Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Martial Arts History

I've had a number of combat-related hobbies over the course of my life. I'm not talking about video games, though I certainly enjoy pixelated violence too. ("All the adrenaline, none of the guilt!") No, I'm talking mainly about martial arts.

In grade school, my brother and I took some Karate down at the local community center. (I can't tell you what sort of Karate, unfortunately, except that it was Okinawan in origin. I mention this because there are a great many different fighting styles that fall under the general heading of "Karate" - for Chinese styles, "Kung Fu" is the same way.)

In high school, I wrestled - and I think I was pretty good at it, though I never actually competed. (If that sounds odd, it's because in order to do this, I had to work out with the wrestling team for a school that I didn't actually attend. As a result, the couldn't - or wouldn't - take me along to events.)

Then I went away to college, and for about two years I did... nothing. After I changed colleges, I found a new group of friends and, among other things, got involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism. Being a Starving College Student, I only dabbled in Heavy Fighting (when I could borrow enough equipment - heavy fighting simulated knightly armored combat), but after a while I became a reasonably formidable Light Fighter. (Light Fighting basically used epees to simulate rapier and smallsword combat. This was twenty years ago, so Schlager play was still in its early, experimental stages; I never managed to try it.) I wasn't an expert, to be sure, but I was mobile and had a particular knack for the closing-of-distance involved in sword-and-dagger fighting.

And then I graduated, and again did nothing for several years. After I moved from Lawton, OK back to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, my brother and some of my friends introduced me to a place that taught Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu... a system I particularly enjoyed, and one for which I still have a great deal of respect. That got me introduced to the basics of staff techniques, and the beginnings of two-handed saber. Unfortunately, the commute eventually became too much to deal with, and I started looking for a place closer to home.

That brought me to a fellow who taught at a local Chinese community center - the sort of place where they speak English mainly as a courtesy. He offered courses in BaGua (Eight Trigrams), Tai Chi, and Hsing-I... and while the teaching style was very different from what I'd had before, there were some advantages: among them, the fact that he would offer a course for just about anything that enough students were interested in.

I've always been interested in weapons; it's what brought me to traditional martial arts in the first place. So here, I was able to work with the Chinese Jian (straight sword) and Dao (saber), and pick up the basics of spear as well. Best of all, the styles he taught were compatible with the Praying Mantis Kung Fu I knew already; I didn't have to unlearn anything in order to learn new skills.

Then Firstborn came along. His arrival pretty much killed off my free time. If he would have napped during spear class, it might have worked... but no, he wanted to get up and move around. In a roomful of people practicing with spears. That might have been funny in a Warner Brothers cartoon, but in real life? Not so much. So that pretty well ended my practice of Kung Fu.

Once Firstborn was old enough that he didn't require the constant attention of whichever parent was taking care of him - I want to say that this was just before he turned two - I found a place right down street that taught Brazilian JiuJutsu. They didn't teach weapons, but that style meshed neatly with my wrestling background (and, oddly, with some of the Tai Chi and Mantis techniques as well). By this point I was willing to sacrifice weapons for exercise, so I signed up. That lasted for about a year and half, until they changed locations and suddenly became a whole lot less convenient to get to.

By then, though, the Praying Mantis school had opened a branch over on my side of the Metroplex, so I was able to do that again... for about six months.

That was when Secondborn arrived. But this time, we were expecting the interruption, so Secondborn never got a chance to try to insert himself into a martial arts class. Given his unerring instinct for placing himself in the worst possible spot at exactly the wrong moment, I'm sure he's very disappointed about this.

Secondborn, however, is coming op on his first birthday... on Thursday, in fact. So we are once again nearing that magnificent moment where I might actually be able to have hobbies again. And after some consideration, I'm leaning towards a place that teaches Korean swordsmanship. It's not as close as it could be, but it's easy to get to, and I'd get to play with weapons again. (The current emphasis on MMA seems to have caused a lot of schools to quit teaching weapons and focus entirely on unarmed techniques. I think that's a mistake for several reasons, but in all honesty I'm mainly annoyed that it makes it just that much harder for me to find the things that I want to study.)

So, assuming that the Zombie Apocalypse doesn't arrive in the next six months or so, that's probably the plan.


  1. Sounds interesting and fun. You'd better hurry, though. That May 21 deadline is looming. :)

  2. I think May 21 is just the Rapture. Don't we have something like nine months after that - before the world is destroyed, I mean?

  3. Oh yeah, you're right. That's in October.


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