How did you come to find [your aikido organization] and what lead you to pick it (if others were available?)?
I liked John's answer but I thought I'd pick that one up and run with it for a while. I'm not sure but its true for me and I'd guess for a lot of others that the novice doesn't really have a lot of choice about where he gets his beginning. That is, if it is a good experience. In the cases where the novice gets into a bad situation and switches in midstream there is some intelligence and choice occurring. But in my case, for instance, my first experience with aikido was particularly empowering and enriching and positive. It was blind luck (or Providence if you like).
Let me back up a while. I started martial arts in 1986 in McComb, MS. A high-school buddy asked me if I wanted to take taekwondo with him. It went like this: "What's that," I asked. "It's like Karate." "What's that? "It's like what Bruce Lee did." "Who's that?" "Well, it's like Boxing, but you kick people." "Cool, I'm in!"
So, you can see that my first encounter with martial arts was late in life (17 years old ;-) and was pretty much random. I didn't go seeking it out because I didn't even know enough to begin seeking.
So I started taking taekwando from Pat Little in downtown McComb. Pat Little is only slightly older than me. I think he was about 19 at that time and was attending Southwest Junior College at that time. I don't know anything about his instructor or if he was involved with any larger TKD organization (I don't think he was) but, pedigree and organization made no difference to me - those things didn't even occur to me. All I knew was Pat was much better than me. Looking back, I think Pat was and is still a very good instructor, and I got a good begining to what looks like it will be a life-long pursuit.
About a year later, I graduated high School and moved off to University at Starkville, MS. I knew I wanted to continue but there was no TKD in Starkville at that time. I shopped around and ended up starting Goshindokan Karate. This was Glenn Beverly's home-grown variant of Isshinryu, and again, looking back it seems like a very good thing. Beverly's karate was very practical and methodical. He'd started spinning off black belt student clubs in nearby towns (My instructor was actually Sandan Judy Malone). Goshindokan was respected in the Mississippi Karate Association and Beverly's students did well in the MKA competitions. I ended up getting second place in the Mississippi State campionships and third place in Louisiana State Championships during my tenure with Beverly.
Sometime around 1991 A girl that was taking Goshindokan with me began talking up the University Budo club, where she also practiced Judo. She talked me into coming to watch and I was soon involved in Judo, Aikido, and Hapkido with them. These guys turned out to be related a couple of generations back to Glenn Beverly. Beverly had apparently been part of the University club when one of the big names in Hapkido (Park??) was also at the University.
Anyway, I really am getting back around to the topic. I started aikido because it was interesting and because it was vastly different from what I'd known of the martial arts so far. At the time I'd studied TKD and karate for about 5 years and I was starting to get the vague uneasiness of a sort of a 'diminishing returns' thing going on in striking arts. For instance, even though my experience with Little and Beverly had been positive and even though looking back on it I think it was a good foundation to karate practice, I was approaching a limit. It was popular in striking arts then to talk about this idea of being able to beat up 5 or 8 or 12 guys if you were just good enough. Well - I knew I wasn't good enough to do that.
Around that time I watched John Usher teaching an aikido class and it was completely alien to me - completely different from the strategies and tactics that I knew were beginning to lead me nowhere. I asked Usher 'What in the world are you guys doing?" and instead of taking it as a smartass remark from some retarded karate guy, he took it as an honest question and explained some of the basic exercises to me. AND IT ALL MADE SENSE! From day #1 in that class I could tell that the strategies and tactics were more fitting to me.
so, in summary...
- I started TKD on a whim and it turned out to be a positive experience.
- I started Karate because there was no other choice at the time. And it turned out to be a positive experience.
- I started aikido because it seemed to fit my personality and manner better than karate...
- ...and I got into our particular aikido organization because that's all there was at the time.
- What if my first instructor had been a jerk to the point that I was injured or quit?
- What if I'd decided to tough it out in karate instead of moving to aiki and judo? Might not have been a bad life but I can't imagine getting the same mileage out of karate as aikido.
- What if I'd decided to wait for a different aikido teacher to show up (i.e. aikikai)? It just so happens that the first aikikai guy to show up at the university where I was was an absolute jerk. I would have never clicked with him as well as I jived with Usher-san.
- What if...
- What if...
- What if...
Thank God for sparing me from these what ifs!
Point is, life in the martial arts is like surfing - you can't make the waves. You just have to ride them. If you're looking for a positive, enriching, empowering aikido experience, then you can find it in any aikido organization.
or in judo...
or in karate-do...
or in taekwando...
or in Watakushi-do ;-)
(if you have gotten this far and you got that last joke, please let me know...)