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A Martial Journey by Brandon Needham 

I have been involved in the martial arts since I was 10 years old.  Due to surgery some of my activities had stopped, however when I was able to I got back into the arts and moved forward.  My instruction has been in Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Jeet Kune Do Concepts, Aikido (Aikikai), Aikijujitsu (Various), Jujitsu and more currently studying under the person who influenced my martial art career profoundly, Frank Ani Sensei. 

Let me step back and describe my past experience.  As a child I would look up to martial art icons (Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris).  I always wanted to do what they did.  When I met Ani Sensei he immediately looked over me.  I also knew he did martial arts which impressed me greatly.  I too wanted to get into the arts and so he brought me into Shotokan Karate under David Byrd Sensei, who was an instructor under J. Cui Brocka Shihan.  Doing all the forms, punches, kicks and blocks I was immediately hooked.  Sadly though, after several months of study, I had to quit due to an ankle surgery I had to endure.

When I decided it was time to return I found out that my old school no longer existed and I went searching for something else.  I found a Tae Kwon Do instructor named Chat Nyguyan who taught under the International Tae Kwon Do Federation.  My friend and I then started taking lessons and quickly moved up in the ranks and I achieved my first black belt.  This was a trial period in my life as I thought I could defend myself. 

During school one day I was cleaning up after physical education class.  A smart remark made by someone and then by me turned into something bigger.  When I went outside, there was a classmate waiting for me and he wanted to fight.  He threw a punch, which I evaded.  I then tried a high sidekick to the face which he easily moved out of the way and popped my in the face two times.  At this point, the fight was broke up by a teacher.  This had a large impact on my impression of my art at the time, and the ineffectiveness of it.  I always thought, “I am a black belt.  That is it, I can defend myself”.  I was very wrong. 

My thinking then changed after the altercation and I soon quit taking lessons from my instructor as all I had learned was, sadly enough, tournament fighting and sparring, and not actual defense.  It was also during this age that I first saw a movie where this really tall guy did these amazing throws, locks and control techniques.  That person was Steven Seagal Shihan and the movie was Above The Law.  This was in 1988 and the art known as Aikido was little known to me.  Which is to say, I found out about Aikido through this movie.

I found a dojo that taught Aiki arts, and this was at a local gym.  I had my parents enroll me and I started taking Aikijutsu.  While doing this art, I realized that it was not exactly like I saw in the movie and the techniques were not being done in a realistic and meaningful manner.  I thought to myself, I am going to do an art and it is going to be realistic.  After the second month of instruction, I withdrew from the gym and the class for the first time.

I sought out instruction in Aikido and Aikijutsu having learned quickly that Aikido was a result of Aikijutsu to a degree.  It was at this time that I was introduced to an instructor named James Hychnan Sensei.  He was a friend of my (girl fiend at the time) family.  I then started taking Aikijutsu from with my girlfriends brother.  Looking at the practice in terms of what I know today, I know that it was not Aikijutsu that I learned, it was some art that was concocted with judo and kicking and punches thrown in, but at the time, it was a little different and I actually enjoyed it, even though the “Aiki” techniques were few and far between.  I eventually stopped lessons due to my breaking up with my girlfriend and the conflict that eventually started up with Hychnan Sensei and me.  He moved to Minnesota I believe and I have not had contact with him since.

A move to Federal Way changed my life and I began seeking out instruction in Aikido yet again.  I found an Aikikai instructor in Seattle and immediately began training with him.  I found this type of Aikido unrealistic and didn’t want to spend years of my life training for self defense only to be let down again.  I quit this school after a few months as well and then took up Judo.  I tried to look at this art as something that I could convert into self-defense however we trained for the purpose of competition, which is something I did not want.  Another art was down the drain and I was searching one more time. 

Jeet Kune Do was introduced to me through my wife’s coworker and I began training with them under Sifu Chris Clark.  Training was at a gym located at an apartment complex however they soon moved too far out of my traveling area and I had to abruptly stop training.

Training had become a passion for me yet I was put on a hiatus and although I did train on my own I soon lost some of my skills and became dormant.  This changed though in 2001, while speaking to Ani Sensei, he told me that he was teaching Aikido/Aikijujutsu at a gym in the local area.  He told me about the “Wrecking Crew” that they had on Saturday night Randori and explained some of the truths about Aiki to me.  I knew at this point that I had to go and train with Ani Sensei.  Timing is everything however and due to the events in my life it was not feasible for me to train at that time.  I regret not making a few choices so that I could, but the past is the past, and you cannot change it.

In 2004 however everything changed.  I officially began training in Aikido under Ani Sensei in the new facility that was built and that we were allowed to use.  In the time that I have trained with Ani Sensei a new world has been opened up, a truth actually.  When we train, we train for reality.  We do not train for dance, show or because it is great exercise, we train to help us defend ourselves and to defend our loved ones.  I have learned more in my time in this dojo then I have learned in any other place or art. 

Because of your extreme dedication, caring and help I want to thank Frank Ani Sensei.  Thank you for allowing me to become part of a great dojo.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the foundation of our style (Tenchin Budo Kai Aikido).  And a huge thank you for your understanding of my limitations and helping me overcome them.  It is with your guidance and support hat I will continue to learn and hopefully one day spread the art under your guidance.  I am now and will always be a loyal student.

Without your guidance and realistic training I only could think of where I might have stayed to train for “Aikido”.  Although our training is long and hard, it is definitely worth the effort and there is really no amount of gratitude I can give or say to express how happy I am to be training under you and your leadership.  Again, THANK YOU!!!!!!