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Kid Miracleman
3/28/2007 11:23pm,
The following is an article that was published in the March 28 issue of my school's (the University of Houston's) daily newspaper on the campus Aikido Club, which I found amusing enough to post here in YMAS. My main issue isn't with Aikido or the Aikido Club (though the members do say some ridiculous stuff, which I have emboldened below), but with the way the article itself is written. Read on and then see what I have to say at the end.

_______________________

HARMONIOUS WARRIORS
At Aikido club, the focus is on the mind
by CASEY WOOTEN
The Daily Cougar

This is the second in a three-part series profiling campus organizations involved in combative arts.

When anthropology junior Luke Bahar walked into his first Aikido class at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, he didn't know what to expect. The combat room at the CRWC was a small, second floor space where the walls and ground were covered in red foam padding that looked soft, but felt hard enough to hurt if you fell.

Many believe Aikido, like many other martial arts, is all about fighting, battering your opponent with kicks and chops. Three years into studying Aikido at UH, however, Bahar has found the true meaning of "the way of harmony" -- Aikido isn't a path towards violence, but an inward journey toward a spiritual and physical balance.

"When I first came in, I thought it would be a lot more physical instead of more mental," Bahar said. "But now it has gotten to a point where you take the aspects that you learn on the mat in Aikido and apply them to school, or work or friendships."

Bahar is part of a second generation of teachers at UH's Aikido dojo. UH alumnus Cesar Aguirre founded it in 2003 and since has tutored Bahar and biology senior Burke Ghozali to head classes. Aguirre, who graduated with a degree in psychology in 2004, believes that martial arts should teach more than fighting, and passes this philosophy on to his students.

"The biggest difference between Aikido and most martial arts is the greater emphasis on a spiritual path -- or a better path -- than just beating somebody up," Aguirre said.

When Aguirre, who is a sensei, or teacher, came to UH, he had already spent years studying Aikido at his home dojo in The Woodlands and wanted to share it with his fellow students.

"When I transferred over here I was in The Woodlands training with my instructor, training maybe six or seven days a week, and I didn't want to stop," Aguirre said. "I really wanted to bring Aikido to UH."

Since then the organization has waxed and waned in membership, but it is always accepting new recruits. A core group of students attend classes regularly and many make trips to cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles for in-depth seminars.

Though some hear about Aikido by word of mouth, other students happen upon the class, try it out, and find that Aikido fits well into their lifestyle.

"When I started, I was actually looking for Tai Chi. Then, I saw a flyer and called sensei, came into class and was like, ‘Wow, this is cool,'" Ghozali said. "I had very little background in martial arts at the time, so I started coming regularly and had a blast."

An Aikido class resembles most other martial arts lessons. There is a warm-up session where the sensei demonstrates what students will be learning for the day. There is always, however, a deep philosophical undertone to everything taught. Like Aguirre, Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, viewed other martial arts as relying too much on physical dominance at the expense of strengthening oneself psychologically.

"He felt that martial art was too violent, that martial art didn't solve the solutions that it's supposed to, so he merged his spiritual belief with his physical technique," Aguirre said. "Instead of saying, ‘We believe in peace,' but not really follow it, we merged them together and we can practice it all the time."

Like other martial arts Aikido requires physical conditioning. Classes start with a regiment of exercises.

"An average class usually starts with a general warm up, kind of a loosening up of the body, some stretching, some kind of basic rudimentary movement to get the body relaxed and going with techniques," Aguirre said. "Then we do rolling so we learn how to fall, and then we do techniques and stuff like that."

Aikido is not without an offensive side, however. After a student advances through the basics, they begin training with weapons. Aguirre teaches his students two primary weapons, a bokken and a jo.

"(A bokken) is a wooden replica of a katana, of a sword. It is a little thicker and heavier, and it's weighted in a sense so that when you are using a real katana, a real live blade, its very light, very easy to maneuver," Aguirre said.

A jo, or short staff, is similar to the better known bo, or long staff, and is commonly used against swordsmen.

Both weapons have roots in Japanese samurai tradition, and Aikido itself takes much of its teachings from feudal Japan's warrior class.

"It's very deeply rooted in samurai (history). The founder studied a lot of the more famous prominent schools of empty-hand technique and sword technique." Aguirre said. "And he culminated it all together to blend into one technique that was geared and based more off his philosophy."

For someone looking to start in Aikido, Aguirre says that initiates, who don the classic white belt similar to other martial arts, should come in with a sense of commitment and be prepared for hard work -- both physically and mentally.

"For people who try this, Aikido is not like your normal exercise," Aguirre said. "It's not lifting weights; it's not cardio. It's not even really like a kickboxing class. This is actually something that you have to think about. It's an alternative type of thinking. So when you come in, come in with an open mind and try something that's off the beaten path."

Bahar compounds the benefits from his years of practice into a single sentence, summing up people's first impressions of the martial art.

"Some of the stuff looks so fake, but hurts so bad," he said.

UH aikido classes are held from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The beginners' segment starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
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Notice anything missing? Although the writer discusses the spiritual aspects of Aikido at great length, he apparently forgot to ask the club members what most people really want to know: "How are the techniques in Aikido different from other martial arts?" and "How will learning Aikido help me defend myself?" Simply put, the overwhelming majority of people who start doing martial arts aren't looking for spirituality, they want to learn how to intelligently defend themselves or get into shape or just plain beat somebody up. Although weapons training is discussed and a passing reference is made to rolling and falling, the only thing the average reader will know after reading this article is that Aikido will, like, help you achieve total spiritual harmony and stuff. Does the practical self-defense aspect of Aikido involve punching, like western boxing? Is there an emphasis on kicks, like Taekwondo? Is it like wrestling or judo? Is there any sparring? Joe Blow doesn't know, and he's too lazy to type in "Aikido" on Wikipedia and hit the search button.

Then again, maybe the Aikido Club members just decided not to discuss that pesky "combative" aspect that most people are interested in. Also, I like how the instructor basically dismisses kickboxing and weight training as activities that doesn't require a lot of thought or intelligence to perform. As for Aikido itself, there's not anything I can say about its wrist-grabassery that hasn't been discussed at length before in numerous other threads.

Any thoughts or comments? Should I attend the Aikido Club next week to see if I can up my overall harmony rating, then write a follow-up post detailing my experience? Or should I just write a strongly worded letter to the newspaper saying that their article sucks and Aikido sucks and they should all eat dog poop?

Fantasy Warrior
3/28/2007 11:42pm,
Aikido sucks. Not just in Feb, but always.

EmperorCesar
3/28/2007 11:44pm,
Eh, go ahead and try it out, it should be an interesting read.

By the way, I live in Houston as well and might be attending UoH in the near future.

Hands
3/28/2007 11:54pm,
Don't waste your time going there. You can write the author of that garbage about his experience with kickboxing and how he formed his opinion that you don't have to think in kickboxing.

Sounds like they are terminally delusional. Martial arts is violence; a teacher I had simply said "fighting and self-defense is what ma is for." Another teacher said something like training in martial arts is challenging and that the challenges are what builds character. He said that the whole emphasis on teaching good character was an americanized shortcut. I wonder what he would think of the article. An opinion from someone requiring resistance after trying a new techniuqe twice would have an interesting rant about such compliant training.

Kid Miracleman
3/29/2007 12:06am,
Eh, go ahead and try it out, it should be an interesting read.

By the way, I live in Houston as well and might be attending UoH in the near future.

I think I will have a go at it, if not next week then the week after. As for now, I think I'll dash off an e-mail to the Daily Cougar so I can give them some direct criticism on their non-article.

I think it's also worth noting that the first story in this "three-part series profiling campus organizations involved in combative arts" was on the campus chapter of the Society For Creative Anachronism. I had no idea that "LARP-ing with rattan swords" was worth the trouble of writing an in-depth newspaper article.

On another note, which campus do you plan on attending, EmperorCesar? The main campus or the Downtown campus? The main campus has a mixed martial arts club, of which I'm a member. I joined at the beginning of this semester (still an MMA noob) and really like what I'm learning so far, although there's not as much striking practice as I'd like. If you do end up going to UH, I'd suggest checking it out, it's well worth the $60 per semester.

Kid Miracleman
3/29/2007 12:10am,
Better yet, instead of attending the Aikido Club, maybe I should finagle my MMA club into having a "friendly" interclub tourney with them...

Hands
3/29/2007 12:24am,
Better yet, instead of attending the Aikido Club, maybe I should finagle my MMA club into having a "friendly" interclub tourney with them...

Thats not likely to yield results, acts of violence block the path to spiritual enlightenment. You could write an article on your MMA club and submit it to the paper.

Permalost
3/29/2007 12:36am,
Don't waste your time going there. You can write the author of that garbage about his experience with kickboxing and how he formed his opinion that you don't have to think in kickboxing.

Sounds like they are terminally delusional. Martial arts is violence; a teacher I had simply said "fighting and self-defense is what ma is for." Another teacher said something like training in martial arts is challenging and that the challenges are what builds character. He said that the whole emphasis on teaching good character was an americanized shortcut. I wonder what he would think of the article. An opinion from someone requiring resistance after trying a new techniuqe twice would have an interesting rant about such compliant training.


I'd argue that the Japanese were doing this before the Americans.

Hands
3/29/2007 12:47am,
I'd argue that the Japanese were doing this before the Americans.

Good point. I wouldn't argue with that argument.

DdlR
3/29/2007 12:53am,
I dunno ... Uyeshiba seems to have really believed in the ethic of martial training towards non-violence. IMO Aikido (with some exceptions - I don't like the Ki Society stuff, too New Age) is an excellent form of ritualized training in tactical movement.

The physical techniques and more importantly the ritual of the training are supposed to be metaphors for "how to live your life", i.e., focussed, disciplined, adaptable, etc. - according to Morihei Uyeshiba circa 1920-1940. As long as it's presented honestly, more power to it.

The overall writing style and content were OK, not in-depth but hell, it's a student journalist writing a puff-piece for a university paper. Personally, I read the fact that article didn't mention self defense at all as an understanding by the reporter that kickin ass on da Str33t is not a major Aikido priority, at least not as it's being taught at that club.

Kid Miracleman
3/29/2007 1:20am,
The overall writing style and content were OK, not in-depth but hell, it's a student journalist writing a puff-piece for a university paper. Personally, I read the fact that article didn't mention self defense at all as an understanding by the reporter that kickin ass on da Str33t is not a major Aikido priority, at least not as it's being taught at that club.
You're right in saying that it is a puff piece, but it's a puff piece that begins with the following statement:

This is the second in a three-part series profiling campus organizations involved in combative arts.
I think it's safe to say that the article is misleading. If Aikido (as described by the Aikido club members) is all about achieving harmony with no mention of practical combat/self-defense appications, then the Daily Cougar has no business trying to pass off this particular martial art as "combative." True, these are student journalists, but if they don't learn how NOT to write a sloppy article now while they're in college, then they're not going to be very well-prepared when they enter the real world in a few semesters.

Kid Miracleman
3/29/2007 1:26am,
Here's an e-mail that I sent to the Daily Cougar a few minutes ago regarding the Aikido Club article. They frequently publish reader-submitted comments/opinions, so I wouldn't be surprised if my e-mail finds itself next to a poorly-drawn political comic by early next week:



I just wanted to say how disappointed I was in the Aikido Club article that was published on Wednesday. Although the writer discusses the spiritual aspects of Aikido at great length, he apparently forgot to ask the club members what most people really want to know: "How are the techniques in Aikido different from other martial arts?" and "How will learning Aikido help me defend myself?"

Simply put, the overwhelming majority of people who start doing martial arts aren't looking for spirituality; rather, they want to know how to intelligently defend themselves or get into shape or just plain learn how to fight. Although weapons training is discussed and a passing reference is made to “rolling” and “falling,” the only thing the average reader will learn after reading this article is that practicing Aikido will help boost one’s spiritual harmony rating. That’s all fine and dandy, but will its techniques help someone in a real life-or-death situation, and if so, how? Does the practical self-defense aspect of Aikido involve punching, like western boxing? Is there an emphasis on kicks, like Taekwondo? Since it involves rolling and falling, is it similar to judo? Is there any sparring, and if so does it involve “dead” training against compliant individuals, or is there any “alive” training against resisting opponents? The Average Joe wouldn’t know from reading this article.

I believe the Daily Cougar should invest more time researching a topic such as this before writing a story, and should also ask interviewees better questions in order to glean more useful information. Some general history on Aikido would certainly not have hurt, either. Although the founder of Aikido (Ueshiba Morihei) is mentioned in the article, there is no mention that he founded it in the early 1900s, nor is there any reference to Aikido being a synthesis of techniques derived from various Japanese martial arts styles (the core style of which being Daitō-ryū Aiki-Jūjutsu).

Then again, perhaps the Aikido Club members just decided not to discuss that pesky "combative" aspect that most people are interested in. I was amused by the instructor’s dismissal of kickboxing and weight training as activities that don’t require much thought or intelligence to perform. I find it intriguing that an individual who purports to be so harmonious and open-minded could make such flippant and ignorant comments. Perhaps the blame for this sub-par article lies not just with the writer, but with the Aikido Club itself.

DdlR
3/29/2007 2:10am,
You're right in saying that it is a puff piece, but it's a puff piece that begins with the following statement:

I think it's safe to say that the article is misleading. If Aikido (as described by the Aikido club members) is all about achieving harmony with no mention of practical combat/self-defense appications, then the Daily Cougar has no business trying to pass off this particular martial art as "combative." True, these are student journalists, but if they don't learn how NOT to write a sloppy article now while they're in college, then they're not going to be very well-prepared when they enter the real world in a few semesters.

Actually, I thought that as puff-pieces go, it was of a reasonable standard. I've seen much worse by some "professionals".

I suspect that the student journalist or their editor used the word "combative" rather than "martial" because they knew that the series would include a piece on SCA rattan fighting, which they (the newspaper folk) may not have thought of as being a "martial art". Or maybe they just thought it sounded cool. Frankly, though, getting up in arms about that choice of words seems like splitting hairs while floating in a storm-tossed teacup ...