Inspiration and change in direction can come in some of the most unexpected places. For Craig Cruse, one of those moments occurred during the first few moments of a movie.
"It was Steven Seagal's first film, Above the Law in 1988," recalls Craig. "An under-belt comes up to him, throws a punch, and Seagal throws the guy over on his back; and I thought, 'I gotta learn that!'"
Craig was studying karate under Gerald Watkins, and he filed the memory of Seagal's moves in the back of his mind until the movie came out on video. "I mentioned it to Gerald one day, and he told me it was Aikido. There was a man by the name of Rod Stephenson who was teaching it in Mayfield. Twenty years ago, I went to a class, and I've been hooked ever since!"
In 1998, Craig even came full circle with his inspiration when he went to Boulder, Colorado and trained with Steven Seagal himself. "It was a rare opportunity. He doesn't do stuff like that much."
By 2000, Craig was teaching Aikido at Three Rivers Martial arts, but a change in his job to the night shift forced him to give it up. In 2009, he discovered that the Paducah Parks Department needed an instructor. After a little coaxing from a friend, he decided to take on a new class. In 2010, he brought Aikido back to Paducah.
“It’s an amazing art,” says Craig. “It has stayed true to its original form. There are no competitions, which have a tendency to change a martial art. This is about self-defense. There is grappling and very little hitting. Hitting is only used to deter.”
Aikido allows people to defend themselves with little energy, making it an ideal art for people of all types. “If someone is coming at me,” says Craig, “I get out of the way of the energy he is putting into his attack, and I blend with it and use it against him. He’s going to want to do something specific, and I’m going to let him move in that direction, but I’m going to slam him when he gets there!
“This is really all about a fight between his center of gravity and mine. I have to capture his. It is soft, it is subtle; but it is effective. Principles like center of gravity drive our techniques. It catches the attacker off balance, and he doesn’t know what is going on until it is too late. And anyone can do it. I have a lady in my class who is a hundred pounds soaking wet, and I’ve seen her take down men twice her size and hold them to the floor with a simple lock move.”
Craig has even adapted Aikido for law enforcement use. “I teach workshops to law enforcement officers for free. Many departments cannot afford training like this, but they really need it. And it saves lives. When the samurais used Aikido, for example, they had to think about things like weapon retention. If you had a sword, you had to make sure it didn’t end up in your enemy’s hands. I was thinking about that one day, and realized it would probably work for firearms as well. We got some plastic toy guns, used the old samurai techniques, and it worked! I started teaching it to my law enforcement guys.”
It wasn’t long before the training paid off. “One officer was attacked just three weeks after our training. A guy on meth jumped him and next thing he knew, the guy had his hand on his gun. ‘All I could remember is what you told me,’ he said. They fought for seven minutes, and that guy never got the officer’s gun. He told me that he probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this training.
“We are constantly learning. I want to take the principles and make the techniques work for people like this police officer. I can never be satisfied with my own system.”
For more information on Aikido self defense classes at the Paducah Parks Department, call 444-8508, or visit Craig’s website at aikipanda.webspawner.com.