This is my personal history as it relates to martial arts. My aim here is to provide those considering becoming my student some idea of my background in martial arts. I don’t pretend to be the baddest Sensei on the block and if that’s what you are looking for, you probably should look elsewhere. No human being can live up to such a standard anyway. Those extremely rare inviduals who might aspire to be the best would very unlikely be within an easy commute of your home, so you better be ready to travel far, likely even to another country. They also might not aspire to be good teachers. Talent in performance and talent in communication all too often do not overlap. Perhaps, just perhaps, you will be open for good in performance, good in communication, and within reasonable driving distance. If so, read on!
I believe what I can offer you is experienced, patient, and knowledgeable instruction. What you do with that is up to you. I have benefitted from training under and with some excellent teachers and talented martial artists who themselves come from a line of excellent teachers and talented martial artists. One of the most important things I have seen in the best, is to be always learning and working on oneself. I was very fortunate that my intitial teachers held to this approach and ever since I have been very conscious to learn from teachers who are themselves a moving target and always working to improve. That is my aim as well. Sometimes, I have had to travel quite far for this experience.
My interest in martial arts came gradually and haphazardly. Maybe that’s because I’m fairly big at 6’3″ or that my interest in science was greater and took precedence. I became a competitive swimmer beginning at 7 yrs old and continued through high school. The 2-5 hours of swimming daily plus strength training tended to make my interest in adding more physical activity not a priority. In college, I enjoyed training in karate as my first formal introduction to Japanese martial arts. After college, that training came to an end as I moved to Boston and was soon engrossed by graduate school. My science career was the priority though I did keep active with cycling and windsurfing as possible.
It wasn’t till 1992, having recently moved to Charlottesville to begin a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at the University of Virginia, that I really found myself looking for something to occupy my free time. I recall seeing an article in the local newspaper about an Aikido school. This intrigued me as I had become aware of Aikido a few years earlier while attending a summer intensive at the Santa Fe Institute. This was the beginning of my love affair with Aikido that has lasted for 25 years. I began training at Blue Ridge Ki Aikido in January 1993 under Jonathan Doner Sensei who was then a senior student of George Simcox Shihan. I trained there until I left for Houston in 1999 after years of daily training and a successful but strenuous 2 hour test for 1st degree black belt (preceded by over 3 months of intensive preparation) under Simcox Shihan. I have many fond memories of that time that I will always cherish.
At the time I began aikido in Virginia, there was a gentleman, Brian Kelley (kelleyki.com), that was teaching a class using very realistic Japanese style metal swords twice a week at the aikido school. I would sometimes watch what they were doing after the aikido class and learned that it was called iaido. I came to know Brian as he was my senior in the Aikido classes. Given my new found love in aikido, I was not initially interested. After a year, for some reason which I’ve forgotten or can’t really explain, I became intrigued by Brian’s classes. I vaguely recall a period of internal debate because this art did not seem to agree with the philosophy I was learning from aikido and that had been one of it’s initial attractions. Life is full of contradictions. I soon was training with Kelley Sensei and learning and enjoying Iaido while continuing my progress in Aikido. (Kelley Sensei began his training in Iaido in 1980 with Mitsuzuka Sensei who was then doing seminars at the New England Aikikai.) This was a happy and intense training time in my life when I was just a student soaking up what I could. Within a few years, I was teaching beginning aikido classes including a course at University of Virginia, but while there I always was able to be just a happy student in Iaido.
After moving to Houston, I met many great people in the local Aikido community. In 2000, I founded Houston Ki Aikido. For the first decade of HKA, I was the sole teacher at HKA, and successfully guided many students to black belt level. HKA has since then continued to fulfill the mission of bringing Ki-Aikido training to the Houston area.
For several years after moving to Houston, I continued training Iaido on my own. It was during this time that I established a relationship with Roger Wehrhahn Shihan and began attending San Shin Kai summer camps annually. In 2000, at summer camp, I trained under Mitsuzuka Sensei and was passed for Shodan by him (1st degree black belt). All ranks I received after that up until his passing away in 2008 were video taped and sent to him for final review and approval. In 2002, after repeated requests from another aikido teacher, I began to hold an Iaido class for him and his students at his school’s location. In 2003, I traveled to Japan to train with Mitsuzuka Sensei and his senior (8th degree black belts) students at San Shin Kai headquarters in Saitama Prefecture. This was the beginning of Houston San Shin Kai. Over the next few years, it became clear that the group needed a more stable location near central Houston. The group settled for many years at the Hope Stone Dance school, but then moved to our current location at Nia Moves. Always looking for a nice wood floor and a wall of mirrors to allow student personal examination of their own performance.
I am the only approved instructor for the San Shin Kai in Texas since 2003. Wehrhahn Shihan since then has traveled every year from the East Coast to give seminars in Houston. Many students have progressed through black belt ranks as time flys by.
Through the years, I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone and cross-trained in various martial arts (eg. judo, kendo, karate, Daito-Ryu, Jodo, Long Fist Kung Fu, Cheng Man-Ch’ing Tai Chi Chuan, Yangjia Michuan Tai Chi Chuan, Systema, etc.) and had the opportunity to experience many other styles of aikido. This gives me some perspective as a teacher about the various challenges confronting a student.
— Dr. Craig Hocker