Our Blacksburg-based Systema group was invited to a cross training event organized by the Virginia Tech Martial Arts Council this past weekend. Over the course of 5.5 hours, everyone participated in classes led by the instructors of 6 different martial arts styles. Represented were Kodokan Aikido, SCA Rapier, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Systema, Bushin Kan Karate, and Tai Chi. For the first time in years, I put on a white belt and hit the mats. Below is my (lighthearted) commentary on each style.
Aikido. I’ve watched plenty of aikido, and trained in Systema with a lot of people who practice aikido, but I’ve never had any aikido training myself. As an observer over the years, it always looked complicated. As a first time participant, I found that to be very true! I haven’t felt so clumsy and stupid in years. It was very tempting to cheat with Systema though…I’d be trying to figure out a specific throw, but I’d see a few other options that I hated to ignore. Finally…what’s with names of the techniques? How can anyone possibly memorize all that?
SCA Rapier. I was a bit more at home here, since I fenced for several years in college. Sadly, their safety officer didn’t show up, so we were limited to pretend fighting without swords. I was reminded that I really like fencing, and my joints really don’t.
Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. For those who may not know, these are the ninjas. I found that we share the same desire to get out of the way of things. We looked at moving from our hips along lines to affect our “attacker’s” hips and thus their balance.
Systema. I taught this one, so any review I might give would probably be a tiny bit biased.
Bushin Kan Karate. My body was starting to be uncooperative at this point, but I couldn’t miss the chance to try some Japanese karate again. This style is pretty similar to what I used to practice, so many of the techniques…punching, kicking, blocks, stances…were familiar. I did realize that I can’t kiai (yell) and move at the same time, I just don’t get enough oxygen to my brain to make that work. I can, however, fake yell fairly convincingly, which works ok in a group.
Tai Chi. It was good to have this at the end. We were all pretty tired by this point of the day, and after some breathing exercises, I opted to switch over to my wheelchair. We did mostly partner work, pushing, centering ourselves, and learning the difference between being rigid and being grounded. I participated in the first two drills, but wasn’t feeling like tipping my chair over backwards, so I just observed the rest. Everyone finished up a bit more relaxed.
I’m always amazed to see martial artists from different styles and traditions come together for mutual learning. Far too often, martial arts instructors see other instructors as rivals, attempting to steal their students. Taking a collaborative approach lets people try new things and learn from each other. For instructors, even if you don’t change anything you’re doing, it’s a good idea to feel like an uncoordinated beginner on occasion, it allows you to remember what your students are feeling, and helps keep the ego under control!