May
26

“Feelings on ‘open mat’ policy” from aikiweb.com

“Hi have just recently joined an aikido class in my area. I just recently found out that my sensei has an “open mat” policy, this meaning that anybody who would like to “test” aikido can do so again my sensei (shihan/6th dan). He does so in front of his students as well. There seems to be a lot of MMA stuff going on around here and some of those guys don’t seem very fond of our style of martial art. Some of them even seem to have enough nerve to be disrespectful directly to my sensei, in those cases he offers anybody wishing to test him onto the mat. I have not seen anybody attempt to “take down” my sensei, but I have heard a few stories from many of his senior students about it. I personally think that it’s nice to see his confidence in his art and standing up for it without breaking Aiki principles. Any thoughts or opinions?”

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Comments

  1. This is something that happens in most schools of Martial Arts, Aikido included. Whenever I have had a group class, I have always offered that sort of practice to my students. As far as visitors, well, that’s different. When I have a visitor come, and they approach me as such, I have to remember that they have only seen me do Aikido, and that the class may have been catered just so they can keep up. They don’t know that I have a background in Tang Soo Do, I cross train in Wing Chun, Kickboxing/Jeet Kune Do, Kali, BJJ, etc. They don’t know that I used to beat people up on the streets all of the time, cos I used to be a complete d***. I usually entertain anyone that wants to see what’s up, as long as they are both friendly, and they have signed the waiver. If they seem unfriendly, disrespectful, or even potentially dangerous, I usually warn them to leave. Frankly, my students understand that if someone comes around like to my dojo, that we are either going to call the police, or jump the person, and then call the police. Dojos are not the place for strangers to come in and bust up the place.

    I’ll share with you an anecdote:

    I used to sublet a space back before 9/11, and I had about five regular students that I would pound on. Those great students of mine were my “wolfpack.” They trained so hard, it was absurd. A friend of one of my students trained at a Kung Fu school, and in his style, they sparred and competed regularly, colored belts, etc. My student would often come to class excited to tell me about her friend’s newest tournament success, or promotion or such. I met him on a few occasions also, He is a very respectful young man who I am still friends with to this day. He often came and watched my classes, and was waiting for permission from me to attend a practice.

    Well, when 9/11 happened, the gentleman that I subleased from was called back into active duty, so I lost the space. I would have the students train in my backyard until I figured something else out. On one of these occasions, this young man came over to train. The subject of that class was Aiki Jo (go figure), and he did very well for his first time. When he was leaving, he thanked me for the instruction, and suggested that next time, he bring his gear over so that we can spar.

    So.

    Here’s my problem. I’m extremely proud about my training. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m not the best by far, or even that good at all, but, I take my training very seriously. Next problem is that he put me on front street, in front of all of my students, in my very home. Last problem, I was still dealing with people in my area feeling that Aikido was not a viable art. In my mind, had I simply said no, he was going to go back to his school, and tell everyone how “nice” I was, but I was not open to any sort of match or challenge. I asked him what sort of gear, and he described a full head-to-toe set up of safety gear. To which I replied:

    “We don’t need any of that stuff. We can spar right now.”

    Uh-oh. Everyone in my room looked worried as I said this, including the young man. I assured him that this would be a very friendly encounter. So we go to the backyard, and we both warm up a bit first. He asked me if we were only striking, or if we could use grappling also, and I told him he should feel free to do whatever he wants. When we started, I was gauging his tactics and strategy, playing “the game” as I call it in sparring. I wanted to see how he dealt with attacks to his center, so I threw a very simple probing front kick.

    It landed squarely and struck his testicles, and he immediately bent over and had to stop. This was in the first 15 seconds or so.

    I didn’t mean to even hit him at all, it just happened. I stopped and tried to help him, and he was fine. Once he collected himself, he wanted to continue. I insisted that we shouldn’t given that he just suffered a mild injury, but he insisted that we continue, so I obliged him. As a testament to his good training, he managed to pull off a very very nice takedown in sparring. I was punching him and he threw me in something like Sokumen Iriminage, augmented with a front leg sweep.

    Well, he tried to throw me like that :). As he began to push back against my chest and kick my leg forward, I picked up my leg that he was sweeping and kicked his face, and followed up with three punches to his face and and sidekick to his sternum, which made him give up. We concluded the match with respect, and I gave him the simple advice that every technique has a counter, that’s all.

    I asked my student, his friend, what she learned that night. She said, “keep your hands up!” I explained to her that I simply would not go to his school, and after the class, insist on touching hands with his Sifu, and that if she ever did something so stupid, she should expect to get beaten up. I explained to her that in the culture of Martial Arts, there is a time and a place for everything, including matches and challenges, and as Martial Artists, we should always be careful. I once went to a Wing Chun seminar taught by my Sifu’s Sifu, and he got challenged. That’s a different story for another day, but suffice to say, that guy got beaten up too.

    All of this to say that all other factors aside, I admire the instructors willingness to showcase exactly how capable Aikido is.

  2. Personally, I feel that an aikido dojo is a bad place for matches. If someone has a problem with me, my style, whatever, they can take it up with me outside. Nice hard concrete. No armor. No rules. And whatever legal issues attach to attacking someone.

  3. Mr. Warren,

    I’m liking you more and more with every post that I read of yours.

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