Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Journey in Aikido

 It started in middle school.  I started getting beat up on a daily basis.  My mother did not want me learning violent martial arts, but it was getting so bad she had little choice.  My journey in the martial arts began at the age of 11.  I was enrolled in Master Hans Academy in Carrollton, Texas.  I was 11.

                                                              Master Han.My first teacher.

I went on to study fencing, jujitsu, kick boxing and kung fu in high school.  In 1994 I was studying Northern Shaolin Long Fist at White Tiger Kung Fu under John Shelly in Flower Mound, Texas. Sifu Shelly was a competition forms man, and slowly I became dissatisfied with this type of training. At the time I was working at Mr. Jim's Pizza in Lewisville Texas while I was attending the University of North Texas. A dojo opened up next to the pizza place. The new place was called Aikibudo dojo owned by Russell Waddell. The main instructors were Russell Waddell and Paul Fowler. This dojo was part of the Jiyushinkai organization. I used to spend my smoke breaks looking in the window and being amazed, martial artists that actually touch each other! (ribbing to my kung fu friends out there)

Russell Waddell my Teacher

Eventually I joined this dojo in fall of 1994. My progress was slow. I broke my toe after just a month, and that put me out for a while. I was going to school and working. My girlfriends always fought with me about spending time training. I attended as many seminars as I could afford taught by the Jiyushinkai top teachers Chuck Clark, Steve Duncan, and Stan Conner during this period. These men are true budo men and they helped me start on this path. Memories of lessons from this time period still flash before me like episodes of Kung Fu the TV show. While the Jiyushinkai is were I started, I do want to make it clear that I do not represent them, their teachings or their methods. I still consider them pivotal early influences.  I like these people and I hope my path will cross theirs again.

In 1997 I moved to Austin to struggle on my own for a while. During this period I did not train regularly under a teacher. I started my first informal training club at Esperanza Residential treatment facility. I started teaching boys who were in the system a few techniques, mostly non competitive walking and the release motions.

Around 1999 I moved back to Dallas. Most of my training at the time was in my garage dojo. I heavily focused on weapons and knife throwing at the time. I could not afford Aikido lessons through this time in my life. Waddell Sensei said I did not need to pay, but I always felt bad about not contributing. I went to his dojo before classes and vacuumed and wiped down the windows. My technique at this time was getting decent. Promotions hadn't happened in years though - probably because I was not a centered person.

By 2000 I decided to move to Japan to train. This was an act to commit myself to my training. This was the trip that became a pivotal time period in my life.

During my time there I trained in Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu and I finally received my first grade in an Aiki art. My teacher was Ikuo Ota.

Eric's Daito Ryu history and certificates
In July of 2003 I moved back to Austin, Texas. This was hard time of life for me - working three jobs. I was not training, but I went to every dojo in town to search for the one that was for me. I became very disappointed as I simply could not afford classes. I became very sad because I did not have a club. Even though I felt nether qualified nor did I want the job, I decided to start an informal club in the garage in October of 2004. It started out as a Daito Ryu club, because that was the only art I was certified to instruct. Quickly I started using the Tomiki system as it is a good system to instruct beginners with. In December of 2004 we moved into the South Austin location. We stayed there for six years until we moved to the 51st and I35 location.

The early days

I spent a year in political isolation, training hard with a handful of students. I tried contacting some organizations, but most did not respond back to me. When I called my old teacher Russell Waddell, he seemed excited about me having a club. He came down and started helping us get going and doing grading for us. He had retired from practicing so at my prompting he began training again.

12 years after I began training in Tomiki Aikido I finally received a shodan. I feel more than anything the long road was right for me. I earned it. I knew the material, I had matured into an adult. I had formed a club and was producing quality students.

Things began clicking for me, and I began to understand this stuff deeper. Teaching has always been a learning process for me, and teaching/learning worked well for me. Over a year after I received my shodan, I demonstrated for my nidan rank.

I started associating with more Aikido folks and I joined the American Tomiki Aikido Association. I gained a brother in the arts, the hard-headed-grease-monkey, Jeff Duncan. He is one of my best friends. Although he is a solid technician and a great teacher, he has never learned to do the walking kata correctly.  :)   The ATAA was kind enough to evaluate me and recognize the rank Waddell Sensei had given me. BTW I did that calligraphy on Jeff's wall.

My New Years resolution for 2009 was to meet more teachers and to start writing an Aikido Blog - thus this blog was born!Around this time I started looking to play with more teachers. I started training with judo teacher Matl Sensei and Brendan Hussey Sensei.

Brendan Hussey my teacher, throwing me

In the early days of 2009 I got in touch with Nick Lowry. I had him come down and teach a seminar. I decided that I wanted to join his organization, the Kaze Uta Budo Kai. I consider him to be a great friend and one my guides on the higher path of budo.

Lowry Sensei and me, July 2010

In April of 2009 my students and best friends, Michael Chihal and Scooter Dembowski earned their shodans - the first of my crew to reach this rank. They earned this rank through Russell Waddell's authority. In addition the Kaze Uta Budo Kai recognized Michael's rank.

After studying the art for 15 years, on November 21, 2009 the Kaze Uta Budo Kai granted me a yondan rank.

In the summer of 2010 I drove through Texas and Oklahoma looking to train with new teachers.  I met a man named J.W. Bode and we became friends.  I started to travel every six months or so to train with him in Lawton Oklahoma.  As of 2015 we went our separate ways. 

In January 2011 it was time to move to a new dojo.  Sadly we closed up the old dojo.We moved to a new location with Matl Sensei at I-35 and 51st.  Here is a picture of us putting the mat together.  I took it at an artsy angle that was a bad idea. But this is where used to train.  This dojo closed in 2015.  I have built a few more since then. 

I have been training with Jack Bieler for the past several years.  He is a great teacher and a wonderful friend.  I am hoping he will download his incredible knowledge of classical Japanese weapons into my brain over the next few decades.

On my summer trip to train with my teachers in July 2012, I held a knife seminar in Lawton, Oklahoma.  I enjoyed it immensely.  It was the first workshop I have held outside my own dojo, and it was a great success.  About 20 people attended throughout the day.

After the seminar my teacher J.W. Bode was impressed enough in my teaching he awarded my my 5th dan in Aikido.  Although the certificate says March 3, I did not get it till July.

I will be honest.  At this point in my martial arts career I hate ranks.  It pained me to get a 5th dan, a rank I honestly believe is above my caliber.  I decided I was not going to mention it, and stay a 4th dan.  The very next day I went to train with my friend and teacher Nick Lowry and he separately presented me with a godan.  Damn!

During my summer trip of 2012 I had the honor of training with hapkido master Jason Mix for a week.  He graciously invited me to teach at his school.  I taught Daito Ryu and Aikido concepts to his amazing community of artists at the Enso Center in Redmond, Washington.  I now am honored to train and teach at the Enso center every July.


  1. Sounds like a pretty good start ;-) Can't wait to see what the next 15 or so years bring for you and yours!

  2. If you make it up to Washington, don't be surprised if you see another gaijin who has already broken into the fridge and finished the job! haha! Good luck on the journey in this next year dude.

  3. Very good, son. I enjoyed reading about your journey.
    Love, Dad

  4. Very good, son. I enjoyed reading about your journey.
    Love, Dad

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