so I suppose the dojo wasn't all THAT traditional. gi, hakama, seiza and rei towards the framed picture of O-Sensei hanging n the corner, of course. I had no idea who he was. When I asked Mr. Chang, he sort of grinned (I found out later that he was a quite young man, so was probably more than a bit tongue-in-cheek with the 8 year old me), said "That is my teacher," rather than going into a history lesson. Worked for me at the time.
Anyway, he was forced to chase his career and moved from mid-Missouri to Kansas City and the dojo closed, no one having gained enough rank/enthusiasm to keep it going.
I drifted sort of aimlessly into karate (Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Bill Wallace stuff was all the rage... and then, you mid-aged guys remember, there was that rush of ninja movies in the early 80s). I went to college, started taekwondo, and was lucky enough to find a school whose main instructor used to do some boxing too, so that was good. Irritated people when I was sparring all the time with an unnerving way of coming in at an angle to their attack -- which I had just picked up from somewhere... I wonder where that came from? Damndest thing. Most of the time, when I wsn't deliberately trying to just blow people over, they found it hard to lay glove or boot on me solidly.
Graduated from college a second degree black belt in TKD, got into hapkido. Loved it. You guys and gals know of course that hapkido is linked with aikido/aikijutsu? Well, took that stuff as I turned 21 and got a job bouncing in a local college bar. No aikido showing up there, right? Sure... Did I actually notice it there? Not at all.
Got out of grad school, ended up doing some judo there. Liked that, closing off the grappling/groundwork holes in my personal system, which I thought was a good thing - not that I was still working in a bar.
Ended up getting very ill with meningitis, losing about 65 pounds, losing most of my vision, and lost the ability to walk for a time. Hmm, for a time actually means about 6 months. Bad time. So, go into hospital at 225 lbs, multiple black belts in 2 arts, a few years in a muay thai gym, literally years of practical self-defense situations in the bars I worked at... come out of hospital 65 pounds lighter at 160, sight mostly gone, and so weak and coordination impaired from the stroke-type symptoms that walking was impossible until I retrained my coordination center to control the weakened muscles of my back, hips and legs. A good time that was... not.
My wife was reading the local ads-only paper, and noticed an ad for Sensei Karl Geis' aikido school. She told me about it, and we thought it would maybe something good for me to do as I was going nuts not having my "training time" in my life anymore. I was irritable, snide, crude and generally unhappy and causing those around me to be likewise. So, I emailed Sensei Geis, who, when he found out what part of Houston I lived in, directed me to Raymond Williams' Clear Lake/NASA Aikido, and I went to visit him. Found the dojo and dropped in, and we happened to walk in on one of Sensei Ray's often-held mini-clinics, this one on knife-defense taught by a pair of what I since learned were Ray's friends (both students of Geis Sensei themselves), who had advanced rank in Arnis. A fun listen, that. Anyway, started there and my only actual goal was some physical therapy, to try to get that high level of coordination to at least start to return. That's been about 20 years now.
Since then, I've revisited quite a few of my old arts, as I think of them, the things that I have in my "toolbox" of stuff I could pull out if I absolutely had to, but hope that I don't, because I might pull a hamstring, and I think about them, and what I can do, now, with ... just aikido.
Of course, it's not just aikido anything, my understanding in aikido comes from all that practical experience, all those striking arts, and the general meanness of back in the day. But, I look on with the students and I need to fix something, and I stroll over and ask what they're doing, why thy are doing it a particular way, access the databank of things Ray used to say and do, and attempt to mimic what I saw/felt him do. The magic is, the things work for me, just like they did for Ray. I findthat neat.
Of course, it's taken 2 decades, but I started giggling the other day (yes, I said giggling) when one of my lady students said, "Do you think I'll be able to do this right by next year?" I didn't know what to tell her, because to my way of thinking, I can't "do it right" yet, either.
I diverged, Chris. Apologies. Relaxed Easter Sunday rambling.
Here is a anecdote on aikido "working." I had been in hapkido for, I think about 15 years, and had been working on this one technique out of a wrist grab and couldn't make it work, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much movement I put in, nothing. You experienced folks can see all the flaws right there in the language I chose to use in that description. The technique (in our Tomiki system it's a kotemuwashi) just escaped me, consistently and I had no clue why. Frustrating.
Anyway, I get sick. Can't see worth a hoot, can't walk, all that. Start to get better. Go to Ray's class. At the same time (a problem in itself but I didn't know it) I was trying to get back to teaching at my taekwondo/hapkido program, and struggling with the physical demands. I had this one student, now deceased, nicknamed Coop. Great guy, strong as a bull, goofy porn moustache, carpenter's hands, iron grip, that kind of guy.
So, I'm talking with Coop about the "hapkido" technique, and he's not getting it, and I'm like, "OK, well, Ray at the aikido school has a take on this technique, so check this out." Coop doesn't wait, he just grabs, and since it was the last thing I had done the night before at Ray's aikido school, the technique just replayed out of muscle memory -- but without any strength or large movements coming out with it -- because I did not have that to offer....
Coop literally flew 6 feet facefirst into a wall, aand almost broke his eye orbit crashing into the wall. Not cool, and I was just dumbstruck by what had just happened. Aikido had happened, and I didn't really know how or why. So, like anybody would, I went and asked Ray, who just laughed.
The above anecdote is just one of a list of things I can point to now, that I "know" that aikido works. I think we can paraphrase from another thread on here, "Aikido works. My aikido didn't. It is starting to, however."