Tuesday 27 October 2015

Why Did I Choose Aikido?

Of all the martial arts in all the world why did I pick this one?

It’s a long story. It began back in the early 1980s. I was a youngish freelance journalist working in London. I spent most of my time either interviewing pop stars or writing articles for computer magazines. It was a sedentary life and I was starting to feel distinctly unfit.

I interviewed pop stars (like Captain Sensible) by day and did martial arts by night!
So I joined a gym. For about 10 months I did push-ups and sit-ups, I lifted weights and I got very, very bored. Some people enjoy the challenge of lifting weights. I didn’t. I decided to look for some other form of physical activity. Someone mentioned martial arts. I’d never even thought of taking up a martial art. All I knew about martial arts was what I’d seen in Bruce Lee films and the Kung Fu TV series. I began looking for a Kung Fu class. I found a Wing Chun teacher and signed up for a beginner’s course. After the first lesson my arms were black and blue with bruises, but that didn’t deter me. I was, however, less happy about the other people who had signed up for the beginner’s class. Many of them (now how can I put this politely?) – well, let’s just say they seemed to have purely practical reasons for wanting to know how to punch and kick someone senseless. I’m sure the teacher was a decent chap but I didn’t feel entirely at ease with his students.

So I signed up for a Taekwondo class. This was more like it! Lots of high kicks and energetic exercise. Exercise, after all, was my main reason for taking up a martial art. After an hour of Taekwondo the perspiration was pouring off me. This, I thought, might be exactly what I was looking for. But one of the other students, who was obviously even more unfit than I was, couldn’t take the pace. He fell out of line and sank in an exhausted heap against the wall. The instructor went over to him. I thought he would ask politely if the poor bloke was ok. Not at all. He shouted at him, bellowed at him, a bit like the stereotypical portrayal of a British army sergeant-major, “You horrible little worm, you! What d’you think you are doing, you pathetic creep? Get back in line! NOW!!!

One style of martial arts teacher!

Well, to be honest, I don’t know if he actually used the words “you horrible little worm” but, if not, I’m pretty sure that’s what he was thinking. So, in spite of enjoying the exercise and the kicking and in spite of finding my fellow students much more friendly than those from the Wing Chun class I somehow didn’t think I’d be able to form a warm and friendly relationship with the instructor.

So I joined a karate class. The students were friendly – and so was the instructor! This, I felt, was finally exactly what I was looking for. And I may well have spent the rest of my life devoted to the study of karate – but for one little scrap of paper.

The scrap of paper was stuck on the notice board of the leisure centre where I was studying karate. “Aikido – Japanese Martial Art,” it said, “Lessons start next Monday at 1:30.” I didn’t have the slightest idea what Aikido was but, well, I’d tried out three martial arts already, I might as well try one more.

So the next Monday, just after lunch, I walked into the leisure centre. In the changing rooms I got talking to a quietly-spoken chap with a mild Scottish accent. “You here to do the aikido?” I asked. He assured me he was. “Me too,” I said, “Do you know anything about it?” “Och,” he said, “Just a wee bit.”

I didn’t know at the time that he was the teacher. He didn’t look or sound or behave like any of the other martial arts teachers I’d met. He was so laid-back, calm and well, un-martial, that I began to doubt if he was really a martial arts teacher at all. Maybe he was just someone who’d walked in off the street and claimed he did aikido. That first lesson with him baffled me even more. Everything he did was soft, gentle and calm. No kicking, no punching, no shouting. And yet he seemed to have some special quality that intrigued me. That was my first meeting with David Currie, the man who would eventually become my teacher and take me all the way from white belt to 2nd dan.

I’ll carry on this story in another blog post

My teacher, David Currie (centre left, smiling at camera)

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