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….

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Chapter 77: It's funny how things come full circle...

I was talking to two old friends today, friends who I have trained with a long time. Although we haven't trained together for a while as we've moved away to different places for work we have stayed in contact.

One of these friends was my first Senpai. I have known her for 9 years now, and my other friend for 7 years. What brought our friendship together was our Aikido training. My other friend I trained with just after we got our 3rd Kyu, and we trained together for our 2nd Kyu.

The title of this blog post is things coming full circle. Nine years on, I am now a 1st Kyu the same level as my old Senpai was when I first started Aikido. Like her, I am the Assistant Coach at the club.

What started this blog post was that we now have two new adult beginners, and also someone who has just joined us after getting their 1st Kyu. It's strange how the same things I was told and helped with by my friend, I am now telling them and helping them too. And yes, this includes the pre-requisite haul to the feet when it looks like they might be about to give up on me. I have flashbacks about what helped me, and am trying to incorporate that into my coaching. Although I'm finding being a coach quite tiring at times, its also very rewarding. I like being able to give back to the art that I've gotten so much out of.

It still feels strange to be the second highest grade some weeks. Some weeks I'm the third highest grade. I'm slowly getting used to the idea of being a Senpai, but it does feel strange to be on the other side 9 years later. It seems strange to think how that nervous beginner has grown into a 1st Kyu and Assistant Coach. Full circle, see?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Chapter 76: A tribute to a great Sensei and Friend

For this post, I would like to make it as a form dedication to an old Sensei of mine, Terry. Today marks the 5th Anniversary of his passing, and I thought I would share the impact Terry-Sensei had on me and my Aikido.

I first started training at Terry's club in January 2010 when I moved to the city where I now live. Because of where I worked, the location made it difficult to get to training on time using public transport. Terry would come and give me a lift after work to make sure that I could get there. Not many Senseis would go out of their way like he did. He also had a special nickname for me - Babe.

I was also very much a Jo-girl before I met Terry, I didn't like the Bokken very much at all which is hard to believe now. He did alot of Bokken work at the club and I slowly developed a mutual respect and liking for the Bokken. He did an awful lot of work with me on ukemi as well, and didn't get exasperated when I struggled.

After a few months, we were going to training one day and Terry mentioned he was going into Hospital for a bone marrow transplant. He told me he had multiple myeloma, and that the transplant was part of the treatment.  He could tell immediately that I knew what it was. As a Biomedical Scientist part of my job is to aid in diagnosis of illness, so yes I knew multiple myeloma was a type of blood cancer and that the bone marrow transplant was his best option of treatment to beat it.

He left the class with Senpai, a 1st Kyu and went into Hospital. He came out of Hospital and appeared to be doing well. He came to do a session, and I remember him asking me if I had a Jo. I said I did, and he asked me to bring it the following week and he would teach me the 31-Jo kata since I had never seen it through to completion.

That was the last time I saw him fit and well. The following week he was re-admitted to Hospital with graft versus host disease. The way to explain it is this. If I was to donate a kidney to you, you would need to take medication for the rest of your life to stop your body rejecting the kidney. In graft versus host disease, the bone marrow attacks the recipient. And there is very little that can be done.

I went to see him in Hospital where he was in good spirits despite being so poorly. I remember him telling me that he wanted me to go and train in the club where I train now. My current club has a bit of a reputation for hard training, which can put people off. I remember he said that it might be better to let Senpai and the other 1st Kyu to test the waters first so to speak because (and I quote) 'They would snap the likes of you in half like a matchstick, Babe - especially as your ukemi is not strong at the moment'. I promised him I would think about it. We then talked about my wedding preparations and where I was going on Honeymoon.

The following week, Senpai gave me a wedding card from Terry and the club. He said that Terry had specifically asked him to get it, and make sure everyone in the club signed it. Even though he was so poorly, he still remembered a small detail like that. Shortly before going on Honeymoon, I learnt he had discharged himself from Hospital because he wanted to be at home.

The day I returned home, I received the news that Terry had passed away in the early hours of the morning, Sunday 27th June 2010 at 2am. We returned to the club, but it felt empty, like it had lost its soul. We attended the funeral, which was a fitting send off. I still can't stand the hymn 'Abide with me' which was sung at his funeral. At the wake, we met my current Sensei and were invited to come and train at his club.

For a month we still couldn't decide what to do. On one hand, we wanted to keep Terry's club going, but on the other none of us had the experience coaching or admin wise to run a club. But the strange thing was, I still felt a presence there, watching us, Terry's presence. The day we decided to go and train at the other club, the presence left. It's ironic now, but on that last day when everyone was talking about if we should close the club and go to the other club I said that it didn't matter where we trained, because although no one could say where we would be in 2 years, 5 years or even 10 years so long as one of us kept training we would still keep a small part of Terry with us. 5 years later, I am the only student of Terry's left on the mat. Looking back I fully understand and appreciate why Senpai didn't feel that he could keep the club going. I am at the same level as him now, and know how he must have felt that he had some extremely large shoes to fill.

Have you ever felt that our loved ones never truly leave us even after death? At the beginning of May this year, I was still in alot of pain from the Endometriosis. I remember I was due my monthly in about 10 days but was having horrendous lower back and abdo pain. I got to Aikido early so I could stretch off. I seem to remember lying there thinking how I couldn't do this week in, week out anymore it just hurt too much. Remember how I said I felt Terry's presence when we were trying to decide what to do about our club? Well, I felt that same presence. I sat up and saw him at the side of the mat looking over the top of his glasses as if to say 'And what so you think you're doing Babe?'.  I took this as a sign that I'm not meant to quit, I have to go on and get my Shodan. Because if I don't, it looks as if Terry will haunt me! And knowing him, he would too. Since then, I am finding training a little easier. I guess Terry felt I needed a bit of help.

So this post has been a dedication to Terry, who was more than just a Sensei but a great friend and mentor. Not only did he encourage me in my Aikido, he gave me a love of Bokken work and one of the reasons I am now studying and learning Iaido.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Chapter 75: Aikido, what's that?

What made you start thinking about starting a martial art? Was it something your parents took you along to? Was it something a friend, family member or work colleague was doing? Was it because you wanted something specific out of it - such as self defence?

I started Aikido for two reasons; one to widen my social circle and the second was to learn some self defence. The above questions are some that I've been asking myself over the last few weeks. Not because I'm thinking of quitting - far from it, it's just that as a newly qualified coach I've been trying with little or no success to boost our kids and adults classes.

The Sports Centre where we are based, has recently been refurbished with a dedicated dojo room and brand new mats. So clearly, the venue isn't the problem. I've put posters up in the shops near to where the centre is, but not one enquiry.

The funny thing is, I get stopped in the ladies changing room and asked what martial art I do all the time - but I can't convince these ladies to walk across the corridor and into the dojo. Why? They all say I'm a nice gentle-looking soul but it still doesn't get them to come and watch, much less even try.

It's a crying shame. Aikido is a wonderful martial art for people, especially for women to do. One of our dan grades bumped into another dan grade who trains at a different club. Apparently, this club is struggling to recruit and retain new members too. So clearly, as a club, as coaches, we are not putting people off starting and coming back. But something is stopping new people from trying.

I think I got my answer a few weeks ago. A lady in the changing room was asking me about Aikido and if we had many new people, because if there were she might consider it. During class, there was a 5th Kyu, me and three dan grades on the mat. A guy who looked to be in his 20s was watching through the door, but clocked the number of dan grades and did a runner. He did come back this week with a couple of other people, but again as soon as you make eye contact, they leg it! The only answer I have is that people are intimidated by black belts, and are unsure of starting a new hobby by themselves, especially if they come by themselves.

So we've decided to start a 10 week beginner course for both kids and adults. What has generated some interest is that as a female coach, I will be sharing the teaching with a dan grade. Interest from both men and women I might add. Why? I asked a work colleague about this. The answer was that people don't want someone who stands in a corner of a mat barking orders like a drill sergeant. Apparently, a woman is less likely to behave like this. Do people really believe that a Sensei is a drill sergeant and that the role of other higher grades is to knock the snot out of the lower grades?

I've also been taking to a friend who had children about children getting black belts. They argued as a parent they wanted to see their child physically achieve something. I am of the opinion that there should be a minimum universal age to be awarded a dan grade - and I explained to my friend why. I told them the story of the origin of the black belt, that the belt becomes more blacker with dirt the longer you practise, hence the term 'black belt'. I also pointed out that many people see the black belt as the penultimate achievement but really, that it's just the start, that you pass on your knowledge and in doing so, develops your Aikido further. At the end of this conversion, my friend thanked me, having not known this before, but pointed out that as a martial art, Aikido should really promote the strengths of the art in adaptability, competition and how this develops both adults and children.

I think my friend is right. We all know of the big martial arts schools in your home town, which are able to offer gradings every couple of months. That's fine - that's the nature of their art. We cannot promise people a black belt within 2 years, we cannot offer gradings every 2-3 months, the process of learning Aikido does not allow for that. So we in a way, as a traditional art, we lose students because we cannot offer this. And we should not offer this.

As part of our beginner's course, I am planning a demo so people can see what Aikido is and how it can work for them. I also hope to teach a small amount of aikido-related self defence as well. So I've moved away from taking about gradings with people (especially parents) and have trying promoting Aikido in terms of personal development. I think this approach is working - I now have three adults wanting to start the beginner's course. I hasten to add that they are all women - I think my club will shortly be turning team pink!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Chapter 74: A New Year, A New Way

So here we are again. A lot has happened since my last post, namely I have had my 4th Laporoscopy and have recovered reasonably well. And for anyone wondering if the surgery has made me pain free- um, no. If anything the endometriosis is worse than ever.

I have returned to participating in ukemi and attempting (when pain levels permit) to train twice a week. I think I am an odd 1st Kyu preparing for Shodan, the most difficult thing I find about training at the moment is that some ukemi and some of the Koryu kata can be painful not remembering what I have to do in each technique!

Anyway, due to the fact that there are some aspects of Aikido training are nigh near impossible for me to perform at the moment - I have found a new martial practice, Iaido.

I didn't just decide to do Iaido because I am struggling with Aikido at the moment, I also have always loved the sword and Jo work I have done. My only regret is that I don't get to use my weapons in the dojo enough.

Iaido may seem a strange art to practice. One thing that was strange at first was the fact there are no opponents - it is a non contact art. But I am really enjoying Iaido, I am finding that it is feeding back into my Aikido practice and it doesn't aggravate my pelvic pain. A lot of things we do in Aikido make more sense now!