Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rolling With the Punches: Blending With Aikido

With so much going on in my non-karate world (final exams and papers to grade, college applications for my son, a very sick grandmother, the holidays, finances resulting from the pending holidays - you get the drift), I decided to take a little time away from the dojo to just clear my head and re-vamp. I've literally been on the mat almost non-stop since November of 2004 - save for six weeks in 2007 after breast reconstructive surgery - and I think both my mind and body needed a bit of a break. Karate was on the fast-track to becoming SOMETHING ELSE that had to get done in a day and my ancillary training away from the dojo was looking more and more like "going through the motions" which wasn't good. I told my sensei that I think I needed to miss it for a little bit in order to step back into it with the intensity it deserved.

To save the dojo fee for December, my last class was on November 29. That was also the day I found out I would not be grading for nidan in the spring with my training partners. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't surprised at all. Still playing catch-up from my years spent gleaning elsewhere. My arsenal is still missing a few things, for sure. As a result, I've been thinking about training in another art - like aikido, MMA or even Krav Maga for a minute. Which one, though, is the issue...

Anyway, in trying to avoid the pile of papers I know I need to grade, I stopped by training partner Ed's place yesterday afternoon. He has begun taking aikido classes and told me that he'd already talked to his sensei about a two-week free trial for me. Ed knows where my head is regarding training and thought the "something new" might be good for me. (His real motive, I found out, is getting me to fall and roll a bit better so he can toss me around the dojo when we train together, but that's another story.) This morning's 10AM class was my first formal non-USA Goju martial arts class ever, save for a few Kung Fu and Judo training sessions during summer martial arts seminars.

Since all my regular gis are black, Ed lent me one of his white ones to wear, complete with all his school patches. I strapped on my white belt and was promptly questioned by the senseis when I stepped out of the changing room and they saw the patches their regular students had to earn the right to sew on their gis (via grading). Here I was trying NOT to be disrespectful and I end up being disrespectful anyway by default. Sigh...

After a brief warm-up, Ed was sent to work with his classmates and I got to work with Sensei W., whom Ed had warned me was a talented instructor but a stickler for detail. Since falling comes with the territory in aikido, I couldn't really do anything until I learned how to fall and roll properly. We worked front, rear and side falls and front rolls for almost a hour. Always, my feet were too close together, my hands were too far apart or I just didn't keep my body rigid enough after landing. My quads and triceps were literally shaking from squatting down to fall or roll, pushing up to a standing position then repeating over and over. It wasn't too physically challenging - meaning I wasn't out of breath or sweating buckets - but it was very different from my norm.

Next we moved to wrist and jacket grab escapes. After about 10 tries with me being the uke/attacker, my wrists were begging for mercy. In fact, I don't think I ever tapped out so fast or so hard before. Funny thing was that everyone - even the brown belts tossing each other - and yellow belt Ed - around the room were hollering as they slapped the mat when a wrist lock just got to be a little too painful. It was kind of melodic, actually...

Finally, Sensei W. took me back through a review of everything we'd covered. My front fall actually improved a tad while my front roll deteriorated. Guess I have some homework to do.

There is something about being a white belt again that is both intriguing and intimidating. Because the belt tells the world that you are a newbie, expectations aren't really high for your ability to do a specific technique right out of the box. You are expected to stumble, struggle a little and make mistakes, which is kind of neat in a way. But it can be intimidating, too, if you're used to being able to control your body and have it do what you tell it to do. It's like being able to do the latest hip-hop dance to the nines and going to a ballroom dancing competition to show it off. The music is different and you're out of your element.

It's also easy to forget that the instructor showing you the techniques with such grace and fluidity has been practicing them for ages, which is why they look so smooth and effortless. Plus some of my karate footwork kept creeping in. Sensei W. had to keep reminding me to keep both feet pointing forward, not towards each other like in sanchin - a simple concept that was really hard to do. More homework, it seems...

But save for a few rug burns on my knees, elbows and shoulders, I'm none the worse for wear. I had a blast and learned a lot, which was the point, really. I'm probably going to give it another whirl Friday morning - right after my grades are posted. Wish me luck with both!


  1. My white belt experiences with Aikido consisted of lots of, let's say 'nausea' from spinning and rolling. Best wishes on this is fun. I get to workout with Sensei Ken Purdy (50+years as Aikido-ka) from time to time...simply wonderful.

  2. Hey Felicia what a coincidence! We had an aikido instructor (plus about 8 of his students) come to our karate class to teach us some aikido on Monday. My karate sensei is learning aikido so he invited his sensei to come and take our class.

    I thought I wasn't bad at breakfalling then they introduced me to breakfalls I didn't even know existed! Have you tried twisting and then falling into a rolling breakfall? I didn't know which way I was facing after that. We mainly got to do a few wrist grab escapes with each of us partnering an aikido student (who acted as uke, so we didn't have to do the amazing breakfalls all the time). It was fun and gave me a different perspective but it hasn't made me want to learn aikido though I'd always join in if this instructor came back again. I still think karate is more effective (must be biased!)

    It's a shame about your nidan grading being delayed but I suppose it's an opportunity to broaden your (martial arts) horizons a little. I think a little cross training can be very beneficial and refreshing.

    Good luck with your next class and your marking!

  3. Felicia,

    I started in Shotokan Karate. After training for a few years there I started cross training into anything I could find. One style that stood out to me was Aikijutsu. Essentially a forerunner to Aikido it has lots of similarities.

    I have found over time where Aiki and Karate fit very well together. If you enjoy the training, keep it up. Look for places where kata technique and Aikido technique move in a similar fashion.

    Example from Goju: The chambered hand (Hikite) in kata could be several things depending on the opportunity in a fight. Wrist Return (Kote Gaeshi), Finger Control (Yubi Tori), S-lock on the wrist (Nikkajo or Nikyo). Make it simple and just apply a concept instead of a particular technique and it is applying the a manipulation of balance as in the lessons on Kuzushi in Aikido. And much more.

    Have fun, I enjoy both systems quite a bit. As they are taught in a traditional manner it might be harder to see where they combine but be diligent and it will show up in time.

    Merry Christmas

  4. Shinzen, I got a little dizzy there, too - especially doing front rolls. It was kind of disorienting, but I tried to just jump up and give it another go (and the room still spun!). I'm just glad I didn't have any head rattles or teeth jostling...

    Sue, I thought my break falls were pretty good, too, until I was asked to AIM them and fall in a particular direction. Couldn't quite get the "look one way and send your feet/hips another" thing down. It was amazingly graceful to watch, though. The idea of blending and there not being a confrontation until your adversary raises a hand, grabs or tosses a punch - then having that same energy used against them - is a very cool one. No twisting and falling for me yet. I fear I might chip a tooth or something...

    Nick, I can see already how the two fit together. Body mechanics are important to both (elbows in, shoulders over hips, etc). I found myself relating movements to what I already know from Goju to new movements in aikido, like dropping the body weight and hips in a cat stance so the lock locks and the front leg is free for a kick if necessary. It was a lot of fun - scrapes and all! Thanks for stopping by - and Merry Christmas to you and yours as well :-)

  5. I love Aikido. Nick is right. After awhile, all techniques, no matter what 'style' or 'art' will flow together and you become the expression of the arts. After all, Karate and Aikido are just words we place on certain movements...remove the labels of the arts and you just have seemless action. Just keep playing.

  6. Exactly my dilemma. Refreshing to hear your feelings on this. Wanting to be a black belt and a white belt and experience the best of both. Hope you enjoy your training.