My good friend CC had been bugging me for ages to check out his Aikido dojo. I had dragged my feet for months – independent almost to a fault, I’ve always preferred working out on my own. Group training sometimes reminds me of cult behavior, and any class can be held back by the weakest member, so it can try one’s patience. CC finally wore me down with his enthusiasm.
He brought me to his class one evening. The setting was the expected re-purposed storefront, altered for large rooms with maximum space and mats on the floor everywhere. Posters of famous martial artists adorned the white walls. Everyone had on a gi except yours truly. An impressive guy walked in, and from his bearing, it was easy to tell that he was the leader. His posture was impeccable, his manner confident with relaxed authority. He greeted everyone and organized everyone for drills.
One person was dressed for a workout, but did not join in. She was enthusiastic and cheered the others on, but her arm was in a sling. I thought, wow, that’s dedication. Or might it be masochism?
The Agony of the Feet
After some warmups, the students lined up for the first drill. One student would stand facing the line of other students in a defensive position. The first person in line would move quickly toward the defender as if attacking. The defender would use positioning and the attacker’s weight to flip him or her over their shoulder. Pretty cool, and seemingly classic Aikido. But then one “flipee” came down hard, and in pain. He had hurt his ankle, and limped off, assuring everyone he was OK. The attacks and flips resumed.
Limbs to the Slaughter
After a few more throws, a different person got to the front of the line to face everyone’s controlled assault. Then another trainee went down hard. She had hurt her wrist, and had to leave the floor. By this time my observation area was beginning to look like an injury ward, and I was getting concerned. The woman in the arm sling was attending to the newly wounded. I began to understand why she had come despite not participating in the class. There was a certain conviviality of the newly-pained. This comradeship is probably part of any sport, and I admired it, but didn’t really look forward to joining the ranks.
The class proceeded with a variety of other drills. Only one more student limped off during the rest of the class, but my enthusiasm gradually waned. I had hoped for a dazzling display without a casualty count.
If You Order in the Next Ten Minutes…
I began to think of possible slogans for the school. “Fly through the air with the greatest of ease, land in a heap and end up with sore knees”… “Improve your pain threshold with our unique method”… “Hardly any casualties per class, now down to 5%”… “Learn self-defense by pre-experiencing the pain”… “Study to get your black and blue belt”… “Sign up now and get free ice for swelling at every session”.
The class ended, and fortunately CC was not hurt, but just sweating with effort. Besides, at his 6’3″ size and obvious strength, he probably inadvertently dishes out more pain that he receives, even though he’s an entirely peaceful guy. I glanced at the hurt folks and gave him a questioning smile. He apologized and assured me that this injury rate was not normal, and that the classes were always fun. I did believe him, as he has been doing this for years without any big injuries that I can recall. But there wasn’t getting around the fact that this may have been the Worst Aikido Sales Demo Ever, and he knew it. I couldn’t resist a little hazing, and told him that maybe they could have punch cards for injuries that, once fully filled in, could entitle someone to a rehab discount.
All that aside, reading up on Aikido, I found its philosophy to be very positive, and very non-violent for a martial art. But it seemed to me that the Aikido “ward” I had seen was telling me something: avoid this, or maybe try again another time. I always try to exercise to avoid getting hurt. But someday, who knows? For now it’s going to be full-contact no-holds-barred pullups.