Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Emptying one's cup...

About a month ago a self defense introductory course was held at my aikido dojo.  The main focus was on avoidance, awareness and some basic grab releases with the objective of getting free and escaping. Nothing earth shattering or complicated, but some things did not rub me the right way as the saying goes...

For example, my teacher was demonstrating the use of hanmi, and how its higher posture was better than karate stances which were lower and less mobile.  Watching him move in shiko dachi by swinging his legs up and forward was funny as I thought of an organ grinder monkey running around, but it also made me think.  Did he know that such low stances are mainly for leg training or specific applications such as throws that require stability?  If I can move with surety in a low stance I can do so much faster when upright...

Another thing shown was how to address a stranger moving into someone's personal space. Basically a forceful, assertive "Stop!" or "I don't know you!" should be used if anyone threatened to get too close, while putting a hand palm up in the universally understood "stop" position... Now while I can see something like this having some use in a place where others might be around (basically a social altercation of some sort) it presents no solution if confronted with a very enraged person or someone just coming around a corner ready to jump you. My years in security whisper in my ear "that crap will not work!", if someone is less than civilized and none too prone to reason.

The next class after the seminar I was exposed to some finer points of ikkyo applications, and some of the atemi available to be used against a committed attack. Broken ribs, elbow breaks, cervical damage from forcefully smashing a person using the leverage of the locked arm... hardcore, real useful stuff if things get real! This is what I think of as the martial component of the discipline, the -jutsu. Our dojo follows the Iwama ryu school, a traditional aikido form with a large number of technical applications (the empty hand forms alone number close to 600). Following the usual "crawl before you walk" approach is a foregone conclusion with such a diverse and technically diverse body of knowledge, so I can appreciate the time spent in repetition of the basic waza; that being said, getting an occasional glimpse at the martial potential of aikido is very satisfying.

These two very dissimilar experiences pretty much back to back left me thinking... I have seen that what I am learning can be effective and dangerous given time, practice and experience. I have also noticed that my teacher, while definitely qualified and technically proficient, might not have been exposed to violence of the type my past work experience has afforded me. I could be wrong, mind you; he might have underground fights on weekends that I don't know of, but he doesn't send that vibe. That in itself is a valuable skill to have, and makes me wonder if the lack of that very vibe makes me sometimes question the validity of what I am being taught.

It is habitual for people to more readily accept instruction from a person which they can see has a real understanding of the underlying aspects of that which they are attempting to learn. Basically, if you haven't been attacked at full speed with a blade and survived, how can you be sure if what you are practicing works? How do you defend yourself against two flanking attackers while a guy in front looks ready to rush you? We want to know the answer to all possible variations and problems that might arise, having the certitude that our training can cope with all comers in all situations. Learning from someone who has such experience and has tales you can relate to puts us at ease, like passing some litmus test of infallibility, easing our subconscious fear of the unexpected by making us believe that "if I do just that, I will prevail!" 

However, is my teacher's instruction invalidated by what I might perceive as a lack of real world experience? He has proven himself to be a conscientious, patient and knowledgeable teacher, making sure I do not rush my learning, but challenging me in view of my past experience when he feels I might be ready for more complex skills.  His understanding of self defense issues seems to be in line with what is taught at most dojo, which means a lot of misconceptions about the nature of violence in general and what happens when things go REALLY bad. Realistically though, I don't see him getting involved in a situation where this would be an insurmountable disadvantage. When he applies a technique i can feel that if he chose to do so i could be in a lot of hurt. So, a lack of street self defense tactical knowledge  notwithstanding, he is a very capable martial artist. I know I have lots to learn from him, and lately I have realized there is a deeper lesson to be learned from him...

My sensei doesn't practice out of need, but out of love for his chosen art, and that in itself is an asset in my view. After all, I myself am not involved in security and while I do have a personal need to ensure that what I practice does work out of the dojo (old habits die hard) I have come to understand a little better that doing martial arts is a necessity for me, not for a fear of being attacked, or to posture among people in awe of whatever skill I might have; I need this because it makes me HAPPY to do so, and to my grave I wish to carry this joy I feel when I'm being thrown, or put on a arm bar, or do rolls until I'm dizzy. What I'm learning now it's more than a method of defending myself; it is a tool for reshaping my view of the world and how I interact with it and the people I come across. I feel it is time to think more deeply on the why I love this art, rather than on how it will protect me. I believe I have found the right teacher for that.

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