“It’s martial arts training equipment,” I said. (I have learned not to use the word “weapon” anywhere near an airport.)
“Ooh,” said the young man. “I guess I better not mess with you.”
That is pretty much the universal reaction I get from people when I tell them I train in Aikido. I don’t know if strangers say this to men who train or not, but I’m sure most women martial artists will find it familiar.
I’m not sure the people who say this actually believe it — I suspect most guys don’t really expect a woman to be be a kick ass, especially not a middle-aged woman — but I usually take it at face value. In fact, I think I’m going to start saying “that’s a good idea” when people say it.
But the truth is, I rarely think about the kicking ass aspect of martial arts these days.
I confess that I took up martial art training years ago in part because I wanted to be able to stand up to people who were trying to “mess with me.” I had a yen to be tough, to be able to fight. And I’ll also confess that one of the pleasures I get out of Aikido is throwing strong young men around.
But the most fun I had at the weekend seminar was training with a new friend, Claire Conway. Claire, who is 73, took up Aikido in her early 60s, and is about to test for her third-degree black belt. And while I could throw her around if I wanted to — she falls just fine — we were both more interested in learning how to move our partners by being relaxed and engaging our centers than we were in bouncing around.
When you’re working on that kind of training, you need a partner who will give you an honest, strong attack and who won’t fall if you try to muscle your way out of it. Claire and I were able to do that for each other.
That kind of training leads you to dealing with conflict — not just physical attacks, but the interactions with people in daily life, which are often complex and fraught with stress — in a way that doesn’t slam people into the ground either literally or figuratively. That’s what I’m looking for these days from my training.
To bring this discussion around to fiction and writing, that’s also why I get frustrated by a lot of action/adventure stories that revolve around a superstar who can kick a lot of ass. I’d much rather see a story about a martial arts master who solves the problem without ever lifting a hand.
I have been told that idea is not commercially viable. Perhaps it isn’t, but I’d like to think that Aikido ideas can contribute to changing the world for the better. To that end, I’m participating in a local seminar here in Austin next week in honor of International Aiki Peace Week. It’s set to correspond with the U.N. declared International Peace Day on Sept. 21.
Folks in the Austin area are welcome to come train with us, regardless of whether they’ve ever done any Aikido or other martial art or not. Details are available from Still Point Aikido Center, which is organizing the event. If Austin is a little far away for you, check the list of participating dojo on the International Aiki Peace Week roster. You might find something close by.
I’ll close with a story that I think reflects good Aikido. One of the guys at the seminar said he was walking down the street in Prescott, Arizona, and was accosted by a street preacher who demanded, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”
“Yes,” the Aikido guy said.
His response left the preacher with nothing else to say.
My 51 flash fictions and a few other stories are available on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf, and anthologies containing some of my stories are available through Powell’s. The free, chapter-by-chapter version of Changeling starts here. And check out my stories in the Book View Cafe anthologies The Shadow Conspiracy, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, and Dragon Lords and Warrior Women.