Who am I, anyways?

One of my earliest memories of my martial arts career was, sadly, not a good one. I had just failed my purple belt test in Shito-Ryu Karate. I was just shy of 5 years old. I had been training for a couple of months with my brother (9 years old) and my father (adult). Apparently, I couldn’t remember my kata. I couldn’t remember any kata.

I never did have much talent.

“WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS”

Fortunately, what I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that martial arts, and indeed most endeavors, are more about the work you’re willing to do more than the inherent physical or mental talent that you have. I was never physically gifted, and never particularly athletic. But that very first martial arts class ignited a passion in me that’s still going strong almost thirty years later.

What follows is a brief biography into my martial arts career, so that anyone reading this can know where I’m coming from for any future discussions.

As I wrote above, I started in Shito-Ryu Karate at the age of 4. Being 4, I wasn’t very good at remembering things. Or doing things. Or thinking about things. What do you want? Kids are dumb. My brother and father were a little more studious, and wound up sticking with Karate for 20 years. I flaked my way in and out of training– a year there, four months there. It was just never my thing. Around the age of 12, I found myself more interested in pursuing martial arts a bit more seriously, and I figured I’d give karate one more try, but I was gaining more and more interest in learning kenjutsu. On the way to karate one night, we drove by a strip center. Looking through the window, I saw people in white gi and billowy black pants swinging bokken. I was intrigued. Now I just had to figure out what in the hell Aikido was.

Turns out, Aikido would be the first great love of my life.

Taking a powder

Age 18, brand new shodan. I wouldn’t grow a chin until I was 25.

I started a few months thereafter, just after my thirteenth birthday, and fell madly in love with it. I took a temporary break from karate– that’s now 19 years strong and counting. I trained Aikido three days a week or more, every week, until I went to college and, for whatever else I may say about it in future posts, it was one of the great formative experiences of my life. The lessons I learned about myself, and the people (many of whom I am still in touch with) mean that my time in Aikido, no matter what I may think of how the art is practiced now, was not a waste.

When I went to college, I found myself without a home. Burned out on Aikido following a little bit of organizational drama (more on that someday), I found myself in a new town with nowhere to train. A friend of mine in the dorms suggested that he wanted to learn how to box.

I took his idea, and ran with it for the next five or so years. I wound up having a few amateur fights (stopping when I dislocated my shoulder in a bout– KEEP YOUR ELBOWS DOWN WHEN YOU THROW A STRAIGHT LEFT, PEOPLE) and starting/running a college boxing club. My friend wound up showing up to the boxing gym for a month or two; turns out he liked the idea of being known as a boxer more than he liked the idea of getting punched in the face.

Before my first bout

Who DOESN’T hate southpaws? Honestly.

When I came back to my hometown after nursing school in 2010, I went back to my Aikido school and trained there for a couple of years, but the pull of being young and single (with an inconvenient work schedule) eventually pulled me away from my training. In 2015, I was itching to get back into some kind of training. Talking with a friend of mine who had trained karate, he mentioned he was interested in learning a weapons style.

I took that idea and ran with it for the next three and a half years (and counting). I had wanted to learn proper Kenjutsu my whole life, but had never had the opportunity. A bit of Google-fu revealed there was a Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu dojo about ten minutes from my house. I drove over, watched the mandatory two classes, was interviewed by the instructors, and signed up.

This brings us, roughly, to now. I’m still training Katori, but I missed live training. Katori is primarily partner kata, and there’s only so hard you can go while still maintaining the kata and maintaining safety (a bokken, or wooden sword, can be a deadly weapon, even on accident). A friend of mine who trains Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu invited me to his school. Wary of the stereotypes concerning MMA guys (but also knowing from boxing that that’s mostly BS) I dropped by. The Muay Thai was fun, but the BJJ?

Exactly what I was looking for.

Six months later, I’m looking at doing something I haven’t done in a dozen years– put myself out there and compete in a BJJ competition. Since I started back with combat sports, I’ve lost 18 pounds (and counting), and I feel, after so many years without, that I have something where I can push myself as hard as I want to go.

This blog will contain my BJJ training logs (which I’ll call AARs or After Action Reports), as well as various musings about my time in martial arts– the training, the culture, and their evolution over the past hundred years or so. I’m doing this primarily for the training logs (reflecting on one’s training is a great way to continue improving off the mat) and secondarily because after almost thirty years in the martial arts, it remains the one physical endeavor in my life for which I simply cannot get enough. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I hope some of you will strap in with me for a bit and come along for a while.

I still don’t have any talent. I still have trouble remembering kata (some things never change). But I’m willing to work, and I’m willing to push myself. In that way, martial arts is a meritocracy, and one I’m glad to have committed myself to.

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