View Full Version : Friend or foe

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Bruce Baker
08-20-2002, 07:42 AM
How many times have you trained with people who considered themselves superior in skill, or technical more proficientin Aikido, but when your turn came and you were more proficient they scowled or har rumph off to another training partner?

I often get this with new black belts, or those wearing hakama's as a sign of their training or proficiency. I would rather they smile and extend their hand in friendship, as I often do when we connect with the flow of a technique, but then I encounter the scowlers who have bad feelings.

How often do you smile, and become friends with those people who cannot laugh as the fun of practice, and should we make an effort to have sensei or more people intercede to enlighten their practice to more than a proficiency or a caste system within Aikido's ranks?

08-20-2002, 08:01 AM
Hi Bruce,

I guess I am an eternal (or should I say "infernal") smiler on the mat, and am constantly making friends with people who I might have thought had an attitude. I love aikido, and love training with people who love aikido. It seems sometimes the people who appear to be grumps on the mat are really just being hard on themselves (and hence their looks of consternation). I certainly don't want to contribute further to their feeling angry or upset with themselves.

Now, that said, occassionally I meet people I just don't click with, no matter how hard I try (or don't try). That is okay too. And if it has something to do with the way I train, or my skill level, then it really isn't my problem to deal with, as I am who I am, and am here to constantly try to improve. Isn't that why we all practice?

An aside on the caste system comment; when people travel to seminars, there is often an area of the mat where the really gung-ho yudansha gather to thrash each other around. And often you hear comments on how the yudansha won't work with the kyu grades. I do see this happen, but I think it doesn't really have so much to do with them not wanting to work with the kyu grades, as much as it does that they haven't seen their aikido buddies from other dojos for awhile and really want to train with them. Personally I try to weave in and out of this group, train with them, and train with everyone else on the mat.

All the best,



08-20-2002, 08:11 AM
I think that unfortunately, those who are trying to impress their ability on others have often stopped learning. What I've come to notice is that people pick up different concepts at different times - even under the same instructor. Also learning can involve reflecting on awkward or unusual peoples body movement, so no matter what level of experience you have, there is always something to learn from those with hardly any experience.

I think any further caste or proficiency system would be inappropriate since it presumes a steady development in something that I believe tends to go in irritatingly random jumps.


08-20-2002, 10:42 AM
Although I've been at it awhile, I have not tested for the "yudansha ranks" and continue to wear my white belt. Needless to say, I run into this all the time. Especially at seminars. It's a shame really because learning is so much better when you can have fun at it. Some people take themselves way too serious.

We are very fortunate in that people that train at Shindai are very enjoyable to be around and they all have a great sense of humor.. they need one working with me! HA!

Sensei creates that enjoyable environment, we just try to enhance it...


Bruce Baker
08-20-2002, 12:18 PM
Oh Mongo, do behave!

I was getting some instruction from a guest instructor, Sensei "Butch" Chernofski who ofter teaches in NYC Aikikai.

With practice in kokyu doza he got me to use no strength, which was no fun at all.

So just for fun, as I explained how it felt like nothing at all, I grabbed the shoulders of his gi and lifted him to show him how kokyu doza usually feels with strength. He smiled and said that works, but actually I am more helpless when you said it felt like nothing.

So now, I do nothing, more and more.


08-21-2002, 07:23 AM
It is hard for many people to smile and accept as friends those who have a different point of view than our own. Usually they lecture and feel superior.

Until again,


08-22-2002, 05:09 AM
So just for fun, as I explained how it felt like nothing at all, I grabbed the shoulders of his gi and lifted him to show him how kokyu doza usually feels with strength. He smiled and said that works, but actually I am more helpless when you said it felt like nothing.

Okay are you like a cave troll or something?

you eat whole tree's? small ones or big ol redwoods?


Anat Amitay
08-22-2002, 06:18 AM
I guess that everywhere in the world you'll find someone who will always think he/she knows better and you have to listen to them.

I sometimes have problems of this sort. But I am not high ranking and am not training for a very long time so I guess people think they 'have the right to tell me how to do it'.

As for me, I always start by listening, even some of the most annoying of them, might have something good to say. If they wont stop telling me how to do something that my sensei thought differently and more logicaly, I tell them I learned it differently and want to do it as I know.

In seminars you see this more often, because people from all over the country come and each was thought by a different sensei. That is why I always listen first, maybe someone else knows better.

In the dojo it is a problem if such a think occers because you meet these people every class. I try to weave myself inbetween. I listen, I learn if it is useful and I ignore if it isn't and just continue the technique we're working on.

If someone would walk away from a partner because he thinks he knows better and the other guy doesn't listen to him, that is very bad aikido. In our dojo he'd have to face the sensei for such an act. It's rude, insulting and shows an overload of good for nothing ego.

enjoy training with other people, and as was said before, you can even learn from someone on his first class.


Bruce Baker
08-26-2002, 12:18 PM
Actually, I was often asked by my first teacher during jujitsu or judo practice if I was eating trees because he thought doing throws on me was like trying to throw a tree.

Actually, being just six feet tall at just over 260 pounds with a 52 inch chest, and my extra middleaged 20 pound belly at 46 inches, I am big enough to go toe to toe with most muscle bound giants, yet compact enough to easily take rolls and falls in Aikido.

Without telling my Aikido partners about my old Karate nickname, a couple of them have asked me to slow down so my tree branches don't knock them silly with irimi, or other extensions.

One who eats Trees?

Yep. Or was I just referring to the Brocolli my kids refused to eat until they thought they were eating little trees?

No worse than driving on the right, and finding out that you meant the car's right side, not the road?

Just goes to prove we can't always be right.

Some people drive on the right side of the car and the wrong side of the road, while others drive on the right side of the road and the wrong side of the the car ... go figure?

08-27-2002, 09:09 AM
IMHO, choosing our "friends" or "foes" is a very personal endeavor and says more about the criteria and person choosing than the person chosen.

I too am as big as a tree. My Sensei is only 5' tall. He has no problem chopping me down. Great for my humility and humor.

Until again m'friend,


08-27-2002, 09:34 AM
I also try to spread inflicting myself on yudansha around at seminars...I figure if they only have to put up with me once...

I do have a bit different view on Anat's comments, though. When I'm at a seminar, like him I don't want a partner insisting I do it 'his way' (and have a variety of ways to fix that), but it is not so I can do it the way my sensei taught me, it is so I can do it the way the seminar instructor is doing it (though this may be what Anat meant). I am often amazed to see so many folks pay good money to go to a seminar and NOT try what the instructor shows.

On the big scheme of things, and probably not surprising to those who've trained with me, I don't much care if the seniors think my technique is good or not, I'm not doing Aikido for them, I'm doing it for me. If I'm taking care of my uke, and trying my best, I'm a happy camper.

08-27-2002, 09:54 AM
I also try to spread inflicting myself on yudansha around at seminars...I figure if they only have to put up with me once...

I don't much care if the seniors think my technique is good or not, I'm not doing Aikido for them, I'm doing it for me. If I'm taking care of my uke, and trying my best, I'm a happy camper.
Colleen, comments like that make me wanna rush to your dojo and train with you.

Maybe one day:rolleyes:

08-27-2002, 10:32 AM
Colleen: Anat is probably a woman.

I like training with people who are fun to grab or who grab me in ways that spark something inside. I don't care (very much) if they are doing what my sensei taught, what the seminar's sensei was teaching, or something they dragged in off the street. That's just me, though.

I took a class in Contact Improv last semester, and we put a lot of thought into the idea of putting away the agenda you bring to the dance and having the dance that is happening right now with the person you are dancing with right now. I feel like that applies here: I have the rest of my life to learn the things I think I'm supposed to be learning, I only have this dance with this particular aikidoka right now. To me, that's more important.

08-27-2002, 10:49 AM
Oops! Sorry Anat...I guess I should have known since you said you started out by first listening to your partner :)

Thanks, Opher.

Erik...I'm mean, think twice ;)... I had a layover in Amsterdam this past weekend (unexpectedly)...I thought as I wandered through the airport how nice it would have been to have taken a day of leave and spent it in the NL. And I was reminded how nice folks there were when I rummaged though my wallet having everything except Euros, and being assured he'd change whatever I had so I could get some coffee. Try doing that at Starbucks...b

Anat Amitay
08-29-2002, 01:02 AM
That's all right Colleen :)

Thank you Opher.

And yes, I meant that in seminars I try to train as the instractor of the seminar had shown. After all, I come to seminars to see new things, other ways of doing a technique. and anyway, no one said my sensei is doing everything right, so it's a good place to make emmends.

Actually, these aikidoka that are trying to make you do the technique 'their way' are usually doing what they were thought in their dojo and not what the sensei in the seminar was showing. :D


08-29-2002, 03:56 AM
That's all right Colleen :)

Actually, these aikidoka that are trying to make you do the technique 'their way' are usually doing what they were thought in their dojo and not what the sensei in the seminar was showing.
Absolutely true.

Quite often I have met people at seminars that where explaining to me what I should do, which most of the time was not only not what the teacher at the seminar showed, but also wrong. :freaky:

Then again, I met people that claimed that what I was doing was wrong (even if it was shown by the teacher at the seminar) and didnt work, that tried to resist my every move,but kept on going down fast all the time. I still havent figured out the logic those people are using :confused:

Anat Amitay
09-12-2002, 06:13 AM
I still havent figured out the logic those people are using :confused:[/QUOTE]
that "logic" is called ego but don't tell them that!!! :D

All the best


Bruce Baker
09-12-2002, 07:43 AM
When I first proposed the question, it was in the spirit of good natured practice, and the use of inflicting minimum pain to persuade movement. I know that many times, myself included, we hurry to complete the techniques without proving each step that allows the next movement to happen.

Sometimes the resistence of your partner, or the attempt to wriggle out of a hold are helpful training tools, but I was refering to the individual that decides you are doing the technique wrong and must prove it to you.

I have seen a couple of these people, and I did see lttle improvement in one of them at the seminar I attended over the past weekend as the instructor corrected what was being practiced three or four times. Still clinging to the bad habits, this person is taking much longer to blend into practice.

Of course, the good nature of the other practitioners, instructors does show through.

The reminder of pain is the que to our continued technique or movement. Sometimes the redirection of movement, or initiation of movement is our practice, but each following movement is based on the premise of causing a change in the present situation which allows for change. If we have the resistent uke, then either a prode of pain with a correct twist, lock, or prod is needed to open the opportunity to do the practiced technique.

Of course, our attitude, acceptence of sharing our good nature, and continued friendship towards those who oppose the well intentioned pratice of Aikido is the battle of letting others into our joy of practice.

I think that our own battle to maintain this good attitude, be helpful, even to resistent ukes, is a titanic struggle of our inner core.

Of course, my answer is to bring the instructor over and crank the uke as the instructor points out the fine points of the lesson, which most times I am hesitant to do. But isn't it most satisfying when you do as instructed "like this", and the instructor says"no, like this", then you do it again with"oh, you mean like this."

Funny how only one or two people don't learn to go with the flow?

09-12-2002, 09:55 AM
IMHO, if we learn from them we consdier them friends, if we don't learn from them (or insist they learn from us) we consider them foes. Who isn't the one learning to flow here?

Until again,


09-12-2002, 11:15 AM
I'm with Lynn on that one.

I'm going to copy in something I posted on a different thread that suddenly seems relevant.


I had an interesting experience today that keeps seeming relevant to me. I'm going to sneak it in here because I really want to tell about it and I figure by this point not too many people are reading this thread.

I was visiting a dojo where nobody knows me. Because hakama are bulky to carry and because I think it's right, I wore a white belt. At ASU dojos, white belt and no hakama usually means 'not yet 5th kyu.'

I've been in different dojos in this garb and have gotten different reactions. At this dojo, everyone wanted to teach me. That's fine. I'm always happy to learn, even if learning only means learning how to swallow pride, bow, and say 'thank you.'

Still, my uke is my uke, and sometimes things were hard for one student or another. I'm not saying I was any better than them; that's just the way it was. Anyway, at one point the sensei was trying to show me something (I'm not sure: I believe he was began with helping me on something I was having trouble with, but he may have been trying to show me why it is wrong to resist) and things were hard for him. I wasn't trying to make it hard; that's just the way it was. He didn't give up though. He just kept tossing me around, changing techniques, and working with me.

Pretty soon the whole class was watching. It was pretty athletic. Sometimes it was beautiful and flowing; other times it was ugly struggles. It kept going on and on, down and up. He was having difficulty (in my judgement) because he was using a little too much force (aren't we all always doing that) and perhaps he is used to getting away with that because he is a big man and a talented aikidoka. Or maybe he was doing it on purpose.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun for me and a little bit scary not to know whether we were 'competing' or 'training.' I've rarely had the experience of trying my best to do AiKiDo while I'm really not sure whether or not that is what my partner is also going for. If I have felt that way in the past, it's always with beginners where I feel like I have the right and responsibilty to keep things slow and safe. This was definitly living on the edge, as far as I was concerend. We stopped when he noticed that he'd scratched my neck doing a head-o-toshi. After class he made a couple of comments about how 'we can be trying to make a point' and how that can get in the way sometimes. I'm not sure whether he meant him or me or both of us.

So, the really interesting thing is that after the class one of the guys I'd been working with who had trouble came up to me, took me aside, and told me two things: 1) that when I resist him, I create openings that he can exploit for other techniques, and (2) when the instructor is demonstrating with me, we are part of a team that works together for the class. I thought, for a moment, about sharing my feelings with him. Then I thought better of it, swallowed my pride, bowed, and said 'thank you.'

I'm not sure what I learned from all this, but something tells me that even if I don't know what it is, I learned a lot.


09-13-2002, 09:32 AM
I'm not sure what I learned from all this, but something tells me that even if I don't know what it is, I learned a lot.
Deepest compliments and appreciation. I am seldom sure what I have learned, but being the perpetual student that I am and being very selfish by nature, I am more interested in learning from someone than teaching them my way. Being a good uke was/is harder for me than being a good tori. Flowing with things that don't go my way or how I initally learned then, is much harder for me. Often my biggest foes have been my best teachers, in that sense they are also my best friends.

Until again,


Bruce Baker
09-15-2002, 07:23 AM
How about trying to go a seminar without a hakama, and a white belt, even if you are higher in rank ... just for an experiment.

If some of the people there know you, say you forgot your bag and had to borrow a uniform, or that you are doing an experiment to test your spirit of humbleness.

As is said in real life, doing is believing.

If for no other reason, to test the waters of your Aikido community for its harmony, or disharmony from improper attitudes and altitudes?

09-15-2002, 09:02 AM
Dan Messisco started an excellent thread on this on the Aikido Journal website here ( (Footnote: I've trained with Dan -- he's amazing.)

I've gone to aikido seminars sans hakama and wearing a white belt. Result? The people who gave me the hardest time (eg resistant ukemi, non-committed ukemi, not paying attention to what I was doing and looking bored) were the brown belted practitioners (1st/2nd kyu). I noticed I didn't have the same kind of issues with higher ranked folks; I remember being tossed into a koshinage by one 5th dan during jiyuwaza which was great.

(A friend of mine (from DC and now teaching up in Arlington, Virginia) recognized me and asked, "Jun, where's your hakama?" I told him I was just trying to go incognito...)

-- Jun

Bruce Baker
09-15-2002, 04:34 PM
I guess, now that I getting physically better, I should test and get the kyu grades behind me for Aikido. It would fairer to the younger generation who don't know the tree is also gentle. You are right Jun, and it is rather humbling to have teachers from other schools go with you in seminars, and have a great practice ... only to find out their students are fawning over their teacher at classes end. I definiitely get strange looks from the kyu ranks with hakama's, but older practitioners and most teachers really enjoy throwing the big guy about, especially when I laugh as I get up asking for more please. I compare it to being married. If you can't be married with the ring off, how can you be married with the ring on. You either are, or you aren't. The same should really apply to all practitioners, you either are practicing with everyone, or you aren't. Not very Aiki, but maybe we can continue to change that attitude.

09-16-2002, 02:37 PM
Perhaps its a Ki Society thing, but I have not seen much of this "new yudansha syndrome" in the Ki Soc dojo I've been to. When I was at Towsontown Ki Society, just outside of Baltimore, MD, the only Yudansha we had for the most part was our sensei. He was Nidan, I think...His rank never came up.

We were a small group for the most part, numbering less than 20 and we all practiced together: It did not matter if you just started that night or had been there for several years. We all helped each other. In this sense we were all teacher-students. I feel that gave me more of a sense of confidence and competence in the techniques.

IMHO, Aikido is not about the size of your head (or anything else ;). Nor is it about the color of your belt. It is about :ai: :ki: :do: ... Oversimplified, but I think you all know what I mean.

I recall a sign on a dojo door (I think there is a picture of it in Tom Crum's book The Magic of Conflict or in Zen in the Martial Arts , the author of which escapes me right now) which says "leave your sandles and your ego at the door."

Practice with all who come to practice, you don't know who your next teacher will be. That's my advice.

09-16-2002, 04:46 PM
Hey Jun,

Tried to follow that link and it said the thread didn't exist. Can you check it, please?


09-16-2002, 05:03 PM
It seems as though the thread (which was entitled something like, "The Sempai/Kohai Game") is now gone...

-- Jun

09-16-2002, 05:03 PM
I've gone to aikido seminars sans hakama and wearing a white belt. Result? (1)

2) The people who gave me the hardest time...were the brown belted practitioners (1st/2nd kyu).

3) I noticed I didn't have the same kind of issues with higher ranked folks;

1) Wait! Don't tell me...

2) You told!

3) Really?

How interesting would be a seminar with no colors! No one would know who should be taking UKEMI! ;)

It's not just aikido, though. There was a sociology experiment once which consisted of telling the admitting desk and a mental institution that they were going to be observed. That alone was enough to drastically change the number of admittances (can't recall, however, if it was up or down.)

I had a depressing experience once. A talented youth came to the dojo and dismissively walked around my best technique. That technique had thrown ogres and bears in my dojo. He all but sniffed.

That's not the worst part. At a seminar, Patty Saotome called me up for UKEMI a couple of times meaning that I was at least recognizable for something (if not my technique). I met the same youth on the mat that day and then a simple flick of the wrist put him onto his back faster than Monica next to a humidor.

I'm left having to wonder not just why they don't fall down, but--dammit!--why they do...

09-16-2002, 05:11 PM

Can you summarize what you liked about the missing thread?

I used to practice at a dojo where everyone wore variously colored belts. The first time I went to an AiKiKai dojo, I thought that the whole class was beginners. It was interesting how quickly you go from thinking, 'They're awful about testing for 5th kyu here' to thinking 'I'm just not as good as some of these guys.' Then I had the opposite experience the first time I walked into an ASU dojo (where people put on hakama at 5th kyu). At first I thought, 'boy do they test early and easy here.' Eventually I started thinking, 'well, it takes all kinds and they probably have some hidden qualities that I'm missing.' It took about two or three weeks before someone told me about hakama and rank in that style.

Bruce Baker
09-17-2002, 07:21 AM
We have to frame that quote by Don J. Modesto: I am left having to wonder not just why they don't fall down, but-damnit!- why they do ...

I think it is the heart of finding the core to making Aikido work, verses having people acquese to your practice on the mat.

Absolutely priceless!