View Full Version : How to Get the Most Out of Attending Aikido Camp

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George S. Ledyard
04-26-2013, 01:40 PM
Any number of folks have commented on a perceived lack positive cost / benefit in relation to how much it costs one to attend a major event like a camp and what one actually walks away with in terms of new material to work on.

Some of this is a product of what I see as sheer laziness on the part of some of the senior teachers. I have been to classes at which virtually no actual instruction took place. The teacher would demonstrate a set of techniques (sometimes the exact same technique he does at every seminar), the attendees get out on the mat and do the techniques exactly how the knew how to do them when they walked in the door, the teacher stands around for ten minutes or so, doesn't give anyone any feedback, then comes back on the mat and does another technique. This goes on all weekend and everybody goes home saying what a great seminar it was (when no one actually learned anything new).

Other issues have more to do with size. When you get 75 to 150 or more people on a mat, even if the teacher wished to help the students, there's no way for him or her to tailor the instruction to the individuals present other than to provide vary general instruction on what seems to be common issues with their technique. Typically it is the seniors who take most of the ukemi... most attendees will not touch the teacher more than once or twice during a class, if that.

So, how can you get the most bang for your training buck out of these events? Well, one of the great things about most camps is the number of senior folks who attend. If you want to get the most out of a camp, don't train with your buddies. Go after the seniors. Have your next partner already picked out for the next technique and make sure you are sitting next to him or her when the current technique ends. Do not be shy about doing this. Train over your head. Every person who is senior got there by working with people better than they were when they were coming up. The vast majority of seniors will be happy to help you. They may not seek you out, as a junior it is your job to go after them, but I know almost no seniors who won't work with you if you have the guts to ask them.

Get yourself up to the front of the mat in the center. So many folks train as if their goal is to escape notice. They sit in the back and hide out. They do this because they don't feel confident in their technique and don't want to look bad in front of the teacher. Well, get over it. The folks who train this way show up every year in the same state and never actually get better. If you get up in front you have a far better chance of attracting the notice of the teacher. If he rains all over your technique, great... he or she is giving you feedback that you can take home and work on.

The single greatest opportunity for learning is actually after the class is over. If you watch most folks, the moment they've bowed out they fold their hakamas and go off for lunch or dinner or whatever... If you REALLY want to have a tremendous camp, at the end of every class, find one of the seniors whom you think had a good grip on what the teacher had been doing in class and ask them to help you. You can walk away with fifteen or twenty minutes of private instruction after everybody else is gone. By the end of a week of camp, it will be as if you gad two or more classes that no one else got.

One of my friends has taken this to a level of mastery that few other shave. When the class ends with our Shihan, he immediately grabs another senior and starts working with him right at the edge of the mat where the Shihan is changing out of his hakama. Our teacher actually does care if his students are getting better and he is almost incapable of watching you have a problem with a technique without stepping back onto the mat to work with you. Even if you had a good grip on the technique in question, he'll jump on the mat and show you another level or variation. My friend can get 20 - 30 minutes of hands on, individual instruction from our teacher after the class proper is over.

Too often people come and go to these events and simply take whatever is handed out. You want to get better, you need to be hungry. Yo have to go after the knowledge, not wait for it to come to you. You also need to master the art of being the type of student whom the teachers and seniors want to help. You have to be eager, open to help, flexible about changing what you've been doing, and, most important, appreciative. You get extra juice from seniors on the mat, send them an e-mail or message them on Facebook and tell them how much you appreciated their help. If the Shihan actually notices you and gives you something to work on. make sure he sees you working in it after class, show him his assistance was important to you.

People often reference how long they have been training as having something to do with how good they are. But the fact is, its about how you've trained during that time period. The folks who manage to train as I have described will end up with twice the benefit in the same period of time that the folks derive who do not do so. It's really up to you how much you get from these events. Yes, some are better than others. Yes, some teachers care if you get better and others clearly do not give a damn. But mostly, this issue is under your control far more than most folks realize. Be hungry and don;t be shy. Go after it and you'll come away with enough to work on it will carry you for months.

(Original blog post may be found here (http://aikieast.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-to-get-most-out-of-attending-aikido.html).)

04-27-2013, 09:05 AM
Invaluable, succinct and timely advice from Ledyard Shihan, on a topic too little discussed or given due attention. The seminar experience belongs to the student, and must be owned fully and unashamedly by anyone who willingly pays attention, and not only the seminar price.

This advice should be included in every student handbook written.

Thank you Aiki George, for being out there, providing the example, and leading the way for the rest of us!

04-28-2013, 06:11 PM
Thanks, George. I totally agree.

04-28-2013, 08:37 PM
I think the lack of private instruction and open mat time is one of the greatest weaknesses of the standard Aikido teaching methodology.

At BJJ seminars they block out time during the weekend for the instructor to spend one on one time with the several pre-determined students from the dojo being visited. One would think that kind of seminar set-up would result in some upset feelings regarding who is and is not getting attention, but in reality (similar to people at seminars trying to stay invisible at the periphery of the group) many BJJ seminars have trouble filling those one on one slots, and the those who are serious rise.

I understand that shifting the burden of apprehending the transmission to the student is part of the training, but I think our transmission is attenuated tremendously by the lack of this personal time (not only with the people who have the goods but also the people who are breaking into the goods). As George suggests, camps can help fill this role if you are savvy.

Robert Cowham
04-29-2013, 06:45 AM
Thanks George - very sound advice.

I would extend this advice too - try and socialise with your seniors, the main teacher, or with visitors. It's often more comfortable to stick with your dojo mates if you went with some, but by putting yourself out of your comfort zone, you can gain hugely. Even if you are just part of a group watching and listening you gain value, whether it is other people's questions, or old stories etc. If the teacher at least recognises you next time on the mat, you are that little more likely to get picked for uke.

There's often the opportunity to ask a question after a session, and as long as its done politely and respectfully I have never seen it cause problems. Questions might be about specifics in the session, or more general about how the teacher does their own training, or what it took them to learn ABC. Note that very specific technique questions are often best asked first of your seniors before bothering a visiting shihan! But sometimes it is interesting if you get different views and then ask why X says this and Y says that. You can ask questions while walking to lunch, or perhaps if you get the opportunity to sit at the same table. See what opportunities arise.

This aspect of socialisation is particularly important for Japanese. I have seen visitors to Japan just turn up on the mat, do the practice and go home. No one really knew them, no one particularly "taught" them. The value they got out of the time and money spent in being in Japan was marginal. If you have socialised and made an effort, then you are much more likely to have a senior take you to one side and show you some things. They recognise your efforts and are often very encouraging. Of course Japanese language abilities can be a huge help, but just a pleasant attitude makes the most difference. Some evenings can turn out to be rather boring (especially if your Japanese is poor!) - but your presence will have been noted and appreciated.

Mark Mueller
04-29-2013, 10:49 AM
I don't know George personally.....and I have never gotten to train with him but he walks his talk. In all the seminars I have attended when he was there......he was always working with someone after class and he was just as much student as teacher. Great Post.

04-29-2013, 11:22 AM
still waiting for the section on how to party at camp. :)

one of the model, that i saw and liked, came from Andy Sato sensei. at the beginning and thru out the seminar, Sato sensei emphatically told the black belts that they need to work with lower ranks and not clumped together. he also told folks to practice in group, with at least one or more black belts in a group. this sort of force folks to work with everyone. then Sato sensei went around and practice with each group. this took away some of the intimidating factors using a group learning/practicing approach.

Robert Cowham
04-30-2013, 02:19 PM
still waiting for the section on how to party at camp. :)

I remember practicing with a certain senior after the camp party, and that basically meant entering an alcoholic mist. He looked somewhat green, but kept practicing!

one of the model, that i saw and liked, came from Andy Sato sensei. at the beginning and thru out the seminar, Sato sensei emphatically told the black belts that they need to work with lower ranks and not clumped together. he also told folks to practice in group, with at least one or more black belts in a group. this sort of force folks to work with everyone. then Sato sensei went around and practice with each group. this took away some of the intimidating factors using a group learning/practicing approach.
I do like the teachers who get around and practice with most if not all participants - not just the favoured ukes. Have only attended a single seminar with Endo sensei, but he certainly got around. Others include Takeda sensei, and Ikeda sensei, and Inaba sensei in some courses where he took kenjutsu ukemi for everyone present.

05-01-2013, 11:39 AM
I just got back from a seminar last weekend and I really, really like this advice. There is definitely a correlation between the best aikidoists and the ones who are the most eager to learn at seminars.