During one of my recent visits back to my parents house, I stumbled across my copy of Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. I had memories of it being a good book, and figured that I could always use more material for my Examiner column, so I grabbed it and started flipping through it. As it turned out, I still think it's a good book.
What was also interesting to me, however, was the various notes and ideas I had jotted in the margins of the book. There's a lot of me trying to draw connections between the philosophy of Aikido (as Westbrook outlines it) and the Personal Defense Readiness program concepts and ideas (as I understood them at the time). In some places, there's actually a fair amount of overlap; in others, there's some pretty big disparities.
I'm reminded of how much my Aikido experiences really shaped, and continue to shape, my own perceptions of martial arts training. Many of the physical skills I value, like footwork, distancing, timing, and proper body placement are all integral to Aikido (at least, in theory). My belief that a small, well understood toolbox is more useful than a large, poorly understood toolbox began in Aikido too. Aikido gets a rap as being a pretty worthless martial art for learning how to actually fight, but it's got some intriguingly useful ideas buried in it. Actually, they're not really buried. They're right on the surface.
In some ways, I really regret the fact that Aikido turned out to be a poor environment for me to explore in. I have no idea where I might have taken those explorations, but there was something exciting about playing with a conceptual framework and trying to make sense of it in a variety of contexts. I tried experimenting occasionally, especially at Brandeis, where I was the guy in charge half of the time, but it never quite worked. No one wanted to explore. They just wanted the standard, cookie cutter Aikido program.
Was the fault with them, for not wanting to change? Or with me, for trying to make it happen?
In the end, I left Aikido, for a whole variety of reasons, but the biggest was just the sense that I was being stifled. I didn't have room to grow.
It's an experience I don't ever want to repeat. Nor is it one I want to foster on my own students. So for those students of mine who are reading this, listen carefully: you are in control of your own martial journey. No one else. Explore, experiment, grow. Learn whatever you can, from wherever you can. At the end of the day, it's your journey, not mine.