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02-15-2012, 03:17 PM
Aikido Teaching Information Silence
By Niall Matthews

Too much information kills information by Bastien Vaucher

The teachings of your instructor constitute only a small fraction of what you will learn. Your mastery of each movement will depend almost completely on individ¬ual, earnest practice.
Aikikai Aikido Hombu Dojo, Code of Dojo Practice

When one is inexperienced as a teacher, one gets quite worried about the pupil's situation; his anxieties rub off on to the teacher as it were. But an older teacher realizes it is useless to worry or even think about it. The thinking has been done already, and a proper programme has been carefully worked out to suit this pupil. Either he will follow it out, or he will not.
Trevor Leggett, Zen and the Ways

I've seen the whole world six times over
Sea of Japan to the Cliffs of Dover
Over my dead body
Over me
Over you
Over everybody
Too much information running through my brain
The Police, Too Much Information

Give them some time
They just need a little time
You talk way too much
The Strokes, You Talk Way Too Much

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
T S Eliot, The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton

"You have a grand gift of silence, Watson," said he, "it makes you quite invaluable as a companion."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Man with the Twisted Lip

In Japanese martial arts information is traditionally passed from teacher to student with very few words.

Some teachers demonstrate techniques without any explanation. This is deliberate. The students have the freedom to discover - or uncover - the technique through hard and sincere practice. It's a freedom and it's also a responsibility. And the searching and forging process helps the student internalize the technique deeply. But to be honest most of us like a little more guidance.

Some teachers explain a lot. Shigenobu Okumura Sensei sometimes brought a blackboard into the dojo when he was teaching. When he thought of something important he would stop the class and explain it with the help of chalk and the board. We sat on our knees in seiza with our legs going to sleep while he explained an esoteric point perhaps for fifteen or thirty minutes. Now I can appreciate the depth and the value of Okumura Sensei's lessons. But at the time most of us were impatient for more physical training.

So teachers have to find their own balance between doing and explaining. To find the most effective way to give the right amount of information. I found this balance very difficult when I first started to teach aikido. That was in about 1985. A part of me wanted to correct every small mistake of posture or movement.

My teacher Kinjo Asoh Sensei gave me some advice. Don't over-teach, he said. Don't over-burden the students with information. One clear theme for a student to think about and to work on is enough for one lesson.

That was great advice.

Of course teachers also have to be aware of the individual needs of each student. Some students learn faster by doing something than by hearing about it.

Short courses or seminars are a special situation. Teachers might not know the students well or might not see them again for months or years. So naturally they try to give as much knowledge as possible in the shortest time. I always admired Masatake Fujita Sensei's pedagogical technique. At seminars he used to explain what he intended to teach. Then he would teach it. And then he would review what he had just taught.

So if your teacher explains a lot it's good. If your teacher doesn't explain very much that's good too. If you teach, good luck finding your own balance. And remember silence is sometimes the best explanation.


Read online
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Man With The Twisted Lip
Free e-book from Project Gutenberg
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Read online
T S Eliot, The Four Quartets

Photo: Too much information kills information by Bastien Vaucher

my blog on aikiweb (http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/)

my blog on wordpress (http://mooninthewater.net/aikido/)

© niall matthews 2012

Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.

chris wright
02-21-2012, 05:12 AM
Hi Niall, great advice - on the few occasions where i've taught a small class, i was worried if i was trying to over-correct, interrupting peoples training.
I was worried that my eagerness to help could be seen as a distraction at times.

oisin bourke
02-21-2012, 07:16 AM

That's a wonderful post. Thank you very much.

One of the most precious things I will take from my time in Japan is the appreciation of silence. It is not simply "nothing" it has texture and meaning.

Your post reminded me of the late Northern Irish Jesuit priest, William Johnston, who spent much of his life in Japan, exploring the connections between Buddhism, especially Zen, and Christianity:

"My many years in Asia have let me see that Asians treasure silence much more than people in the West. Even in the electric train running through Tokyo most Asians sit silently with back erect and eyes downcast and while the western visitors keep chatting - or should I say blethering? - the Asians maintain their silence. I do not mean that they are meditating – they may well be sleeping – but their culture prepares them for silent meditation and lets them see that one can communicate without words. This is something that we Christians are learning in Asia."

02-21-2012, 01:53 PM
Great Post! I had to get used to some teachers explaining a lot of things, because I was used to the silence of teaching as a beginner....it took a while for me to appreciate the explanations, but I still miss the old way of finding out the reasons for something by just doing, and practicing and discovering how aikido works....

02-26-2012, 09:24 AM
Thanks for the great comments Chris and Oisin and Stella.

Yeah the texture of silence... Very cool.

There is a famous Japanese novel called Silence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silence_(novel)) by Shusaku Endo. In a very nice coincidence it's about Jesuit priests in Japan. A movie (http://akas.imdb.com/title/tt0490215/) of it is coming out next year directed by Martin Scorsese.

Chuck Clark
02-27-2012, 03:43 PM
Appropriateness is the key... and what determines appropriateness? It depends...

Fred Little
02-27-2012, 04:24 PM

Mario Tobias
02-27-2012, 11:01 PM
I never really understood before why some of my senseis get really angry when students start talking during practice. It's only recently I realized aikido can't be taught by words, only feeling. Words would be a distraction to feeling. If you're distracted, you wont learn since the feeling is so fleeting. So I rarely talk now during practice, a nod here or there perhaps, unless my partner is a total beginner. The communication is by body movement and connection, no words. Makes sense to me now.