This is my personal history as it relates to martial arts. My aim is to give those considering becoming a student some idea from where I come. 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 but unfortunately many want to try to convince you otherwise. Those who try are just delusional or scammers. The path they offer is an empty one.
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 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. My teacher is a moving target, always working to improve. That is my aim as well. Anything else is meaningless. Rank will happen because time happens. Training is what matters.
My interest in martial arts came gradually and haphazrdly. Perhaps that’s because I’m big at 6’3″ or that my interest in science was greater and took precedence. I was a competitive swimmer from 7 yrs old up through high school and the 2-5 hours of training for that each day tended to make my interest in adding more physical activity not a priority. In college, I enjoyed training in karate. After college, that came to an end as I was consumed by graduate school and my science career was the priority though I did keep active with cycling and windsurfing.
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 at Blue Ridge Ki Aikido in January 1993 under Jonathan Doner Sensei who was then a student of George Simcox Shihan. I trained there until I left for Houston in 1999 after successfully testing for 1st degree black belt 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 also teaching a class using very realistic metal swords twice a week at the 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 a senior student in the Aikido classes. Given my new found love in Aikido, I was not initially interested. After a year in Aikido, for some reason which I can’t really explain, I became intrigued by Brian’s classes. I recall a period of internal debate because this art did not seem to agree with the philosophy I was learning from Aikido. A philosophy that was one of the reasons I was attracted to Aikido. 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 doing seminars at the New England Aikikai.) 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 learning to teach beginning aikido classes including a course at University of Virginia, but while there I always was able to be just a student in Iaido.
After moving to Houston, I met many great people in the local Aikido community. A sequence of events led me to take over an aikido group in Sugar Land, TX just southwest of Houston and in 2000, I founded the Houston Ki Aikido. HKA has since then continued to grow and fulfill the mission of bringing Ki-Aikido training to the Houston area. After 10 years of being the primary teacher for HKA (basically making a 45 mile roundtrip to teach all the classes every week in Sugar Land), having successfully guided many students to black belt I was able to take a step back and let others run the program.
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 taught by Mitsuzuka Sensei, I was passed for 1st degree black belt on his 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 went to Japan to train with Mitsuzuka Sensei and his senior (8th degree black belt) 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.
I found a more stable location. I became the only approved instructor for the San Shin Kai in Texas. Wehrhahn Shihan began to travel every year from the East Coast to give seminars in Houston. Students began to progress reaching black belt ranks as time seems to fly by.
Through the years I’ve cross-trained in various martial arts (judo, kendo, karate, taichi, Systema) and had the opportunity experience many other styles of aikido. This gives me some perspective as a teacher about the various challenges confronting a student.
— Dr. Craig Hocker