Monday, July 15, 2013

Aikido, or how to be a white belt again

Well, it's been quite a while since my last blog post... I have been focusing my energies on following up aikido studies which I've been waiting 13 years to resume. I have always known I would take on this journey again, just didn't think it would take this long...

My first hands on experience with aikido came from a defensive tactics course for law enforcement & security. Most of the curriculum for arresting techniques was aikido based, and I joined in the regular classes at the dojo soon after. Sadly, the dojo changed location about a year after I began; as there were no aikido dojo nearby I was forced to put the training on standby, for a lot longer than I expected. I was fortunate to have an Isshin ryu dojo open shortly after in my immediate area, and that gave me my second martial love which I steadfastly followed until my teacher retired.

While I have continued my karate practice on my own since then I was always on the lookout for a new aikido dojo that would fit my limited time to attend and be nearby. So it was that when Agatsu aikido, a long standing dojo in South Jersey, started a satellite program not five miles from my work I was ecstatic.
So, here I was, wearing an old gi with a very new looking white belt... getting a refresher course in ukemi, kokyu dosa and the basic waza to be practiced for first grading. Some things I remembered, some I had to relearn and many I had to forget as the passing of time had morphed them to the point where they appeared to work on the surface, yet upon close examination many nuances would cause them to fail under real situations.  As my sensei keeps telling me,  my past comes back to trip me up so I must try harder at remaining aware...

Without a doubt aikido is the most technically difficult martial art I've ever practiced. While in other forms of martial arts that rely mainly on percussive attacks (ie karate, TKD, MMA etc) a strong person might get away with a less than lackluster execution (one of the great strengths of civilian defense-oriented combat systems IMHO), aikido waza require a thoughtful approach to perform them properly, or they tend to backfire and leave one in a less than optimal position to recover. Finesse and technical skill trump brute force more often than not, so one is forced to slow things down and be aware of how all things interconnect to complete a technique: posture, balance, footwork, speed, tactile response, breathing...

Now don't misunderstand me; karate and other martial systems are as complex as anything out there! Yet their main goal of allowing a person to defend themselves is not overly concerned with what happens to an attacker, only with protecting themselves with whatever means necessary. Aikido aims to do these things while avoiding unnecessary harm to the attacker, in essence attempting a more humane and ethical solution to the problem of encountering violence.

As of this post I have passed my shichi kyu test... it feels good to be back in a dojo, training with good partners and a demanding yet patient teacher.  Sure, sometimes it is trying to unlearn old habits so difficult that I want to bang my head against the wall... but every time I grasp a concept, or when I see how a waza overlays some kata bunkai I've learned in the past it surely makes it all worthwhile.  I am glad to have returned to the beginning of the path, and start the journey afresh. Wish me luck!


  1. I had trained quite a bit in aikido when I was a young man, only to hang up my dogi when the adult life started to catch up with me: young family, building a career, aging parentes, etc.

    I too took years off. I always knew that I would return to training, but the question was what form. The funny thing about martial arts training is that one it really gets old of you, it's like gravity: you may escape it for a while but it always pulls you back.

    I began training again after a period of years (12 or 13 like you). Although I am still interested in and admire aikido, I practice Chinese Martial Arts instead.


    1. Thanks Rick, it is encouraging to hear from others who still follow their path, even after the passage of time. While I still continued practice in karate do during that time (and still do) the philosophy and physical beauty of aikido has always held a strong interest to me. I am glad to be able to continue my studies.