Martial Arts Cross Training

by George Mattson

by John Ray

I think that I might have some small amount of thought on this idea that may help others (and myself) to clarify the benefits of “cross training”. I have had some experience in training in very unrelated arts, for long periods, under very unrelated and quite different sensei, up to dan ranks.

In my case, I had practiced karate, on Okinawa and here for 10 years before I began another discipline in another dojo, in another country, mainland Japan. This was Aikido, which I studied for 2
years. I found it incredibly different from my experience in karate: the sensei; the physical dojo; the relationships between sensei and students, and students and students; the level of intensity; but most
of all; just the feel of the activity…. the attitude of the participants. After that (with my Shodan) and much introspection, I left that dojo and found an iaido dojo which was even more different from the karate dojo than the aikido dojo was. I have practiced this for 16 years. An iaido practice session seemed to me at the time to be nearer a meditation session, or Tai Chi, Yoga, etc…. very alien to the rough and tumble activity I had been used to. I was a beginner in each dojo. I had to consciously “unlearn” a great deal AT THE BEGINNING of each art. I had to change my muscular tension, stances, hand positions, eye contact, types of stepping and movement, rhythm, and well, for a lack of a better term, feeling. After about eight years of iaido a funny thing began to happen. I began to be complimented on certain things that I had UNCONSCIOUSLY brought into the kata… skills and attitudes I had developed primarily during my karate studies and to a lesser degree from
aikido. Certain principles that are what I now consider the fundamentals of Japanese martial arts seemed to truly enhance my iaido performance.

Six years ago, I left Japan, and while continuing iaido, began training in karate again consistently. Surprisingly, I had a much clearer image of what was going on… what was important… and what my karate sensei had tried to pass along to me: the same basic principles that had begun to seem important in iaido in just the last few years of my practice in Japan. I don’t profess to be a “master” of martial arts. That’s a western idea. However, crosstraining has definitely given me a totally different perspective on the various arts that I have studied.I didn’t begin a new art until gaining some rank in the first, in this case san dan in karate, and later, shodan in aikido. Do I think that was the best way to do it? I can say for a fact that being “mature” in karate allowed me to retain a lot of what I had learned in the face of seemingly overwhelming differences in aikido. I think that it would be very different for a beginner to train in a karate dojo, an aikido dojo, and an iaido dojo at the same time, equally.

I think the surface differences of the DIFFERENT SENSEIS would bewilder him and send him to the nearest basketball court or aerobics center. I teach now and pass both iaido and karate along to my beginning students. In my head the two different experiences have been reconciled. In the beginning, I don’t stress the differences…. on the other hand, I don’t stress the similarities. Just my attitude of their compatability is enough to ease “crosstraining tension” in my students. I think crosstraining is good. I would, however, recommend a totally different art. I’m not sure why a Shorin Ryu person would want to train in Shotokan or a jujutsu person would want to train in aikido. Most of the traditional arts are complete in their area of specialization: striking, grappling, weapons. It may just take longer to see it. Finally, if you do decide to crosstrain, either have some time and experience under your belt in one art, or find an instructor who has managed to integrate (but not as a “new” art) two or more.

Sorry this became so long. Guess I just build up to these through the months. This is based on my experience alone, as anecdotal evidence. Other opinions will be equally respected

John Ray

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