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What? We’re a “Fight Club”!?!

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Martial Arts of Japan

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What? We’re a "Fight Club”!?!

by Robert Wolfe

Several years ago, an article by reporter Pat Carroll describing training at Itten Dojo appeared in the “Life” section of The Patriot-News. Although we’d hoped the reporter’s original intent to compare our training to Krav Maga had given way to an exclusive focus on our dojo, we learned when the paper sent a photographer that we would indeed be compared to “that more violent school” the photographer had visited the night before.

My heart sank when I saw the headline, “Fight Clubs,” thinking immediately that nobody we’d want to have in the dojo would be likely to actually read the article. And I was less than thrilled to see the article start with a number of Zen-related allusions I’d specifically told the reporter don’t apply to either martial arts in general or aikijujutsu-derived arts in particular. At least the front-page photo of two of our juniors practicing ude-osae looked wonderfully better than the Krav Maga photo just below the headline, which was a guy flinching away from a punch with his eyes screwed shut — I’m guessing the Krav Maga instructor was probably rather more upset than me.

Thank heavens Pat Carroll in the article quoted heavily from Lisa Granite’s essay “On Budo and Pushups,” which I’d provided him. With Lisa’s input there was some balance to the description of what we do. In what I said to the writer during my interview, I spoke to his assumption that aikido/aikijutsu is ineffective, and failed to emphasize the real benefits of training have little or nothing to do with fighting.

On the day it was published, the article yielded just one phone call to the dojo — and that from a fellow who wanted to know if I were to “fight a kung-fu guy, who would win?” I was sorely tempted to respond that I would bet on me and my Model 1911, but I was instead polite. I tried to explain that, despite his assurances to me that “kung-fu is the most effective style in the world,” (this, obviously, was before BJJ became the most effective style in the world) the question allows no simple response. Realistically, the answer I choked back gets closer to the truth of the matter: Anybody training in martial arts primarily for self-defense is wasting his or her time. With the possible exception of persons in lines of work that require physical restraint of other persons within strictly defined limits of force, for most people there are far more efficient and effective means of personal-protection than empty-handed fighting.

I wish I’d emphasized to Pat Carroll that, ultimately, the most important reason to train is the simple fact martial arts are one heck of a lot of fun. Drawing together a diverse group of exceptional individuals who share a passion for pushing their own limits, practices have a very strong social in addition to physical component. Often, people’s closest friendships are formed in a dojo. I met my wife in one.

Aikijutsu/aikido practice in particular has an added attraction. Proper execution of the techniques is physically pleasurable. This is something very different from the pump one gets from karate or judo. A hard workout in those arts feels good, but in my experience the sensation of executing techniques in aikijutsu produces a much more pervasive exhilaration. What’s more, the exhilaration is the same whether on the “dishing-out” or “receiving” side of the techniques, a characteristic likely unique to aikijutsu/aikido among the gendai budo (modern arts).

Maintaining a high level of fitness, increasing physical strength/grace/balance/flexibility/coordination, achieving greater mental focus, having a fascinating circle of friends, all while engaging in an activity that is endlessly challenging and feels delightfully good — more so the longer one’s involvement — what could be better than that? (Oh, yeah, and you also learn how to fight…)

As I say, I wish we could have explored more of the “other than fighting” aspects of budo in the article, although I recognize the writer’s specific intent was to address a range of approaches to self-defense. Nonetheless, I am very grateful that the local paper took an interest in what we do and produced the article to begin with.

Humorous aside: Shortly after the article was published, I was whining to budoka/author Dave Lowry about how the article had turned out and he responded with some interesting comments:

The piece they did on you guys was not at all bad. The difficulty in doing stories of this sort is that there is so much crapola out there, so many preconceptions, that you are forced to spend your energies disabusing the writer of these, rather than explaining what the stuff really is. So, you’re spending 75% of the interview explaining what you don’t do and only the remainder trying to get across the idea of what it is you actually do.

Actually, the aikido stuff was better than I would have anticipated. I recall an interview I did after a book came out, one that appeared in the local paper here. During the interview, I had made the comment that “Yes, I could kill you with a sword, but what, in the end, is the value of that skill?”

Of course, the headline was, “I Could Kill You With A Sword.” 

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