(This is an old unpublished post form October 2014, when I was training with one of my dance partners in Chicago and she invited me to an Aikido class).
The last week with Ruby Red has been interesting for me for many ways. For the last year, she has been mostly living in her hometown of Chicago and has been studying other movement disciplines like Weightlifting and Aikido.
I decided to accompany her to the Aikido class; something I’ve never experienced before.
I’ve spent many years as a wrestler and a dancer. Aikido seems to me to be an odd combination of dance and blues dancing.
One of the first things that struck me about Aikido was how little tone was used to accomplish the attacks and counterattacks. I spent most of the first class working on dropping muscle engagement; much the way a novice dancer does in Blues Dancing.
I also noticed that like dancing it was much easier to understand what my opponent was giving me to work with. Any tone in them made them easier to move and relaxation in my body made me harder to move.
My background is not in a traditional eastern martial art. I’ve studied some Boxing, some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, A lot of Wrestling and the martial philosophy I was raised with was heavily influenced by Jeet Kune Do.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I wore a gi; unlike Aikido there was no veneration of a master or bowing to a shrine.
We train for Boxing and Wrestling in shorts or sweats depending on whether or not they’re trying to make weight for a competition.
Aikido brought with it a sense of tradition, both in the proscribed movements for the attacks and the bows to the sensei each time that assistance was given or a concept/move was demonstrated.
This was very foreign to me. Especially since the moves were named in Japanese and given translation. (Much like attending a Yoga class and using terms like Tadasana instead of Mountain Pose).
In my first week this caused me to itch somewhat. A lifetime of experience pushing me to eschew tradition in favor of expediency was seemingly at odds with this way of learning.
Deciding to open myself up to a new way of looking at things.
Overall, the feeling reminded me of the first time I went to a tango class. There was a lot of vocabulary which seemed to be in a foreign language more to add the feeling of connectedness to the culture where the pastime originated rather than to create clarity for the student.
Because Aikido seems to be a very defensive and reactive art, the attacks in my first class were difficult to reconcile with what I know about leaving openings for your opponent.
It was much easier to accept when I learned that Aikido was originally meant as a fighting style for unarmed opponents to deal with armed opponents. The overhead chop to an opponent was particularly difficult for me to do, and I kept overreaching because it was felt so unnatural to expose my ribcage to an opponent that I couldn’t feel the “right” way to do it.
Eventually though Edward (the very, very patient sensei) helped me to a greater understanding of what the goal was.
There were a few things beyond patience that really impressed me about his teaching style.
- when a student performed an attack inconsistently, he would first show how to modify his defense and THEN have them re-attack in the desired manner. This showed the flexibility and understanding he had, as well as inspiring us to try other finishes to the moves.
- His patience. Seriously, it was so apparent it needed to be said twice.
- He also broke down the moves in several ways, while performing them consistently so that we could focus on different aspects of them; not try to see the whole thing in one go.
- He also used physiology, bits of martial philosophy, real-world application and historical reasons for the development of the techniques in passing as if it were incidental, but drawing attention to the reason the technique is done in a particular manner.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work with him in his class.