Thinking Aloud – the next phase of my martial journey

You may have noticed recent posts have discussed the martial art of Aikido.

Yes, I’m thinking about it, but am far from decided.

What follows is just me thinking aloud about the matter. If you’re curious about what’s going on in my head, read on.

The original reason I started martial arts training was for exercise. I sit in front of a computer all day and there’s truth to “use it or lose it” — I wasn’t using my body, so I was losing it. Most other forms of exercise held no appeal to me because they’re mostly physical and not very mental, but martial arts was physical, mental, and perhaps even a little spiritual. Plus the fact I’d be learning something useful held great appeal to me. Over time, it became less about the exercise and more about the fighting and self-defense aspects. That’s one reason I grew frustrated with Kuk Sool, because it was running counter to my later goals. The Kali/Silat/JKD/Muay Thai study was good towards those goals, but something just wasn’t clicking with me… I wasn’t finding any passion in that particular study. I don’t think it’s the art as I’m still interested in that, but exactly what didn’t click I’m not sure. I have some suspicions, but only time will tell.

Since then I’ve tried to work out at home, but it doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. Even if I did, without the watchful eye of an instructor, it’s easy to get sloppy and think you’re doing fine when really your performance has degraded. Furthermore, lacking a training partner limits what you can do, whether it’s being able to work on locks and throws or just having a live person throwing punches at you so you have to work on your defense and footwork. So while I still wish to make my firearms work my primary study, I just can’t stand sitting on my butt any more. 🙂

So what to study?

Part of the trouble is there’s hundreds of martial arts schools in this area, and most are crap. That is, they’re geared towards feeling good, building self-esteem, kid programs, doing martial aerobics or whatever New Agey blah blah. That’s not what I want. But on the same token, I am not looking to go to a MT or BJJ gym that’s got little more than 20-something guys on a testosterone-fueled ego trip to badassery. These are both worthless to me because the former doesn’t teach you how to fight and the latter can be a lot of macho posturing. Of course, schools that teach these things could actually be good and useful after you cut through the crap, it’s a matter of finding a good school. Much chaff, seeking wheat.

What I want is “martial”… not so much “art” or “way”, or sport. I would like things to be alive. I would like the ability to actually apply and test out what’s being learned. I want to be with people of like mind.

Yes, there’s old standbys of boxing, MT, BJJ, Judo, Sambo, etc.. I do think I’d like to study more western boxing, but not right now.

I tried to see if there were any straight-up Judo schools in town. There are a few in the area, but very far from me and not something I could regularly drive to for years.

Hrm. I found this: Aikido, Jujitsu, Judo Guide to Austin, Texas.

The blog owner and thus first post in that guide is about the KyuRyu AikiBudo Dojo.

They train primarily in progressive non-competitive Tomiki Ryu Aikido, and Judo flavored with Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu, weapons work and Tai Chi. The group is headed by Eric Pearson, Yondan 4th in Tomiki Aikido from the Kaze Uta budo Kai. He is also an associate professor rank in Daito Ryu AikiJujitsu from the Shofukan (formally Renshinkan) under Ota Ikou Sensei in Numata, Japan. At the current time I believe he is the only certified AikiJujitsu teacher in Austin. He also holds a shodan in Judo. In addition he studies Kyudo under Craig Tompson.

That sounds… interesting.

Tomiki Aikdio is considered to be a “sport” Aikido in that it has competition, which is unlike most Aikido (and some would say not Aikido). I’m curious how “sport” it is… is it watered down? Or just finding a way to exercise Aikido in a more alive fashion? That is, is it say like what Taekwondo has become? Or is it more like how Judo and BJJ evolved from Aiki-jujistu? I’ll have to see.

But what’s interesting is Aiki-Jujitsu and Judo. Hrm. That old-school stuff appealed to me. I think I need to check this place out.

So why Aikido?

When I was a kid, martial arts was about kicking and punching. As I grew older and started to look for something to practice, Hapkido appealed to me because it was comprehensive: kicking, punching, locking, throwing, practical weaponry. Unfortunately there were no good Hapkido schools nearby, but there was Kuk Sool which is related and so there I went and we know how that turned out. Still, I think the art itself is good. What I like about Hapkido is that it allows for options. It can be hard and linear but strives to be soft and circular. You can use as much force as necessary, from a light discouraging touch to breaking bones or killing if need be. That’s one reason Aikido did not appeal to me: it puts a lot of philosophy into the art and I believe that limits you. On the one hand, the limitation is good because it provides a real focus and direction for how things go. On the other hand, the limitation is bad because I don’t believe every situation can be resolved in a gentle way; it’s too ideal, and what do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?

But of course, perhaps I’m ignorant of what the art really provides and the possibilities it allows for. I know much of what passes as Aikido these days is way too heavily steeped in “peace and love” and, frankly, pacifism. Witness this example. All this talk of “feeling energy” and even as he’s being mugged asking the guy if it will help him. Basically, the guy failed because he failed in awareness, trusting his gut about the feel of the situation, and so on. You’re supposed to be training to defend yourself and how was that an example of defending yourself? I don’t want to be too hard on the guy because we’re all human and while we think we’ll do great when the fur flies, until it does you don’t know how you’ll react and we could all become victim. My point is, his martial study was not martial at all and did nothing to prepare him for real-world encounters. His final statement sums it up:

I later felt sad and upset, not so much that this had happened to me, but that this could happen in such a veil of normalcy within a small radius of one of the wealthiest areas in the world.

He never had any framed mindset that the world could be an ugly place, and that yes, bad things can happen anywhere, not just in “bad neighborhoods”.

So if the Aikido I find is like this? I want no part of it.

But still, why does Aikido hold an appeal to me? I think three reasons:

  1. I’m just flat out curious.
  2. My desired field of study has been narrowing.
  3. It’s a contrary philosophy.

Allow me to elaborate.

First, I’m just curious about the style. I could elaborate for a while here, but simply put I’m curious and the only way to satisfy it is to look into it.

Second, my martial journey is wanting to focus. Kuk Sool attempted to be all things and cover all bases, and this approach is OK, but I’m finding myself wanting to focus. When I started Kali, I could have also taken BJJ at the same school but I opted not to: just focus on stand-up work and weaponry. With Aikido, I’d be focusing even more since it’s primarily about locks and throwing. Of course, it’s got more to it than that. Posture, balance, footwork… a lot of their approach intrigues me.

Third, the very thing I didn’t like about Aikido is why I want to look into it. Consider my main martial focus the past some years has been firearms. When you first start in that training, the solution to all problems is a gun, which is a pretty strong and forceful solution. If you progress in such training, you’ll pick up more tactics… not just gunfighting tactics but tactics to avoid the confrontation from the get go. Things like awareness, how to manage unknown contacts, and other things to avoid the fight in the first place. The intent is that we know you carry a gun, it’s a pretty firm use of force from both legal and ethical perspectives, so we do all we can to avoid having to use the gun until we have no other option. I am seeing Aikido study and perhaps another extension of that sort of philosophy — “fighting without fighting”, if you will. Can this philosophy sit with me? Can I find a way to to accept this and work it into where I’m going? I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out.

Of course… should I be seeking a style? or should I be seeking a teacher? Because styles are just constructs. Punch is a punch, elbows only bend one way (normally). Certainly there is that. But I think right now, I’m just curious enough about Aikido that I’d like to see about exploring it. Who knows. I may survey the schools in town, find their not what I’m looking for, and that’s the end of this leg of the journey. Or I may find something that’s incredible and spend the next 20 years there. Who knows.

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