Thursday, February 23, 2012

Have You Seen my Hakama?! Practical Arts in Columbia, Maryland

The Aikido uniform is quite stylish, wouldn't you say? Except for the sneakers, what is pictured here is fairly standard for the yudansha: a judo-knit gi (suitable for grappling), a belt (black, white, or something else in the rainbow), the hakama (Aikido's signature fancy pants), and a collection of wooden weapons (a jo staff poses with that fellow in the picture while bokken and tanto are off camera waiting their turn).

Aikido in particular is one of those martial arts that has espoused and enjoys something of a highbrow reputation. Although O-Sensei, the art's founder, may have indicated that he wanted the art to be for everyone, that the perfect place for practice is precisely where you are, and other wise things, we cannot deny that there is a certain elitism held by many many in the larger community. Part of this elitism, however, seems to be that the instructor should suffer for his or her art--that is, nothing so dirty as money should not be associated with the transmission of O-Sensei's sacred teachings. If the person up front leaves anyone with the appearance that he is a professional instructor, he is tainted, and his Aikido school is likened to the evil Karate McDojos and their Black Belt Factories.

However, if money is off on the periphery of the teaching itself, in items like uniforms, equipment, books, DVDs, ... well perhaps that is honorable. In that picture, the gi is good quality, up around $100; the hakama is in the BuJin line, around $200; the staff is white oak, imported from Japan, around $60; and the black belt is quality material and construction, around $40--more if it was embroidered with some fancy kanji. Wow!

You know, though, I don't see many people in these parts dressed like that... What do you figure a bag full of those clothes like that would be worth to you?

Maybe we'll find out: This morning someone smashed the window to my car, popped the console, glove box, and trunk, and one of the only things missing was a gym bag with that outfit in it. For me, that's a $300-$400 loss, plus time off work for the paperwork and to replace the window (another $300). I wonder what the thief is going to think of his score when he unzips that bag...

What's that garb worth to anyone who doesn't practice Aikido?

And what is it really worth to me...

Now, if I told a story of an Aikido machine preying on the snobs with an unusual affinity for Japanese, catering toward social misfits who want to shun their own cultures and live as a samurai, and I threw in details of bizarre pricing, details of how it's sometimes the elite teachers in the community themselves who do the import and sales of their own line of aikido equipment and pour you the Kool Aid, I might have a come-as-you-are True Aikido practice--just as O-Sensei intended it to be--attracting the more practically-minded crew all ready to start in the park tomorrow morning!

Wear the clothes you'll be wearing when you encounter the threat. Learn to pivot and fall on the types of ground where you'll fight. It's not that we can't afford heating or the air conditioning, but rather that enduring the elements will not distract you from your task. Bonus, by the way, if the students want to ensure that their instructor can feed himself and his family, not minding paying for his time, skills, and dedication. That's a piece of this culture, you see, and we operate within it.

Now, for the Zen-indoctrinated or those who really do understand taking Aikido out of the dojo and integrating it into your daily life, you'll at least recognize the tongue-in-cheek handling if not the koan itself. How do we deal with these situations? Zen teaches this. Aikido teaches this. They teach more than that, but this is a start.

So, who would like to study some Practical Aikido and Practical Zen in the Columbia, Maryland, area? Who would like to help get me back into uniform for when we have to represent ourselves with our uppity peers? After all, if this is becoming the type of city where hoodlums will steal your hakama, then we'd best become the folks who don't need the hakama (Zen) as well as the folks who can deal with the hoodlums (Aikido), no?

Email columbia@swordmountain.org with your interest.

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