About The Following Blog

The following blog has been written purely for those wanting a first hand knowledge of what it is like to step into the dojo for the first time as a complete beginner as a Martial Artist. Through practising a Martial Art, you will gain many things such as self-confidence, self-respect and life-long and good friends. I hope this helps you to see into an amazing world of which you have never seen before and that I have had the privilege of belonging to and knowing.
Although I have not put my name or any name to this blog, it does deserve a dedication- a dedication to those who help people to train, who teach, reassure and most important of all- those who never give up, no matter how many times they hit the ground or a mental brick wall, with themselves or others. But above all- those who are ready to begin their own journey, it begins with one step….

Monday, 24 December 2012

Chapter 65: Final part of the Summary of the journey so far...

Of course I did go in! You really didn't think a scary entrance would put me off now would you?

So, after 6 years or there abouts now. I have found my 'home'. I am very happy where I am. I don't think I've been more settled. I feel really part of the club as a whole, I wonder how many other people can say that?

I have a Sensei who understands me and my training needs. Who took me on, warts and all. I have Senpai, who are the best I have ever trained with, and I really do mean that.

We train hard, but we learn, respect and trust one another too. And thats what for me, my Aikido is about. Not getting a black belt or shiny gold medals, but having that key relationship between each and everyone who trains there.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Chapter 65: Summary of the journey thus so far...(part 4)

Well I hope you have enjoyed these instalments so far. Here is the fourth part.

What makes a Senpai, a Senpai?

This may seem like a strange sub title in the middle of a story. But it leads on from where I left off in the previous post, so please bear with me.

I am often asked questions about the relationship between the kyu grade and the dan grade. Not necessarily between the Sensei and the student. No, the non-martial artist usually wants to know what it is like to 'take orders' from the higher grades. I've placed that question in inverted commas because we all know that this is not true. I'm sure that I have already touched on this in a previous post. The learning and teaching in all martial arts is entirely voluntary. With no teacher, there is no club. With no members, be they 6th Dan or white belt, there is no club. We train because we want to learn and grow. End of. No 'taking orders' necessary.

So, now that matter is cleared up, what exactly is a Senpai? I believe the definition of a Senpai is a higher grade who is a mentor of sorts to a lower grade. The Senpai of the club is not necessarily the highest grade on the mat after Sensei! I say this because there are higher grades who don't know how to tailor their training to meet the current needs (i.e training with injuries) of their partner. Not their fault! They just have not learnt this skill yet.

These in my eyes, are not my true Senpai, not to me. They have my respect because they are the higher grade, and yes I will learn from training with them don't get me wrong. No, for me, my Senpai is someone who knows me and I know them, we trust and respect one another. From this, grows a very deep and lasting bond. Its not one you can explain, but an analogy I could use is this. You are struggling to uke or tori a particular technique. The higher grade will either throw you hard or just not breakfall. The Senpai will work with you, drag a crash mat out or walk through the technique. That's the difference. You learn not just the martial art, but trust and respect.

So on with the story....

Was I mad to do this?

So there you have it. I was travelling up to two hours in total to train at a club around 40 miles away just so I could train. With hindsight being the wonderful thing it is, maybe I should have taken up Judo or even Karate instead. But I didn't. Nor did I regret the journey I made every week (except in the snow maybe).

I think after about 2-3 months, I heard that my old club had found somewhere to set up again. Admittedly, it was in a small hall out of town, in the middle of no where, slap bang in the middlish part of a very muddy field. But it was somewhere to train.

I had a quite a BIG decision to make. At the time, I was just settling in at the other place and preparing for my blue belt grading. Should I say goodbye and thank you for giving me a training 'home' so to speak to my new Sensei, which seemed rude at the time or, did I say no, I like where I am to a former Senpai who had helped me so much and now needed help setting up somewhere new with lower grades? Well, in the end I trained at both regularly. Why you may ask? I suppose the reason was that I wanted to give back to my old club, but at the same time still train for myself.

New job, New home, Saying goodbye

Eventually came the time for me to train to a specialist level in my profession. Sadly, this was over 100 miles away. But something I wanted to do. It was difficult leaving friends, family and a town I had grown up in, but it was my dream job, one I felt fulfilled my professional calling.

So I said goodbye, leaving behind two clubs I really felt a part of. It almost felt like I'd lost part of myself. Shortly after I left, one of my former clubs had had to close. So it really felt like a chapter had closed in my life.

I found a club and started training again. Perhaps a little more traditional then I was used to, but I was made to feel very welcome and soon settled in.

Then came I think, the darkest point for me in my aiki journey so far. On returning from honeymoon, I learnt that our Sensei had passed away.

We all had a difficult decision to make. The higher grades wanted to try and keep the club open, but with no coaching experience or insurance, we really couldn't do it. The club sadly folded. So again, for the second time for me, I was clubless.

We had very kindly been invited by another club, who knew about Sensei to join them. I had to admit at this point I very nearly gave Aikido. I felt jinxed, which is utter nonsense of course, but I wanted, after 4 years of training, a dojo to call 'home' if you will. I just did not feel that joining my 5th club in 4 years was a good track record. Perhaps Aikido for me was not meant to be?

About a month after Sensei's passing, we decided to give it a go. It was with some trepidation I will be honest because this club was in a rougher part of town. I remember standing at the grill at the entrance thinking two things. One- is this bullet proof? and second, could I do this all again?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Chapter 65: Summary of the journey so far continued (part 3)....

 I must apologise for leaving you on a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of the previous entry. It seemed a good point to end so that I could continue further. The next part comes during a time when I had been training for about 3 years, and had just graded to green belt when the club was forced to close. So to continue...
Clubless-but not all is lost it would seem

Right, there I was 4 weeks post op from my first laporoscopy (incidentally where the endometriosis was missed, but never mind), with 3 weeks to go until the next big summer school camp thing that was good to go to with no club. So, two choices- give up Aikido or find another club and train, hard.

Hmm, well obviously I choose option 2. The only problem was that the club was about an hour away with traffic and so I only had about an hour and 15 minutes from finishing work, getting across town, and travelling 40 miles or so and then back again after training. Oh, yes and I also had to eat and hydrate at some point along the way. That was mad, insane even! But worth it.

I remember my first session there. Funny story- I think you'll like it. Well, I bowed onto the mat, introduced myself as you do. When I recognised one person. It had been someone I had met at a course about six months previously, had thrown me particularly all morning mainly using Gedan-ate (over the knee) during ninadori. I swear I knew exactly how many roof tiles there were in the ceiling by the end of that session.

I think its fair to say at this point my thought was 'Oh God no! No! Its you! To interject here, I have never liked breakfalling from Gedan-ate, presumably because its painful due to IBS and what I now know was endometriosis.

Well, of course I hadn't travelled for over an hour to chicken out. Nope, I got on with it. Yeah, about 10 minutes in I must admit I wished I stayed home! I wasn't unfit, just unused to such ferocious training. I was the only woman by the way, and most of them were double my weight.

Yep, took some getting used to. But after a while, we all settled down. I tried not to be too much of a whimp, they tried not to pulverise me too much. Seemed a fair deal.

But it was tough. Mentally and physically. I could now see what my dad had meant by giving everything and then having to give it all again. I did feel at times, I should throw in the towel, give in, admit defeat. But I didn't. It wasn't sempai that saved my sanity this time. No, it was another female student of about the same grade. We trained together, encouraged each other and where on hand to give hugs and tissues in the changing room afterwards when sometimes it seemed all too much.

I think it was about this time that I found that not all higher grades are nice and cuddly when training with lower grades. I'm sorry if I offend anyone by saying this but its true. There are some sempai who will help you, teach you, work with you and you grow from that. And there are other higher grades who slam you so hard your teeth rattle. Please don't misunderstand me, sometimes you do need someone to be hard with you, but not all the time. Its counter productive. The lower grade avoids the higher grade because they're afraid, and the higher grade doesn't learn from their mistake. I learned here that you don't have to instill fear to gain respect or maintain discipline.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Chapter 65: Summary of my journey so far continued (part 2)....

I hope you enjoyed the previous instalment, here is the next.

The first six months are the hardest

My first six months of training, I think its fair to say were a baptism of fire. I remember my dad warning me that the hardest thing at first would be the etiquette, followed by the post training pain, then exhaustion, then having to give everything after you have given everything you've got.

I didn't struggle with the etiquette very much, it pretty much made sense to me-there were rules, and a hierarchy to follow. No, I think I struggled most with the muscular pain. I was used to some pain after having experienced IBS for a number of years by this stage. What I was not used to was the slow burning, deep joint aching pain that you get as a beginner.

It was at this point that the sempai would step in, haul me to my feet (usually by the scruff of my neck) and encourage me to continue. One pointed out, very kindly, that she had to 'go hard' occasionally, it was no good for us beginners for everyone to be 'nice' to us all the time-we just had to 'toughen up', condition ourselves as it were.

I think my poor parent's water and heating bills increased due to the amount of time I would hog the bathroom for a long hot bath post training! It was at this stage I found the muscle soak bath stuff VERY nice-in those first six months I think I went through about a bottle a week.

Sempai - a friend, ally, mentor all in one!

In the run up to my first and second gradings (white and yellow), I seem to remember that everything about Aikido, and I mean everything went out of the window. At the time, nerves seemed to just make my mind a complete blank.

It might not seem a big deal, but for me it was-everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. To cap it all, one of my sempai gave me a lift home one night after training and casually mentioned that we would also be tested on our Japanese terminology as well as everything else.

At this point, I was sure I was going to fail-hell, I couldn't even manage a backwards ukemi and the foot movements? Forget it!

Again, the sempai stepped in. Encouraged me to practise, got the backwards and side ukemi going, tested me on japanese terminology on the way home. Why, you may ask? I don't know is the honest answer. But one thing I do know is that I won't be sat here writing this blog had they not done that for me.

That is not to say they wouldn't tease me sometimes to try and bring me out of my shell! I seem to recall the very first session that I wore a Gi, we were practising sacrifice techniques. One of them, I remember pinned me to the mat after completing the throw and proceeded to 'tickle-torture' me. Even to this very day whenever I meet up with my now former sempai, I remind them of this, hee hee. (This was about 6 years ago by the way!)

I also discovered my love of crash mats for practising big ukemi about the same time I got my yellow belt. Again many thanks to one of my sempai for throwing me repeatedly into them without complaining how tried their arms got! I adore crash mats, there is just something about them that releases your inner child- usually it has to be said by running across the mat and somersaulting head first into one.


I'm not sure about anyone else, but I always kept a kind of basic diary of training. Nothing complicated, more thoughts, feelings etc about how I was finding training. I remember showing it to my boyfriend (now husband) and he thought it was pretty good and I should do more with it.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it exactly, I only kept it as a way of documenting learning points during training. But on having a closer look, and with husband's help, I decided to make it into a blog.
Why? Well, I guess I wanted to try and help other beginners the way my sempai had helped me. I wasn't interested in any financial gain, just a sense of being able to hand knowledge on, abeit in a little bit of a strange way. But I have to say, I am not one for following convention. So, this is how 'So, you want to start Aikido?' was born. Born in an afternoon, developed from a training diary that was a year old.

I realise that it has now grown with me, which is an interesting point. I look at former posts and remember what made me write that particular post. Sometimes my posts develop not necessarily from mat experience or from a particular class but more often they come from conversations that happen in changing rooms, off the mat, and even travelling back home. So I guess whilst its not a blog for beginners per say unless they read from chapter 1, I think it demonstrates how Aikido has developed me as person.

Sempai, Sensei

Just shortly after I became a yellow belt, my sempai decided to open their own club. I went along, to see what they were doing, more out of curiosity really, but also because their club location and training times were more convenient for me with work and study commitments.

I really loved that club. I learnt such a great deal from there. No doubt you're possibly wondering whether it was hard for me to accept my former sempai as my Sensei. Yes and no is the answer to that.
Yes I suppose, a little bit at times, because they did have to be occasionally hard, mainly because we were in a way friends off the mat and they had to maintain discipline. But to be honest, mainly no. They enjoyed teaching, and I enjoyed learning-so it was a good balance really you see. 

Sadly after eighteen months, the hall condemned the mats we were using (they had lots of holes and were really old) and so, the club had to fold. I think its fair to say we felt bereft- we looked everywhere for places to train, but to no avail. It looked like our club had to close permanently.

Chapter 65: A summary of the journey thus so far....

The inspiration for this post only came to me today, and I hope you enjoy it. I hope you're sitting nice and comfortably, and here goes..

This morning I was reviewing some of my older blog posts especially those I had written about three to four years ago. I have to say, I quite enjoyed the trip down memory lane- remembering all of those I have trained with in the past, everything I have learnt from them- some still living who I see occasionally and one person who sadly isn't. Therefore, this post is a tribute if you like to everyone I've trained with and learned from thus so far.

I was looking at the dates of some of these posts, and realised (with some surprise!) that my blog is about 5 years old. So, this post is in recognition of that, because I'm still not quite sure how I've managed to survive this long! I think I will subtitle this particular post as I go along since it probably will be a long one.

How did it all begin?

I guess my interest in martial arts started when I was about 5-6 years old at the height of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle craze. My dad had done Judo as a child, so I was always asking him about it- what he did, what he learned. Eventually he taught me to punch and strangely enough how to judo roll in our hallway at home (although that one didn't work out so well, sorry dad!) But I never learned martial arts as a child, I don't know why. Perhaps it was cost?

Anyway, fast-forward 13 years. I'm now working full-time, most of my friends are away at university and whilst we still meet up during holidays, its not the same as our days at college. So, yeah I guess I was bit lonely. I'm sure I've already mentioned this earlier, but attacks were becoming more common on women in our town, even taking place in reasonably well-lit areas during early evenings.Well, at this point I decided I wanted to do something, rather than just wait to be a 'victim' as it were. So, I started looking for self-defence courses of which of course, there were none.

Then one night, after dinner, I remember reading the local paper (I think I was procrastinating from writing a report for uni at the time). My dad then casually mentioned about Aikido, he'd heard it was a good martial art for women to do, and I should turn to the sports page at the back. And there on the second to last page was a picture of a local club, with a phone number and details for new members to join.

I could say at this point, that the rest is history, and it is- but what a history!

The first six months-the hardest to get though they say

I remember my first session very well.

The club was outside of town, about 15 minutes away. So I set off, feeling extremely sick, having hadn't convinced my friend to come with me even just to watch, wondering what to expect. I found my way eventually and did what many new people do on their first visit to a sports hall cum dojo, look through the door before deciding to run away very quickly before any dan grades spot them. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough and found myself being coaxed in.

About 10 minutes later, after being asked to remove socks and shoes I was instructed in the way to enter and leave the dojo and also how to go onto to and leave the mat. Wow, my brain still hurts now to think about that etiquette talk! Over the years, I've discovered different clubs have different rules regarding what is expected in terms of etiquette. At this one, you waited to be 'bowed on' and 'bowed off' by the Sensei onto the mat, and if he wasn't on the mat, the next highest grade after him. It could get quite complicated considering there was about 5 dan grades, and you had to remember where they came in the line-up to catch the right person's eye to 'bow on'. this point I have decided to share a story about minding your P's and Q's when training with experienced dan grades. I remember one night that Sensei wasn't on the mat already to bow us on. Instead, there were three experienced dan grades already on the mat, two with their backs to us, chatting. Well, the thing is is that one of these was known as Big G (an affectionate term honestly) who always wore a Hakama, (and I mean ALWAYS) and out of the three was technically the higher grade. He taught weapons, and was always happy to teach us poor saps (sorry, beginners). You would learn alot from him, but equally would not be able to move for three days afterwards. But he was brilliant, and so we three beginners had a healthy respect for him because of that.

Remember how I said it had to be the HIGHEST dan grade after Sensi who 'bowed' people on? The youngest dan out of the three saw we were waiting and bowed us on. At this point such was the etiquette instilled in us that we all at first refused (politely). It had to be Big G, no one else. He pointed out it would be him in bother not us so we bowed in return. I'm still to this day not exactly sure what happened next, but I swear there is no way Big G could have known we were about to step on-he had his back to us! We had literally put one toe, and I mean one toe on the mat when he turned around and demanded to know who had let us on. Talk about Zanshin! We all jumped backwards as if electrocuted and unfortunately ratted out the dan who had tried 'bowing' us on at this point. Big G bowed us on, and proceeded to 'have a word' with the other dan who had made the etiquette faux par. I think it safe to say we stayed out of his way that night. Not out of fear, but out of a very healthy deep respect for him, after all, we were technically in the wrong.

So yes, I had a healthy respect for the higher grades who trained there. Not instilled through fear but more through them being willing to teach and help us. One in particular would do their best to help me with ukemi, because goodness knows I needed all the help I could get.

Wow, this is a long post- I think I'll leave it there for the moment. I hope you've enjoyed it- I'll put the next instalment up soon.