The part of my story where I found myself looking around for a new passion, as my old home away from home had closed its doors…
After our old Kempo dojo shut down, I found myself in a limbo of sorts. As I’ve mentioned before, this was in a pretty small town so there was no obvious second choice of what to do or where to train. I heard of a bunch of guys that did boxing, but the idea held little appeal to me – ever since I started doing martial arts, my biggest advantage had always been having good flexibility along with pretty strong legs. Besides, after the versatile training I had experienced in Kempo I found it hard to accept a more ‘narrow’ focus in any other school. Someone told me how one of the Kempo senseis was now purely focusing on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – henceforth referred to as BJJ – and although I had nothing but respect for him (and confident that he would teach me excellent grappling skills), I still didn’t quite feel that full on grappling was for me… and I also heard that it was a bit of an invitation-only club, which I assumed came from that they were training in a really small area and the teacher wanted to focus more on the most committed of students. Also, at this time my old friend Jimmy moved out of town to study at college. I was on my own.
So I looked elsewhere for opportunities, and ended up joining the town’s Aikido school. There were a differences in this school – for one, they didn’t have a place of their own so every lesson would start with everyone laying out mats to train on, and finish with everyone stacking them back up. In terms of the actual training there was a much stronger focus on learning how to fall and roll, which makes perfect sense considering that a lot of the time you work in pairs and normally finish the exercise by letting your partner closely examine what the floor looks like. There was also weapons training, which I was itching to get into – Kempo had been all empty hand, only showing you self defence against an armed opponent.
I enjoyed the Aikido training and found it interesting to practise all these kinds of nifty wrist-twisting, ankle-locking and shoulder-pinning moves. It was also nice to meet other martial arts nerds outside of the friends I had made in the Kempo days. In particular, a guy named Charles was my age (about 17) but was still so talented and experienced that he was second in command in the school. Very impressive and quite inspiring. I soon bought a Jo (short staff) and a Bokken (wooden version of the katana sword) but it would take a while before I was allowed to try any of those exercises.
I did Aikido for about 6 months and passed my first grading, and then got to try out a couple of weapon exercises. Turns out it was very different from what I expected (curse you action movies, for making me so hopeful). Whereas the regular Aikido drills were full of side-stepping, sweeping manouvers and circular patterns, the weapon drills felt quite opposite – very linear, strictly pragmatic and austere in comparison. That said, this is just my impression from that short time of training so it’s quite the ignorant opinion. Also, my friend Charles informed me that our school’s style was quite caveman-esque when compared to other Aikido styles. I had no idea that was the case – in fact, I felt that the training and application of techniques was too stylized and rigid, far from what I would face in a sparring situation. All in all, I ended up leaving the school after a while as I felt a craving for more ‘hands-on’ action.
To be honest, after that it’s all a bit of a blur to me. Probably because I was trying to do alright in school, and may also have something to do with hanging out with friends and exploring how much of abuse my liver could take on the weekends. But if my memory serves me correct, two new martial arts schools started up around this time – a Taekwondo black belt from out of town started giving classes, and one of the guys from the Kempo days (in fact, it was the brown belt that whupped me in the internal tournament)started teaching basic BJJ. So for a while I was training in both styles at the same time, something that I wouldn’t normally approve of. But since I had some exposure to both styles in the past, and them being so different from each other, I was ‘safe’ from the potential conflict that kind of simultaneous cross-training can give you.
It was great actually, throwing fast and hard kicks one day and going for armbars the next. Grappling in particular has a special charm to it – because you’re so close to your opponent, you don’t use your eyes as much. Instead you go by sense and feel, reacting to his every move. It looks quite boring when you’re observing from the sidelines, but when you’re actually in the fight it’s a whole other story. Every second is a lifetime where all the senses are feeding you information at a furious rate, and a slight change of angle or a minor change of grip can lead to instant win or defeat. You often find yourself being strangled, or in a painful lock, but soon you learn to not panic and instead use your mind (and body) to search for an escape. It is also amazing what a difference it makes when you’re grappling someone who has no experience of groundwork – you almost feel sorry for them, as their aimless flailing and struggle is no match if you know what you’re doing.
Although this was great, and my skills were improving (along with my fitness), I found myself growing restless. It started to feel like all I was learning was how to injure people in new ways. ‘Kick here to traumatize his kidneys’, ‘twist this to dislocate his shoulder’ and so on. Admittedly this was empowering, but it didn’t feel quite right. I hadn’t been in a violent situation for years, and had no desire to experience it again. After all, I was not doing martial arts so that I could beat up anyone that crossed me or use my skills to prove my manhood. I wanted something that was more… expressive. Some kind of martial arts that was serious enough, but still had a sense of enjoyment and joy – the kind of feeling you would get as a kid when you would pretend-fight with wooden swords against your best friend.
Which is how I sort of stumbled upon something that vaguely-resembled-but-in-no-way-can-be-officially-referred-to-as Capoeira.