Hi everyone I just wanted to share my little story on how I started training in Aikido.
After a week of being back on the mat after six year I was just compelled to write about it.
Just wanted to share.
link to story with images
In life there are things we do that define who we are, influence us to be better people or help us to see what really matter. At the end of the day, I am sure more than half of the things we do doesn't promote enlightenment, contribute to better ourselves, our community, our society, or our culture.
One of those defining things for me is Aikido. It took me 6 years of not training and living in a different country to realize it. It has taught me how to focus, be fit and be humble. I feel that I have strayed from this path. How can I allow myself the discontinuation of this thing that made me balanced and to sum it all, happy? So last week I decided to return to training.
I found a dojo in Cubao, Philippines called Kiryukan Dojo. My wife was both supportive and happy that I decided to get back to training and, to be honest, it was long overdue. The past 6 years have been toxic in terms of my health, mind and spirit. The schedule of classes are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Last Wednesday was my first day - I was nervous, excited and eager to train. There were only a few of us, and when I say a few it was about four of us, plus Sensei Rey. A typical class is about an hour and half. Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the class. Within 45 minutes I had to stop. The heat, humidity and the 6 years of sedentary living made me sit out the rest of the class. There was a part of me that was a bit ashamed and embarrassed but everyone at the dojo was supportive. When I got home I could not wait for the next class although at the back of my mind I had the feeling of failing myself and my former and new Sensei and Senpai.
My fascination with martial arts started when I was a kid around 5 or 6 influenced by all the Kung-fu and Samurai movies of the 70's and 80's. Like some kids my age I wanted to be that cool kick ass hero like
Bruce Lee or Ogami Ittō of Kozure Ôkami (Lone Wolf and Cub), which I remember watching religiously back in the day. The closest thing I had to a real martial artist was my father. He holds the rank of 3rd Dan from Kodokan under Sensei Hiroshi Yuchi. My father was the first to be awarded "Outstanding Judo Player" by the Philippine Sportswriters Association in Judo Event in 1962. And was the first Philippine Judo representative at the Asian Games in 1962. As a child I did not know to much about my father's Judo history. My only recollection are all the trophies, medals, pictures and news clippings that were displayed in the house. My father was not around a lot when I was growing up, he was one of the first batch of Filipino workers sent to work abroad in Saudi to work in the factories. So as a kid my impression of my father were from his vacations, pictures and memories witch formulated a strong an powerful person. (which we was)
Amongst all the awards and pictures I saw him as a real champion. I was proud of my dad, I mean how many people can say to other people, "Yeah my dad can kick ass!" with conviction and belief without blinking an eye! But at the same I felt a heavy burden to both impress my father and to make him feel the same pride I felt for him with me.
My introduction to aikido came from my father. Even though my father was a 3rd Dan in Judo and a green belt (although I do not know what rank that is) in Aikido, I remember my dad telling me that Aikido dealt with harmony and Ki, a concept I did not really understand. It was not what he said that made me interested and intrigued with Aikido rather it was the way he said it, he said it with such passion and sincerity as if there was something in Aikido that really made him share that with me rather than Judo. He had books on Aikido but not on Judo. One particular book that my father had was this beat up used book called Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere: An Illustrated Introduction by O. Ratti witch which helped in defining my interest and future with Aikido.
When I was young my father taught me how to roll and some basic techniques like ikkyo and nikkyo. I asked many times for my father to teach me but he would reply by telling me that I was undisciplined and chose not to teach me. A part of me understood but deep down I really felt bad. For a long time I felt that I was either a failure as a son or that I was never good enough for him pass on his knowledge to me. So like the the scene in Karate Kid, I found myself glued to Rotti's book, mimicking all the wonderful illustrations trying to learn the techniques.
We moved to New York City in 1985, I was about 10 years old then. My father had work in the Philippine consulate in NYC and finally we were all together as a family. There were many growing pains, I guess for many years not living together we were not used to each other. Many times I told my father to start his own Dojo and teach Judo or Aikido, but I think I really just said that so it would give me an excuse for him to teach me. But after 2 years and trying to assimilate in a new country my interests in learning Aikido took a back seat.
Other interests came up but in the back of my mind I still had this feeling of taking up a martial art. Back in high school a classmate wanted to take up aikido, that got me excited and all these memories came rushing back about wanting to take up this martial art. We checked out a dojo on 18th street and 6th avenue which was just two blocks away from school. The dojo was New York Aikikai with chief instructor Yamada Sensei. Who is a prominent figure in the word of Aikido. With high school and a new baby brother I had no time to pursue a martial art at the time but I think I just used that as an excuse because I was embarrassed to tell my parents of my interest. I guess I wanted to avoid that somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to take up Aikido just to gain acceptance from my father.
In college, I just turned 18 at the time my friend asked for me to join her in looking at martial arts dojos. After 4 years the interest got ignited again and now I will have a friend to start classes with. At first we looked at aikido dojos around the city, then we looked at Kung-fu schools. Long story short, she took Kung fu and I took Aikido. I went back to NY Aikikai, but from the frequent visits I saw that the classes were too crowded and there was a feeling that I had to look for other dojos. From all the dojos in New York City, I discovered Bond St. Dojo. Bond St. Dojo had an old Japanese looking door behind some old 70's accordion metal grates. From the outside it did not look like much but once you enter you can already feel this place was different. From the moment I entered someone spoke to me and asked me about my interests and about the dojo itself. I liked that fact that when I was there I did not have the feeling that they wanted to recruit me right away. Instead they gave me option on schools depending on what I was looking for. Next thing you know I found myself training the next week.
People asked why I picked Bond St. and I would always answer, "This was the first dojo I have entered where people where smiling." There are some things that is hard to explain but something felt right with the place. The dojo is a non-profit dojo, which means no one gets paid to teach and train there, and to me that just shows the dedication of both the students and teachers to spread the knowledge of O'Sensei. I feel there is a nice humility in this idea. The dojo is affiliated with Aikido Schools of Ueshiba under Mitsugi Saotome Sensei. I was under the watchful eye of Paul Kang Sensei, Chis Jordan Sensei and my Senpai.
When we moved to NYC my father brought over his Judo gi. When I was in grade school I remember dressing up as a black belt for Halloween. When I started training I looked for my father's gi and used that. I could have easily bought a new gi but I took the conscious decision to use my fathers gi, perhaps unconsciously I felt if I wore his gi I would somehow inherit his powers or maybe it was also for some comfort being that it was the first time that I did something alone and for myself. I never talked to my parents about my training or invited them to the dojo. I had my first test and I did not even tell them about it. After a couple of years I started to lose that search for my father's acceptance. I think the people at the dojo was enough. After my first test I decided it was time to buy my own gi. I think this was a symbolic gesture that I have finally made peace with my relationship with my father and the martial arts. This time I finally owned it. It was mine and I did it myself for myself. I think after this my relationship with my father grew stronger. I think with many son and father relationships, the kids always look for acceptance but once you stop doing things for them and doing things for yourself, they will see it and be truly proud of it.
When it was time for my second test I invited my dad to watch. We went to the dojo together. He stayed, saw me train and then after training was the test. I still use my dad's gi from time to time when my gi was at the laundry. But for this test I made sure I wore my own gi. After the test I asked my dad what he thought, and he said that it brought back memories for him and he would explain how he used to do the things I was doing. It was great, he did not criticize nor did he say if my executions where not clean. All he said was it was good and that it brought back memories back in the day. That to me was great. I was not looking for any approvals from him I just wanted to finally share this thing that I have been doing, and in doing so I think it opened up a nice memory for him which to me is priceless.
In college my training was on and off, I could not handle the time management. So again my training went on the back burner. I was in conflict with social standards and just the idea of training everyday. After college I really tried to go back to the dojo everyday. I was able to do it but from time to time it would cause issues at work. Leaving early to get to the dojo stated to take a toll, so my consistent training had to stop again.
It's now 2011 and I feel like I am starting over again. Looking back I can see how Aikido has shaped me, shaped that way I relate to people and myself. There is a lot to say about self-awareness. Although the years of training are still there, my current body can't keep up to what my mind wants to do. I am in a new dojo, it's only been a week but everyone seems to look at all the mistakes I am making. Back in the day I would always give an excuse why I did the things I did, but now I have to think like a beginner and listen to their suggestions. Although at the end of the day they are right, I have to let go of the past. The truth is, I am not as good as I was back then; just because I was able to do it before does not mean I can do it now.
Things that I have learned and continue to practice is humility which is an everyday struggle with me because of my pride and strong opinions. If there is something that you truly are passionate about, don't let society or your peers or even your family convince you other wise or else you will never be truly happy. I realized back then I wanted to take Aikido to impress my dad but once I started to do it for myself I did not have impress my dad anymore because there was no need to. Plus if you do things just to impress, you will miss out, as I quote Bruce Lee, "all that heavenly glory" with work, art, writing, relationships but most of all yourself. I think Bruce Lee said it best, that the Martial Arts is a great way of expression much like dancers; it's an expression of oneself in its purest form. Aikido is a way that I can express my abstract ideas into reality and practice.