Posted by: balladofyoko | December 16, 2008

Something to Think About

Over the course of several months, I have tried classes in four different styles of yoga. I like each of the styles for different reasons, and someday, when I have time to delve more deeply into practice, I would like to study more than one style simultaneously.

I’ve never studied any other style of aikido other than the one I’m currently part of. I’ve never experimented with other styles.

In my limited experience, yoga teachers have asked me what styles I’ve practiced, and generally will accept whatever answer I give them. Within my style of aikido, people who try to practice with us who come from another style often are either banned from practicing, or are looked down upon.

I wonder how much of my hesitance to learn other styles of aikido comes from within myself, and how much is from others’ influences.


  1. While I can somewhat see the emotions behind the aikido sensei wanting the student to focus on only his/her particular style, it’s actually a horrible lesson overall.

    If one was to use martial arts for defense, then knowing more/different styles would be much more effective than just knowing 1 particular style.

  2. The way I see it, a martial art is not simply about self defense. I think that if learning self-defense is one’s primary concern, taking MA is often one of the worst ways to do it, and it’s actually best to take a self-defense course. Not because you never learn to defend yourself well taking MA (over time, I think it can be more effective, depending on the school/teacher), but because it’s not going to teach you SD very quickly. A traditional martial art is more of a philosophy on how to cultivate the body toward various goals, only one of which is self-defense (and many of the traditional ones were more about “combat”, as opposed to “self-defense”).

    To have students mess with different systems/styles too early can cause him or her to not ever learn how to use his/her body effectively–or at least take much longer to master certain basics. MA skills are more than just knowing how to mechanically perform “moves”–a lot of the techniques require learning certain fundamental postures, weighting/rooting, moving, delivering/generating force, perceiving an opponent’s movements/intentions/etc., absorbing.deflecting force, etc. that require time to learn. Each system takes a different path to teaching these things, and taking more than one style can really muck with the process. At best, it tends to keep the student focused on the idea of MA as a collection of “moves” or “techniques” and interferes with his or her ability to perceive and integrate the more fundamental things.

    There’s also another practical consideration: students bringing techniques from external styles into a school and confusing other students or throwing lessons off track. In schools that have sparring or fighting, this can actually lead to serious injury–strictly monitoring a student’s repertoire of techniques until he or she has developed a certain level of control and restraint is pretty important to keeping everyone safe.

    However, MA has a tradition of sending out students to take lessons from different teachers when the student’s own teacher feels the student is ready for them. There are also MA traditions which encourage students, when they’ve learned enough control to avoid seriously hurting other people and they’ve proved they have a sense of responsibility, to go out and mix it up with students from other styles. And there is also a long tradition of masters learning from one another.

    I do think teachers who never ever allow students to go out and explore other systems are sometimes operating out of sense of insecurity and an inappropriately proprietary view of their students.

    However, there are many legitimate reasons to discourage most students (most MA students in any style never make it past beginner-intermediate) from getting involved with other styles.

  3. Ten Feet– your point on studying different styles of martial arts too soon in a student’s course of study is well taken.

    I was more musing on experimenting with different styles within the same martial art. Aikido, despite being a relatively newer martial art than some others, has splintered into different schools of training, and I have never seriously considered trying classes in other styles of aikido, and wonder if I should.

  4. Hm, that’s interesting. I didn’t know about the different styles of Aikido, but that sure is something to think’s sometimes hard to figure out the causes of why we do (or don’t do) things a certain way (I hope that made sense).

  5. When it comes to substyles of the same system, there are usually all kinds of political reasons behind why the split(s) and branching off occurred. Often, there’s still a lot of rivalry and rancor. There’s also the natural hostility that teachers/schools have to you going to a rival that shops the same or nearly the same thing.

    I think that, once one establishes a firm root in a style, learning about other branches of the same style can be enlightening, especially if you find someone honest enough to tell you without too much bias what those differences are and why they happened. But I almost think the caveats for cross-training should be taken more seriously for training in a very closely related thing, as opposed to for training in a very different thing, since it’s often harder to keep similar things distinct. For the sake of both one’s own school and the sake of the students in the other school. And for the sake of avoiding political conflicts, which always suck.

    Also, if you’re dissatisfied with your current school, training at another/others could clarify for you why and inspire you to change schools. That can be good or/and bad, depending.

    I think a lot of the decision will have to do with whether your teacher feels s/he should stop you from training a rival substyle (because even if relations are friendly between substyles, they are always rivals), whether you feel you need to keep your explorations hidden from your teacher and other students in your school, how you feel about that, etc. On the one hand, a certain loyalty is central to the martial artists’ ethic. On the other hand, another central lesson for martial artists is that we must ultimately become responsible for our own development.

    My cats really like the snow effect on your site, by the way. I can barely type my comments!

  6. Something else that occurred to me just now: Yoga seems to tolerate dabblers, whereas aikido (and I’m sure other martial arts as well) doesn’t. I can understand why MA wouldn’t, but why does yoga?

  7. I know some very serious yoga people who don’t love dabblers, exactly. But it seems that dabblers are far less troublesome and inconvenient to the yoga teacher than to the MA teacher.

    With some exceptions, yoga is mostly a solitary activity that just happens to be taught in groups. If a student falls behind, doesn’t practice consistently, etc., then that student affects mostly his or her own progress. In MA, a dabbler can hold back his/her entire group and end up injured or cause someone injury.

    Also, a lot of yoga gets taught in health clubs, so the instructor doesn’t collect a monthly fee from students, etc.–he or she is paid by the club. MA teachers are much more invested in having students who pay dues regularly/attend consistently and long-term.

    In addition, it seem that MA and yoga entered American culture in completely different ways and so the expectations in the student/teacher relationship are totally different. I think it’s more likely for yoga instructors to see customers/clients where MA teachers would see disciples/students. There are serious yoga schools where this is not the case, of course.

    And, in the end, I think the different nature of the two activities makes yoga instructors more chill about their students’ level of dedication. Yoga instructors don’t worry too much about students actually ending up using their techniques in dangerous, embarrassing, or legally murky situations. You never hear about the student who failed to defend him/herself from an assailant because his/her warrior pose was badly executed. Or the one who got arrested for messing up the other dude in a bar fight using a carelessly executed downward facing dog. Or the student who entered a yoga tournament and disgraced his/her school with his/her poor showing.

  8. “…Or the one who got arrested for messing up the other dude in a bar fight using a carelessly executed downward facing dog.”

    You crack me up.

    “yoga is mostly a solitary activity that just happens to be taught in groups.”

    This is a point I meant to bring up somewhere. The solitariness is both an advantage and a disadvantage to me. On the one hand, I think I would enjoy practicing something that doesn’t necessarily require a partner. On the other hand, partner practice and the feeling of community is what I love most about aikido.

    I’m just throwing stuff out there for me to examine.

  9. I know lots of yoga places that do cultivate a sense of community. It’s probably a matter of finding the right school? But as for the partner practice/contact/sparring aspect… there’s a powerful kind of bonding you experience when your friendship with someone encompasses the acceptance that they have/will probably hit you in the face (sounds abusive, I know, but it really isn’t in the MA context) which I imagine is entirely absent from yoga.

  10. I was very lucky to start practice at my dojo- it was recommended to me by my ex (as I’ve probably chronicled here- I’m too tired to search for the specific post right now)– I had observed a class and it clicked for me right away that this was a good place to study, so it didn’t even occur to me to shop around.

    I’m sure that it’s a matter of finding the right yoga school that has the community I’m looking for. I also think that once I stop dabbling (which will not be anytime soon) and commit to a few classes, I may actually find it. I guess I was hoping I’d feel it right away like I did with my dojo.

    I have one friend who goes to one yoga studio in the city, and another in a different studio. Both of them are longtime practitioners, and both swear by their respective studios. It’s been a while since I’ve been to either place (I actually studied at both studios a long time ago)- perhaps I should try them again.

    Thanks for letting me bounce these thoughts off you.


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