View Full Version : Student Selectively Learning

Please visit our sponsor:

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!

Aikichem Student
12-05-2012, 10:19 PM
Hello all.

So this question has been bugging me for the last semester and I figure I will ask it here. (Please note the Sensei have been asked this question and are aware of the problem. It helps to get feedback from outsiders, hence this post.)

So we got a new student...call him..."Robert". Robert is an returning to college student (late 20s or early 30s) getting his degree in...."physics". He has a bit (read, a lot) of trouble socializing and doesn't really talk even if asked a direct question. If he does talk it's so quiet I can barely make it out. (Yes, he does go with us on club functions and we've even had him over to our house. So no, we are not ignoring him.)

He's also the stiffest person I've ever met as nage and uke.

We can't get him to learn any of the Japanese either. We are a ki society split off style, so we do a lot of the japanesey stuff and you can't really communication without it.

We can't get him to attack. Its been 4 months and honestly I would be more afraid of a kingergardener with a spork than this guy. For a punch, he kind of makes a fist and thrusts out his arm...ending up a solid foot and half away from the nage if they stand still.

Basically...Robert is picking and choosing what to learn. I'm old enough at the club to be the one who runs class w/o a Sensei and I can't get him to really listen. (Which is odd for me.) He's said point blank that he doesn't see the point in testing, learning the japanese or the 'crazy' ukemi at various times. Each time, I've (and the other older students as well) have tried to correct him and explain why we learn those things.

All white belts get a grace period of course. We don't attack as hard and slow things down for them to get them up to speed. But this guy is soooo far out of the grace period.

I'm asking because he's become a real pain to work with. Sensei comes by to try and help you without your technique and spends half of the time explaining to...Robert how he attacked wrong. (And of course that you need to learn to deal with that.) The odd thing is, Sensei has even begun shifting how much he says things to Robert about his ukemi. It's less "you need to adjust to the attack" and more "uke needs to attack somewhat like this or we wouldn't do this technique".

Odd thing is Robert comes to every class. Few people do that, so he obviously likes it. But between the communication issue and the ukemi issue it's hard to get to him.

Frankly my attempt at an optimistic view (thinking about all the practice I'm getting with a stubborn, freshman style uke) is dying fast. Especially since he's started complaining that the techniques are hurting him.

Oh. I forgot to mention. He's really stiff and just stands there. So for a good bit, only the Sensei and senior students could do anything to him most of the time. Now, as we've gotten better at dealing with him, all that resisting is catching up.

And that's about it.

Aikichem Student

Krystal Locke
12-15-2012, 10:03 AM
Sounds like Robert has issues, and that aikido helps him with those issues. If the only person hurting from his actions is him, let him continue hurting himself until he hears you say that he is hurting because he doesn't move. Let him get what he gets out of class. Let sensei set the tone for his dojo.

Sometimes when someone is being a butt, I just treat training with them like bowing before and after or sweeping the mat. Just the cost of doing business, do the task as pleasantly as possible, put as little emotional energy into the task as it takes to get the task done, then move on to next.

Folks just have problems and issues and situations we dont see. For some people, getting on the mat is the most epically heroic act of pure courage and brass nads, and we never see their struggle. Not everybody is teachable and we all top out somewhere. He may be operating at his 100%.

I dont see any real course of concrete action other than perhaps explaining that ukemi goes a long way to help techniques to stop hurting. Lay it out. Move away from the hurt.

He sounds overstimulated. Look into Asperger's syndrome and autism spectrum and see if any coping techniques work. Sometimes the flood of information from grabbing someone's wrist or being grabbed by someone is too much and all the rest, having to also move, learning foreign words, dealing with test anxiety, etc., causes a shutdown.

Janet Rosen
12-15-2012, 10:57 AM
I have worked w/ neurologically challenged teens and adults on the mat - developmentally disabled, autism, and things that weren't categorized for me and so not my business to diagnose.
Like each of them, I would bet this guy is doing the best he can, just like you are.
That he shows up regularly and does the best he can at both classes and dojo functions means that he has the sincerity and dedication every teacher wants in a student and that should be an example to every student.
There is something to be learned in spending some time training with every partner (I hope your dojo changes partners through the class so nobody spends an entire class with one partner) - it may not be the lesson you thought you wanted to work on in a given class but learning to deal with what reality places in front of you and learning to make it look easy certainly is part of what my training is about :-)
For instance: Can you be fully present for and with him with an open heart accepting what he is in the moment and wondering less about "doing ikkyo" so it looks textbook perfect and more about just being and doing with him?
I'm not in any way criticizing your post or your questions. Just trying to see if you can reframe how you consider the issue.
Note: I will say that in some dojos there will be a smaller cadre of experienced students who are able and willing to be the regular partners of students like the one you describe.

Janet Rosen
12-15-2012, 11:01 AM
On rereading the OP: another approach if your Sensei is willing is to step back and have him work on lesser expectation things like blending practices, not going to ground, etc. Not every instructor is willing to take that approach, but it is an option for safer and more productive practice. This guy may really need quite a bit of time to develop overall movement, proprioception, cross body skills before he can do the things the rest take for granted.

12-15-2012, 04:53 PM
Basically, "what they said." I'd like to reinforce the idea that for some folks, just getting on the mat is a challenge. This might not apply to Robert, but not knowing his history outside of class you have to consider it as a possibility. I've trained with people I was pretty sure fit within the Autism spectrum and all I can say is that is one more aspect of our training: learning to work with different personalities and rather than putting our frustrations ahead of their personal situation (whatever it might be), learning instead to keep centered and maintaining a happy atmosphere of learning. Some people learn things in different orders; perhaps over time the areas you're describing will get better.
You said he isn't interested in learning the "crazy" ukemi, testing, or Japanese terms. Does he give specific reasons why?

12-15-2012, 05:28 PM
I concur with others: it doesn't sound "selective" to me, but like the situation is just as uncomfortable for him as it is for you, probably more so, and he's doing his best with it. Clearly the situation is taking him out of his comfort zone. Could you maybe look at this as a situation where the other party, while not doing what's strictly correct, is really trying a lot harder than those around him?

12-16-2012, 05:29 AM
Hello all,

really difficult situation. I can only recount my own experiences in a similar vein.

I've got a student who started about 8 years ago as a junior with ADHD and some learning difficulties.

He still can't take ukeme properly, forgets techniques week to week and gets frustrated (he's now 18) with himself and others.

BUT his behaviour has improved, both on and off the mat - he's now at mainstream college; doing a vocational apprenticeship type course and his family and previous school attribute this to the discipline and more importantly increased self esteem gained through Aikido practice.

All I can say is be as patient as it sounds like he is prepared to be. We've all become very fond of our "problem child" and hopefullty he's taught us as much as we've taught him.

12-16-2012, 02:42 PM
Some good advice here. I will try not to overlap what has already been said...

1. "Attacking" for many people is difficult. What you are essentially asking uke to do is create conflict with nage. For strangers, this can be intimidating because as a general rule of polite interaction we do not create conflict. Give 'em a while to understand that creating conflict in a controlled safe environment is OK.
2. Immersing into the dojo environment can also be difficult. We have intimate contact with each other, we use Japanese terminology, we observe Eastern aspects of respect and interaction. New students sometimes are slow to completely immerse themselves into that environment.

Now, those two points said...

Students should progress towards accepting their role within and the expectations of their dojo. Each dojo has a different timeline, but there is a difference between [slowly] accepting dojo culture and rejecting the dojo culture. A student who ultimately rejects the rules and culture of the dojo is a risk to injure themselves or other students, affect the class curriculum or teaching process, or damage the trust and security of the dojo.

Ellis Amdur
12-16-2012, 08:31 PM
Empathy should also apply to those who "have to" work with this young man. Yes, anything can be practice, but if I am practicing a martial art, I, for one, would certainly resent what I would see as a wasted hour - IF I had to practice with such a partner for the entire class. (On the other hand, if aikido is social work, then the worse the practice partner, the better for you - right?).

On the other hand, knowing how to work with a person who struggles like this young man struggles - on both a personal, psychological and a physical level could be a wonderful challenge. One of the ideals of any martial art is proportionate force - no more is necessary. So how do you NOT hurt such a training partner, as stiff as he is? How do you not hurt his feelings, by ignoring him, expressing impatience?

So - two suggestions.
1. Make sure you change partners on every technique. AND - you can make this even several times in a technique - for example, you do ikkyo for seven min - take a break to do some collective instruction, and change partners. Thereby, each only works with the young man for seven minutes. No big deal.
2. Have him work in a group of THREE. For obvious reasons.

Ellis Amdur

12-17-2012, 06:26 PM
Perhaps I'm being cynical but...

Maybe its me but I had to really practice quite a bit outside of Aikido to learn to attack properly. Anyone who knows some basic striking can turn things down and do a straight punch, however learning it from the get-go in Aikido can be difficult.

Regarding attacks... Do you have a heavy bag or some pads he can actually try hitting? Is he having problem with any empty handed attack or does that include weapon work as well?

Personally I think if he and someone else were to do some very basic padwork (jab-cross-hook), then go back to doing Aikido, a straight punch to the chest would work. Or just practice doing weapons work and have him practice attacking.

Janet Rosen
12-17-2012, 10:45 PM
I understand what you are saying about attacks in general in aikido. I have found that both developmentally disabled and some folks on the autism spectrum I've trained with seem "wired" to not make physical contact on attacks - likely for different reasons between the two populations - my point being an approach that focuses just on "teaching a proper attack" is likely to lead to mutual frustration.

Ellis, your point about empathy for the other students is well made. Not everybody is wired to have the patience to work with such a student AND those who are able and willing should be spelling each other.

I do feel there is value, if student population and mat space permits, to having able and willing students take turns working one to one on the side on simpler exercises and partner practices that parse out the basic techniques and let him work on proprioception, cross body awareness, and learn to be more relaxed physically wngaging with a partner.

Lorien Lowe
12-18-2012, 04:32 AM
If he is on the autism spectrum, it might be a challenge for him to even *touch* other students, and be touched by them, much less to hit them.

Ellis' suggestions were good, but I would add the caveat that you not assume that 'Robert' won't catch on if you're too overt in making him a charity case.

Ellis Amdur
12-18-2012, 09:56 AM
Lorien - I once had a student like this guy. Henry was a brilliant man, and so stiff I thought he'd snap like peanut brittle. What I've found is that in a case like this, don't do anything covert. I would actually say to this student like this, "Henry. Your attacks are still terrible, and they are going to take some time to develop. One of the problems this creates is that practicing with you can be aggravating to some people, because they want to work against a more effective attack. But we want you to learn as well. So until your attacks are as good as the brown belts, you are going to work in groups of three - that way you can gain skills at your rate of speed and work with others to do so, and they can help - and also work at the rate of speed they need to as well."

In my experience, folks on the spectrum of behavior that is being described here are not offended, as they tend to see the world in very logical terms. It's only the "sensitive souls," looking to be aggrieved by something as a means of getting social power thereby, who would claim to be stigmatized by working in a group of three.

Ellis Amdur

Janet Rosen
12-18-2012, 10:50 AM
In my experience, folks on the spectrum of behavior that is being described here are not offended, as they tend to see the world in very logical terms. It's only the "sensitive souls," looking to be aggrieved by something as a means of getting social power thereby, who would claim to be stigmatized by working in a group of three.

Ellis Amdur

Like somebody else posted, nobody wants to be perceived as a "charity case" - and the best way to deal w/ that is to be as straightforward and transparent as possible.

As for working in a group of three, hell those of us with crappy knees or other issues are often very happy to do so as it means a little break built into the practice :)