Few people can say, without a trace of irony, that a Steven Seagal movie changed their life.
But for Brazil-area martial artist Garry Howard, the actor's 1988 film Above the Law served as an introduction to Aikido, a Japanese martial art that emphasizes control of one's opponent over elaborate sequences of kicks and punches.
"I was really fascinated with the technique," he said. "I'd been in martial arts a while and I'd never seen anything like this."
Howard would eventually meet and train with Seagal, and the small-time dojo (training facility) he operated out of his garage grew into the American Aikido Institute-- a nationally-known training entity with locations in Brazil, Robinson, Ill., and Chicago.
Through his association with the actor, Howard met Japanese Aikido master Haruo Matsuoka. When his relationship with Seagal eventually fizzled-- "He was getting into music, the Buddhism thing. I kind of went my own way," Howard said-- he continued to look up to Matsuoka.
"He's not a very big man. He might be 150 pounds soaking wet," Howard said. "But his movement is so precise and so powerful, it's just awe-inspiring."
Now Howard hopes to share Matsuoka's expertise with the entire community. In a weekend seminar beginning today at North Clay Middle School, Matsuoka, Howard and others will share Aikido techniques with students at all skill levels. The seminar is also open to casual observers; anyone who enjoys a masterful display of a unique martial art is welcome, Howard said.
"This is an opportunity to train with a world-class martial artist," Howard said. "To watch and participate with this gentleman is truly a blessing."
The seminar begins today with a 10 a.m. training session, then continues with a 2 p.m. weapons demonstration. The weekend concludes with a final training session Sunday at 10 a.m.
Students wishing to participate can pay a $75 fee to cover the entire weekend, or $40 for an individual session. Spectators can purchase a weekend pass for $15 or pay $6 per session.
Anyone interested in training with Howard at the Brazil branch of the American Aikido Institute can contact him at (812)448-8470 (ages 12 and up).