3 year anniversary and Reflection Shinanagians

Phew, after many homework days I can breathe a sign of relief for tonight to write into this blog. I swear I’m not ignoring it, but my “life” so to speak has pushed aside the things that come naturally to me. As the title states, it is my 3 year anniversary in Aikido – about 2 weeks early. Nonetheless I feel that I should mark this  because 3 years ago prior I basically relearned the art.

I use the term relearned loosely since I first trained in collage for two years (read the description in the ‘about me’ section). The Sensei at that time was a middle-aged man. He first trained in Jujitsu, then had moved into Aikido. He had trained under Chiba Sensei, and his student Pablo Vázquez Sensei. Subsequently his Aikido form was quite powerful; rigid, with a dash of Jujitsu influence. Focusing on weapons and technique, he would subsequently – and unfortunately – prove to be one of the many “run of the mill” instructors to me. Well meaning, yet there was no really spark to his teaching, personality, and/or his transmission of the Aikido. Don’t get me wrong, he was a powerful guy standing at 6′, being the broad chested white Caucasian male that he is, and he knew his stuff, but there was something there that was missing – especially compared to what I have now.

Unfortunately I stopped Aikido at the beginning of my senior year in pursuit of making the most out of my last year. Namely to get accepted into a fraternity and focusing on graduating with a job! Unfortunately both didn’t pan out as well as expected and I subsequently spent the next 2 years working in Los Angeles and up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I finally found dragged myself to take some classes at the community college near my house and decided why the hell not to take the Aikido course there. Toke it with a 3rd Dan (who I still meet on occasion), then heard about some badass Shihan who was teaching nearby and thought to myself once again: Why the hell not.

That was August 2008. The rest so far, is history.

In 3 years I’ve worked my way up from 5th kyu to 1st kyu. I will be eligible for my black belt test in December of 2012. Assuming the world won’t end I should be fine. Looking back at my time I have grown so much…yet so little! I have only brushed, not chipped, brushed the surface of Aikido, my martial arts journey, and myself as a human being. God it’s scary just thinking about all of this.

Have I improved as an aikidoist? Oh hell yeah. Have I only began my journey as “being me”? Oh yes. If there was anything concrete that I had gained from my training, it’d be that you are always changing, always reforming, always pliable. The moment I thought I “had it”, I’d run into something that’d challenge my sense of self (in the dojo) and I would allow myself to change. Sure I have gained some rough edges since my training, but I suppose with new ideas you have new problems. It’s all in the journey, the voyage…

With that said, I plan on unveiling some new stuff as time goes by. I have made some personal discoveries over the months and I feel that there will be a time when these discoveries will intertwine with my journey as a martial artist and I would like to share at the very least, tidbits of my findings.

In other news, I’ve updated the “about me” section, the title of this blog, and the header. Hope you guys like the header (I designed it myself – I’m working on my photoshopping skills). As for the title change, I finally settled for The Journey of an Accidental Aikidoist. My first title The Accidental Aikidoist felt dull – and I didn’t like the initials AA. Then I changed it to one thing and now back to its current title. My apologies for those of you who already have it set. But this title is a sure thing.

Till next time ladies and gents!

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Musings 020811: Street Creds

Just now I’m shaking off the experience (horrors) of a seasonal retail position and a nazi for a professor. More on the professor and a month’s worth of homework for another day but for now I’d like to bring up something that I believe isn’t brought up too often. Something that I don’t hear many martial arts instructors talk about: Getting yourself in a “real” situation.

I am of course talking about fighting on the street; where you’re minding your own business when suddenly a mugger(s)  jumps your ass to steal something from you – be it your life, your money, your significant other, drugs, your virginity, or your pride (among others).

Now my question to the world out there is this: To be a “bone fide” martial arts instructor – or even a martial artist, do you need to have been through a real fight?

Now I’m no expert, but just saying: everyone has been in some sort of scuffle in their lives at one point or another. I’ve never been in any fights in my life – yet. But I did punch a kid in 1st grade in the face and got sent to the office. One punch and that was all (funnily enough I forgot why I did that but it wasn’t anything serious – that I remember). I’ve also been punched the face and ears a few times in training – my left ear is ringing right now from the two-minute mini-concussion that followed an impact there a year ago (proof of muscle memory?). And lastly I’ve been kicked in the diaphragm region via a training partner’s heal. I remember this because of the two-minute paralysis that followed – while I was laying on the mat motionless and having difficultly breathing.

I guess I really don’t know. Now understandably no one really wants to get into fight – whether it be the neighborhood punks, your significant other, the enemy on the battlefield, etc. But experiencing a physical fight could only be an asset in one’s martial journey I imagine. One reason of my decision to take up another martial art at the moment is not only that I feel like using my fists and feet (Aikido has little to no punches and no kicks), but also something that would allow me to experience that adrenaline rush/dump in a controlled environment that usually happens when some punk is squaring off on you.

I think about the two martial artists who I look up to at this point and I can only see that they started out from having to deal with people who really wanted to beat the crap out of them. Morihei Ueshiba, better known as O’Sensei (founder of Aikido) went through a period in his youth where he beat up people for self-protection and (some aikidoists are going to hate me for saying this) just for the hell of it! This is not mentioning the fact that all the way up to his 50s there were Japanese martial artists who were challenging him to duels (akin to the gunslinger duels of the American wild west) where they really, really wanted to kill him. O’Sensei walked away (literally) from all of these and usually without a weapon too (in most of these he purposefully never requested one). Most of  his challengers (if not all) ended up hurting themselves – but that’s a story for another time.

Bruce Lee lived in the gang-infested streets of Hong Kong in the 50s and probably lost count of all the fights that he got himself into (and some that came to him!) as a teen. In fact according to some biographers he got into Wing Chun when at age 13 or 14, he had his ass jumped by a group of boys wanted to make an example of him. After that encounter, bloodied and beaten, he asked his mom if he could learn kung fu (which she in turn asked his father, had a discussion, and through him met Ip Man). The rest is history; this is not mentioning the fact that he was also a boxing champ.

So the issue whether these two had “street cred” as martial artists is self-explanatory. Here I come back to my question: Do I need “street cred”?

And for those of you who don’t know, it’s short for “street credentials”. I’m sure it’s a different term nowadays but that was the one that I grew up with.

Jeet Kune Do: First Class

So today I went to the Jeet Kune Do class that I mentioned a couple of weeks earlier. I went to it with an attempted open mind and ability and perhaps I will take something away from it. What I got instead was something akin to a very informal gathering.

So it turns out that this meeting was at someone’s house, 10 minutes away. So let me break it down:

1. The instructor is in his 40s, most likely nearing his 50s

2. He is an ex-cop, having served in Detroit and Houston. He also grew up in the projects of Detroit.

3. 5th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. He is also (claimed) an amateur boxing champion. Translation: (with #2) this guy is no noob.

4. There were a couple of experienced students (8 in total for the class) who mainly had experience in TSD. There was an assistant there who had a background in wrestling. To round out the class there was me (4 years of Kung Fu, 4.5 years of Aikido), another Asian guy with experience in Wing Chun, two women who were new to JKD – including one gymnast.

The class started with a bow in – one that consisted of a kung fu – like stance followed by hands clasped in a prayer like stance. After reciting the JKD montra (“my limitation is no limitation, my way is no way”) we headed in our first lesson. The teacher started out with a short lecture on JKD, his experience, and how street sparring is like. We then moved into stick moves. I forgot to mention that teacher also had dabbled in Eskrima, so he had us practice some moves with plastic sticks. At first it was unwieldy, but then I just allowed my Aikido senses to come in and just guide the attacks and parries that we worked on later. A lot of disarm, disarm, disarm, attack, attack, attack.

We then moved into basic knife attacks and blocks. Correction: I remember him mentioning that there is no such thing as a knife “block”. In his own words a “block” with the knife is an attack. For this as well we got paired with a partner to practice and switch with. Mine for these two was the guy who had experience in Wing Chun. Next up was the:

1. Cover and retaliate routine. I’ve forgotten what his term was but basically a way to cover yourself momentarily and then retaliate with blows to the groin area.

Something like this, but with both hands on top of the head and both forearms covering the face.

2. Attacking the groin area from a head lock on the side.

For #1 each of us had to withstand blows from teacher and wrestler TA (I’ll call the wrestler guy this from now on) and do #1. When it came to my second time up, I had teacher initiate – and taking a right hook to the left eye in the process! Damn that stung! Nonetheless I was able to recover, wrap my arms around his waist and deliver some mock upper cuts to his groin.

Other than the blow to my eye, the rest of the class when without a hitch. We dabbled into some Wing Chun traps, one of which is one hand tap and straight punch. The 2.5 hour class culminated into a one-on-one sparing session! I sparred with wrestler TA, two of the experienced students, and teacher himself! I missed a couple of kicks and punches but for my first sparring session in a controlled environment ever – not bad at all.

A small run down of the class:

– very informal and very fast. This is a meetup group that only meets twice a month. Hardly something that could be practiced a regular basis – although JKD could be learned easily and used right away. Additionally in 2.5 hours we touched up on Eskrima, boxing, Wing Chun, self-defense situations, and free sparing. Not really a concentrated curriculum. I’m use to the dynamic schedules of my Aikido training but it seemed that there wasn’t too much depth. Maybe I just need to come more often but that’s my impression.

– I’ve been waiting for some sort of controlled environment where I can have some contact! I believe it is imperative to have people get the feel of being punched – or to have some contact. That way people as martial artists know what it’s like to have a punch come in at them (or in my case, to the eye).

– Teacher has the life experience to back up his teachings, but I guess after being taught by masters who have been teaching longer than your parents have been living, that sets a high bar . Or it could just be me. In any case the next meeting is in two weeks and I’m still deciding on what to do.

I still have Wing Chun on my mind.