View Full Version : Moving beyond traditional/classic training classes and methods

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Dan Richards
09-18-2009, 11:16 AM
In most aikido dojos and seminars I've attended, I've found the instruction, and even sequence of it, to be mostly the same. First the class "warms up," and then the remainder of the time is spent on the sensei first demonstrating a technique, and then the students repeating the technique in pair or groups while the sensei goes around and makes corrections.

Admittedly, I certainly haven't been in every dojo in the world, and the ones I have have been mostly Aikikai and Ki Aikido.

I've found over the last few years I've been teaching that my classes have been breaking away from the "institutional" way I've found many dojos conducting classes, and moving in a much more free-form direction. Still keeping with tradition, but adding a more "stream-of-consciousness" approach as well.

We do, of course, begin and end the classes with the formal bowing. But other than that, what makes up any lesson can be wide and varied. Sometimes we do the set of warm-ups in the beginning, sometimes we don't. Even Tohei has said that "warming up" should not be necessary - we should b ready at all times.

I find I tend to want to instruct in a much more circular and spiral fashion, in addition to linear. I also do not plan lessons. The class arises out of those who are in attendance on any particular day. Some classes just follow our classical syllabus - other classes may concentrate on particular areas - such as one-point, grounding, attacks, etc.. I tend more to have a common, reoccurring "theme" in a class. I also often start students out on a movement/technique by having them work individually - similar to the way karate/iaido kata is performed. I do this, I feel, to better allow students to concentrate on the ever-so-crucial initial opening of the footwork, body and hand positions. Then we move on to partner work.

We have not gotten away from the classical forms. In fact, they are very much incorporated. But we also have more of a Bruce Lee-type JDK approach to training and introducing the myriad of concepts which make up the very core of aikido training.

I have also not found, in my 20+ years of training, any difference between "basic" techniques and concepts and "advanced." In fact, I've found what is often considered "basic" - such as rolling - to actually be "advanced." The "basic" techniques and concepts are actually the most advanced. If a student asks to study something more advanced, I might tell them to work on executing a perfect roll - not on the mat, but out on the sidewalk or some other less forgiving surface.

I've found there is no such thing as a "basic" technique. There are only "core" techniques which can be understood and executed by any given student to varying degrees of proficiency. For example, an "advanced" form of rolling might be a breakfall on a concrete surface. An advanced form of centering/one point/structural alignment might be being able to off-balance and put uke on the ground - and pin them - with one finger.

I'm interested in having a discussion here with teachers and students who have found other methods and explorations of instruction and experimenting that, while not eschewing classic structure and methods, have found other ways of moving beyond to instruct and explore aikido in way that is ever-evolving and more reflective our current timeline in modern, post-millennial society.

I'd appreciate anything anyone has to share.

09-18-2009, 09:31 PM
Every once in a while I'll like to get help from non aikido guys to try out certain principles. We don't fight but I get a more independent reaction from them. Most times Uke has been taught to move a certain way or they mimic the stereotypical uke so much so that we believe everybody would move that way.

I tried to incorporate something like sticky hands in our training sometimes but with the emphasis on center to center connection and feeling out for opponents extension or lack thereof. Then to take advantage of that and control uke, all with one hand in kamae position. But my sensei said that that exercise may lead to a competitive mindset. I agree to a certain extent... but I also think we're all not perfect.

We don't do warm ups now... we just do ki breathing. Like you said, we have to be ready at all times. But looking back, Osensei does some warm ups in his class. Especially aiki taiso. So I do have that also occasionally.

We work from class to class like a thread. But I don't think the students get it since they only come twice a week. So maybe just going with the flow may work out. But I've seen it in a dojo where training went straight into waza with very sporadic and rare interjections on principles. Those students practiced for months and were clueless. I got better structure from a shin shin toitsu dojo. And its great the way they split the class between aiki taiso and aiki waza.

One thing I would like to do will be to incorporate board breaking sessions using aikido strikes. We had an informal one the other day when I showed them the difference between normal and wavelike punch for tsuki. No one really believes in the power of a soft punch until they see something breaks. As it is, their strikes are very robotic and functionless. I want to see it developed into something martially applicable and the rote 'do it in a sincere manner to uke' isn't doing it justice.

I think by far the best tool we used for training is the sword cutting prior to tachi waza and then maintaining a ghost image of the sword throughout the class.

Dan Richards
09-20-2009, 11:32 AM
Thanks for your input, Ahmad.

I was just reading an interview with Shoji Nishio Sensei, and these thoughts by Nishio and the founder echo moving forward through innovation and discovery, rather than moving backwards by imitation and holding on blindly to what we perceive as "tradition."

They say that O-Sensei practiced the sword and staff, but he did so in the process of giving birth to modern Aikido. Even though we imitate him we will not be able to go beyond what he did. O-Sensei used to tell us, “This old man reached this stage, you should surpass me building on what I have left.” However, we tend to imitate what he did and end up going backward. Ten years from now, we may be practicing the level of Aikido of O-Sensei as it was a number of years ago. After fifteen years, we may end up going back to the forms he practiced at an even earlier date. This is not right, he told us over and over again to go beyond what he did. People like us didn’t understand what he meant. But after several years, when we ran into some obstacle, we would think to ourselves, “Oh, that’s what he used to talk about.” Our activities depend on O-Sensei’s words.

09-21-2009, 06:06 AM
I think it's fine to incorporate new things or change your own teaching in any way you see fit. You are the teacher after all.

That said, always, always, always do warm ups. Warm ups are not necessary for performing any martial art. What they do is simply lower the chance of injury from performing that martial art. I don't have to do warm ups to throw you, punch you, kick you, etc. I need to do warm ups before I'm thrown or joint locked to help prevent injury from a overzealous throw or joint lock.

So please, everyone, take the 5-10 minutes it takes to get everyone moving and stretching prior to any physical task.

09-21-2009, 06:41 AM
So please, everyone, take the 5-10 minutes it takes to get everyone moving and stretching prior to any physical task.
Not sure that stretching is a good form of warmups though.

09-21-2009, 06:46 AM
Not sure that stretching is a good form of warmups though.

It isn't, but most people mistakenly use the term "stretching" when what they really mean is a warmup.

(and, then again, many people mistakenly perform stretching exercises when they should be performing a warmup)

09-21-2009, 07:06 AM
My warmups consist of light exercise to get the body moving (jogging around the mat, rolls, a few situps, pushups, etc) followed by light stretching. Nothing intense. Once I have a light sweat going I'm good.

I have tried not doing the stretching and found that I almost always pull a muscle during more intense sparing if I don't stretch out. Usually in my bad shoulder, groin, or lower back.

After class I also try to do some more light exercise followed by more intense stretching.