My father did not stand weak men. From a very young age, I quickly learned that coming home beat by other kids did not get me any sympathy from my father. It actually caused me to get punished. Every opportunity he had, he taught me where and how to strike the bad kids. I was told this anecdote once about my grand-father bitting a younger and stronger man who had subdued him and was hitting him in anger after a car accident. He bit him at the big vein on the neck, and ripped it (the carotid). The man was taken to the hospital and survived.
I did not consider myself an expert, however, I have defended myself or others on many occasions. I have only lost one fight in my entire life. If I can call that one a fight, as it was more a sucker head but, and I was only 8 years old. I Did loose my teeth on that one. To this day one of my broken front tooth reminds me of it.
At 19 years old, I studied Aikido for 5 years. At a rate of 3 practices a week, and one weekend camp a month.
Later, I tried Shotokan Karate (didn’t do it for long, as it required too much strength, and it was counter to my Aikido training). For about 6 months it taught me how to really give a punch.
Later, I practiced TaeKwonDo, for a year and a half. I did learn how to kick. However, aerial kicks were not my favorite, as my soccer legs did not allow me to kick very high. Not limber enough. But I could jump, and I gathered a few favorite kicks that are a lethal combination. My partners were ticked off when I slipped under their high kicks, to turn to their backs to pretend a killing punch to the back of the head. “It was not authorized in competition”.
When in my mid 30’s, I then traveled from PA to practice in an Aikido Club in Maryland, for a bout year. A decade later, I practiced for 1 year in a Police center of NH that offered Aikido. The sensei (a police officer) was very effective, his students much less.
There is an excellent Aikido Club in Orlando Florida ( http://shindai.com/ ). I went to visit them after I moved to Orlando in 2004. I practiced with them a few times, but never enrolled, as my older/broken body no longer allows me to practice with any intensity. I have practiced my sword and stick on a daily basis, until recently (2011) because of knees, back, and shoulder problems. (arthritis as settled)
I can only speak of the Martial Arts I have practiced. However, this doc, can engage others to share their experiences. In order, of favorites and to my opinion effectiveness:
- Aikido, by far from my experience, the most versatile Martial Art, if taught right. It does however become effective, only after a minimum of 2 years of practice. Until then, assume that you are fit, but that’s about it. After a few years, it encompasses a wide array of techniques, and behavior. The techniques, can be seen applied by police officers every day. TaeKwonDo, has it’s variation of it called Hapkido. Your walk will change, all your movements will change. Your awareness of your surroundings entirely different. Your feeling about the smallest things will change. It will be like having a sixth sense. For some reason, you will no longer hit your head or bump into things anymore. Your flexibility, will become that of an accomplished athlete. (I can’t any more, or wont try it, but I used to be able to do a backwards hand stand). The drawback is that there are no competitions. And to prove yourself, you would actually have to go somewhere where you would be likely to get attacked (I did, but I was only in my early 20’s).
- TaeKwonDo, if you are limber, and flexible with your legs, it is for you. It is a most versatile combat sport. Couple with Hapkido, you now have a bit of the Aikido side. I say a bit because the way the Hapkido techniques are taught, they are not as effective as Aikido. The kicks can be lethal, and only a few of them can allow you to topple your opponent. The problem with it, is that it is taught too much for competitions. Competitions have rules, and rules, there are none when it comes to win at all cost.
- Shotokan Karate. If you are a physically strong person, this is for you. Brute force here is necessary. You cannot be afraid of impacts during practice. It is straight forward, and brutal. A strong person with the skills of Karate, is like a bull in a crystal forest.
- Finally, Judo. Judo is a great sport. A great introduction to martial arts, and my favorite for children to practice. As for the effectiveness, I have met a few black belts, and they are very fit and agile, strong in the sense of a superb stability. Try to push down a Judoka and you will get a sense of it. And, on the ground they make it very difficult to subdue. A 20+ year master of Judo, is an incredible force to be reckoned with. If one stick to it, it becomes a great martial art. But for some reason, I found so many Judoka’s on the Aikido mats. It seems they have a tendency to change over to something more real.
A few recommendations
To anyone who is about to defend himself. Never act like you are ready to defend yourself. It is not the movies. The best defense is an attack. You must surprise your opponent if you want success. The “en garde” thing were someone puts his hands up and starts to jump around is nonsense, for a few reasons. One, as I said, he or she cannot know when you will strike. Second, the most difficult strike to defend against is one coming from lower. Third, while you are busy tensing, jumping, your mind is busy and cannot react effectively, it is better to remain calm, and steady, with an empty mind if you can achieve that. That’s one of the things taught in martial arts: empty mind. Fear is your greatest enemy, as it will keep your mind busy, and will prevent you from reacting effectively.
About 40 years ago, I was bullied by a mountain of a man while in line for a movie theater. He was behind my friend and I, and was flicking the ashes of his cigarette in my helmet. After questioning him about it, I realized that it was a waist of time. I then politely asked him and his shorter friend to go in front of us. Which they did while enjoying their progress, laughing at us. I was young. My blood started to boil. And I knocked him out with the swing of my helmet onto his head. We left the scene. But I can guaranty that this man thought twice before doing something like it again. Was I fair? No, absolutely not. But I won. This is what I mean by not showing your intent to fight. It must come as a surprise, if you want guarantied success. Sometimes, without knocking out the person, the surprise is enough that they will feel fear.
Stability is the one of the major quality in a fighter. I have experienced it demonstrated by people who were capable of changing their body mass. Ever heard of dead weight? Well some people can move and at the same time be dead weight. It is stunning when you come across such individuals. They feel like a wall. It is something that can be practiced (everything can be practiced). However, for someone to be able to learn it, they first must lean their body center, through meditation (Zen allows such practice or the combination of meditation and recognizing your center of energy). The Center of Energy is also the center of your body and center of stability. I have perfected meditation and center of energy. However, as far as stability, I fall short. When I move, I am not capable of harnessing that dead weight ability. If stability is what I want, for example, I am able to gain the dead weight state, when I am preparing for being pushed or if I initiate a straight forward pushing motion. Other than that I haven’t gotten there like some of my ex-partners
The Center of Energy (Ki) is the point between your belly button and the sex, at mid distance. This is the point where everything originates. Movement; strikes; stability; all start there. A punch starts there, a push or a throw starts there. Your stability depends on your consciousness of that primal point. The position of your body depends on it. A spinning movement depends on it. Nobuyoshi Tamura (was an avid discothèque dancer), said once while at a bar: “A good dancer is a good fighter”. If you observe a dancer, they have it figured out. Tamura was a direct student of Moreihi Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido). Typically, any strike starts from there. I personally love to demonstrate it. Someone can be pushed out of the way (with the belly) through a hip movement around that center. If the movement is strong enough and the arms are limb, the arm swing at the same rate following the hips. All you have to do is at the end make a fist, and strengthen the arm. This makes for the most lethal punches. It makes the punch baked up by the whole body weight. It’s like behind the fist, is the arm pushed by the body. Unlike a punch with the arm and shoulder only.
Power is the result of utilizing the center of energy couple with many years of practice. Punches, throws, movements, etc, can become very powerful when practiced with that in mind. Initially, it is always recommended to practice a technique without trying to apply power until you have a good understanding of stability, and your center of energy. It is commonly called practicing the form. Or practicing the flow of a movement. Once the movement is almost a second nature, then trying to apply power is a must. One cannot just practice forms for ever, it would actually render any practice worthless.
Harmony is used and must be used to develop a sort of six sense, when practicing with a partner. Now, practices cannot just be done in harmony. If your partner, is well trained in rolls, falls, movements, and is receptive to this sixth sense, then practicing with power is a must. If the partner is not well trained, you will simply hurt him or her (send them to the hospital), and nothing good will come out of it. Harmony is part of Aikido, as in the (DO), the way. Harmony will develop the sixth sense of feeling things. After practicing enough that way, a person is likely sense a push, an obstacle, a resistance, a weakness. An obstacle? Yes, after a few years, I found my self detecting things. Where before I would have bumped my head against something, I suddenly avoided anything of that sort.
Flexibility is very important for a person of lesser strength. Not so important for a strong person (although: “the taller or stronger they are the harder they fall or break”). Flexibility is often associated with the bamboo. A bamboo will flex, and return. With this basic idea, a weak person can actually be more of a problem to a stronger person. Flexibility will allow you to fall, roll, bend, without hurting your own body.
For private comments, E-mail to: Flavio Antonino.