Meet a Faculty Member: Michael Shochet
Michael Shochet, library faculty and head of reference at Langsdale Library, always had an inkling to try a martial art. But with hundreds of styles to choose from, he remembers the prospect being “a little overwhelming.”
A researcher and book lover, Shochet was reading the science fiction novel Helm by Steven Gould when the main character’s interest in Aikido sparked his curiosity. It prompted him to look further into Aikido and into martial arts in general.
“As different as all the martial arts are, there are some things that are universal, like trying to keep your center of balance and causing your opponent to lose theirs,” Shochet says. But in Aikido, he continues, the underlying goal is to avoid fighting altogether or to defend yourself while also protecting your attacker from injury.
“The martial art has a gentle philosophy,” he says. “The founder of Aikido taught a respect for your opponent.”
Shochet found that philosophy appealing and decided to give Aikido a try in the early 2000s. He signed up for classes at a dojo—a place where people train in Japanese martial arts—in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood. Not yet willing to invest in the traditional white, robe-like top and loose pants that most Aikido beginners wear, he showed up to the dojo in sweatpants and a T-shirt.
He eventually purchased the traditional clothes, even adding a black belt to his ensemble in 2012.
“The sensei tells you when you’re ready to test [for a black belt],” Shochet says of the process, which required him to defend himself against five attackers. “It’s almost a formality. It’s about how you respond under pressure.”
The ranking system used in Aikido is the dan, or “level.” Shochet is currently a second-dan black belt—for reference, actor Steven Seagal is a seventh dan—and he now practices and occasionally leads classes at Aikido Kokikai of Ellicott City, about 30 minutes south of campus.
When asked about practical applications outside of the dojo, Shochet said that although it’s nice to know some defensive techniques in case he ever finds himself in a pinch, he certainly hopes he never has to use what he’s learned in a real fight.
“I have had several [experienced martial artists] tell me that no matter how good at Aikido you are, nothing will keep you safer than avoiding a potentially dangerous situation in the first place,” he says.