I reached another milestone in my journey toward becoming well versed in the art of Hapkido on Tuesday. Tuesday July 19, 2011 marked the date of my first formal Hapkido class at the dojo where Sensei studies and teaches as well. Coming to class was something I never really thought I would get a chance to do but boy am I glad I did.
It turns out that ever since Sensei agreed to take me on as a student, he has been requesting advice on how to adapt the curriculum to my needs from the other instructors at the school. This means that a lot of the anxiety I felt over taking what I now know to be my rightful place among the other students was really unnecessary.
I had been worried that I would either be coddled and not challenged enough, or otherwise completely ignored during class. Instead, I was immediately accepted, techniques were reasonably adapted where necessary, and it was definitely a workout (but I loved every minute). I also was afraid that the other instructors would seperate me from Sensei, and/or that Sensei wouldn't interact with me on the father/cub level he always does. Niether turned out to be the case. While Sensei was the one leading the class, as soon as we were told to practice what he had demonstrated Anthony, the instructor that is in charge of the class told Blaine to partner with me, and modify where necessary because of movement limitations. Each time I successfully grasped a new technique, hugs were more than forthcoming and it was clear Sensei was proud to have me there. Master Eric and Anthony were pleased and excited by my progress as well.
The final and perhaps biggest worry I had was that the training weapon I have been using would get taken away by Master Eric. (I have been training for the last few weeks using a long wooden training cane, meant to extend my reach give me more power when striking and greater ability to block unfriendly strikes as well.) This was perhaps my most foolish worry. When I first arrived and after I had been hugged to death by Sensei, he introduced me to Master Eric, who commented that I looked to be enjoying working with my weapon. I said yes, asked Sensei if I should run through the form he had taught me, was told I didn't HAVE to, and did so anyway. I could clearly see that Master Eric was pleased with how quickly and easily I accomplished my task.
They went into the back area to change into appropriate clothing and then talk. I waited in the main waiting area for further instruction. Suddenly Sensei came out, looking grave. He said "we have a problem". This immediately terrified me. What kind of problem? Was I not welcome there? Next he added "we need to talk." Okay, doesn't he know those are the most frightening four words known to mankind? Then he asked me to hand over my weapon, which I did hesitantly, close my eyes and hold out my hands. As I did I felt him place something long and wooden but a little heavier into my hands. He told me to grip it tight and open my eyes. I had been given a new weapon, earlier than planned. Sensei told me both he and Master Eric agreed that I was ready, and gave me a huge hug.
So anyway, class was awesome. We started with wrist stretches, then moved through our repitoire of strikes, ten of each on each side. We spent most of class learning techniques to get out of a wrist grab. This was fun, and very useful. I learned that when you are trying to get out of a hold, you should offer a distraction strike whenever possible to shift the opponents focus off of what you are trying to do. I also had an opportunity to continue working on the fanning technique with my weapon, using a practice dummy. Master Eric did catch me making one error though. An error that could potentially be fatal. While I was striking at the practice dummy, I left my off hand (my left) down by my side instead of up in the ready position to deflect attacks. Master Eric taught me that lesson quickly. Deflect only as much as necessary then circle the wrist back into the ready position.
Once class was over we were brought back together as a group to listen to end of class thoughts and announcements from Master Eric. He spoke to us about the duty that rests on the shoulders of all martial artists to use their talents and abilities to help others. He also said that because of the heat wave and power outages we have been having, the dojo was being set up as a cooling center for those who need it.
Sensei was right when he said the dojo was somewhere I would grow to feel comfortable. I already feel as though I'm part of the family there and I can't wait to go back.