(Apologies to earlier readers–wordpress and I were not getting along when I tried to publish this initially.)
Today we had a prospective student get on the mat. She’s a student, and was very upfront when she arrived with her friend (who is a current student at the dojo.)
“I want to try aikido, but I don’t think I can afford to train until I graduate.”
I found that interesting, because most people wouldn’t try something until they were at least closer to being able to start the activity. Nonetheless, I had her fill out a waiver form and get on the mat. Throughout the entire class, she was attentive and respectful, but I kept getting a hint that there was something that was bringing her to the mat, something that compelled her to try a martial art even if our modest membership dues were outside her means.
Towards the end of class, I asked if anyone had any questions. When no one did, I thought I would take things a step further. “Anyone have a particular attack or situation that has been on their mind?” The visiting student raised her hand, and asked how we would handle a “bear-hug” style attack. As we started studying various options, I tried to emphasize the mental aspects of how to deal with such an attack. For example, cultivating a sense of staying relaxed is critical, as it can help you prevent the attacker from lifiting you off the ground. (Nothing is more comical, in my opinion, than an attacker attempting to lift you and suddenly realizing that they can’t!) It turns out she has an ex-boyfriend who grabbed her in a similar fashion. It turns out he wasn’t trying to attack her, but the experience was deeply unsettling to her. And that is what brought her to the mat–she wanted to have some idea of how she could feel just a little safer.
I hope she found a little of what she was looking for when she came to the dojo. Yet, there is a part of me that wonders: what price do we put on our sense of personal safety? We’ll pay money to go to a gym (whether or not we use the gym is an open question); in fact, we spend money on all sorts of things that we don’t use. But we’ll let our own sense of personal safety languish. Training at a dojo is, I admit, more expensive that some basic gym memberships. However, the cost becomes cheap when you consider that you have a dedicated instructor who is there to help you. (Check out how much it costs to have a personal trainer at a reputable gym. Even group sessions can be really costly.)
I have no problems with people being financially responsible. In fact, I encourage it. I do wonder, however: what price would you pay to have some measure of confidence that you could handle yourself in a physical confrontation? If you’re staying up late at night, fearful of what someone might do, you cannot afford not to train. Find a local YMCA (I started my dojo there) that offers martial arts classes. Of course I’m going to tell you to study aikido. But if you can’t do that, study something. No one should live their life being fearful of someone else.