I’m speaking with Matthew Ladenheim, 2nd Kyu
Weiner Sensei: Matthew-san, What led you to Aikido?
Matthew-san: Take Sensei – really, his character Mason Storm in the movie “Hard to Kill”. I know it’s totally cheesy, but there is this fantastic scene where Storm is talking about his first martial art instructor. The sensei asks why he wants to train and Storm says he wants to learn how to fight. The sensei responds, “Oh, so you wanna hurt people, but you wanna be great”. Storm says, “yeah, I wanna to be great.” And the sensei tells him “Then first learn how to heal people to be great, to hurt people is easy.” I was a junior in high school when the movie came out and at the time I was pretty heavily involved in Tang Soo Do, which is a Korean striking art. I was just beginning to understand that people (even the big scary looking ones) are inherently fragile and, with a little training, they can easily be hurt. I was totally captivated by the idea that learning how to hurt people is actually the lowest rung on the martial arts ladder. It was another 10 years before I joined my first aikido dojo, but that silly little movie quote stuck with me the whole time. I believe that achieving a level of martial ability that allows you to neutralize an attack without inflicting permanent injury on the attacker constitutes “greatness”. Even if it isn’t always achievable, the pursuit of that kind of ability puts you on the path to greatness. And that, I believe, is a worthwhile endeavor.
Weiner Sensei: How would you describe class at our dojo?
Matthew-san: Above all, it is a SAFE place to learn and train. Everyone here looks after the safety and well-being of their ukes, it is a deeply engrained part of our culture. Whether you have been a martial artist for 4 months or 14 years, you can come to class knowing that you will be training at a level that is appropriate for your skill and experience. There is no show-boating or chest-thumping allowed.
Weiner Sensei: What are your short term goals as a student?
Matthew-san: That one is easy, I want my Ikkyu test to look like a Shodan test.
Weiner Sensei: What are your long term goals as a student?
Matthew-san: I’ll still be here. Five years from now, I think it would be fun to fill a non-prime time teaching slot. Maybe an early morning weekday or a lunchtime class.
Weiner Sensei: What does it take to be a committed student?
Matthew-san: The proper mindset. Acceptance of the fact that Aikido is a marathon, not a sprint. It can easily take 7-10 years to progress through the Kyu ranks in Aikido. That’s a pretty long time. If your goal is to learn how to inflict as much damage as possible, in the shortest time possible, then maybe another martial art is for you. On the other hand, if you want to immerse yourself in what is essentially modern Bushido, Aikido can be a lifelong journey. Becoming proficient in the techniques (i.e. learning how to hurt people) is the easy part. Learning to walk the path of the peaceful warrior is something altogether different.
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