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06-30-2004, 11:03 AM
I am an assistant instructor in a small club (12 students) with a good core group and a few drifters. My question is how to handle one person.

This student has consistantly trained for over one year and attends 5 classes a week but has made no progress. They have no focus and don't seem to have the capacity to learn even the most basic of principles (such as proper hanmi). I have given this person private lessons (never at any cost) and am now at a loss at what to do. This person is extremely smart and very capable intellectually and is also an accomplished ballet dancer.

I will approach sensei with this but have first posted here in an effort to take more inniative. My hope is that those with more experience (i am only shodan) and different perspectives (beginners that may be suffering the same problem) can aid me in helping this person.

Any ideas would be welcome.

06-30-2004, 11:26 AM
Perhaps the person has a learning disability-dyslexia?

Sue Trinidad
06-30-2004, 12:49 PM
Hmm. The idea that this person doesn't have the "capacity" to learn doesn't seem to fit with the rest of what you've said about him or her. It seems unlikely (imo) that a person could be an accomplished ballet dancer if he or she *couldn't* focus; and presumably his or her body sense, strength, etc. are more than sufficient for aikido. So if you can rule those things out, it begins to look more like an issue of intention (engagement, investment, whatever) than of capacity.

Have you spoken with the person directly about why they're training, what they hope to get out of it, etc.? Does he or she seem to enjoy training? Does the person seem frustrated with his or her current level of training? I've always found that understanding a student's motivation for studying helps me be a better teacher/coach.

Greg Jennings
06-30-2004, 01:00 PM
Here are a couple of questions for yourself and suggestions from me:

o What do you mean by "no progress"? Are they not able to mimic the form of the technique? Are they not developing a martial spirit? Etc.
o What learning method does he/she use for ballet? How does it compare to the pedagogical method in your dojo?
o Do some reading into different kinds of learning. My son, for example, has trouble learning except through tactile/kinesthetic methods. This student might be a visual learning or auditory learner. I have one student that says she can't learn until we talk about things. I have another that can't grasp the detail till the big picture/general concept is explained to him.
o Ask them how they learn best.
o Try different methods.
oo If they are tactile, physically move them through the shape.
oo Use a video camera to record what your instructor looks like doing a technique, then record the student and show them both. Work for awhile, tape them again and repeat.
oo Figure out a way to use color and sound in the teaching.
ooo Cut out some footprints of different colors with numbers on them.
ooo Break the technique into steps and walk the student through them: 1,2,3,4.
ooo Make them say the steps out loud.
o Have them practice the steps w/o a partner before doing them with a partner.
o Does the person have some sort of mental block about progressing in aikido?
oo Are they afraid if they progress they won't get any attention?
oo Are they afraid that becoming more proficient will make them less feminine?
o Are they really frustrated with their lack of progress or are they sort of happy about it?

Sorry for the "stream of consciousness". Gotta run to a meeting. Feel free to PM me.

Best regards,

Janet Rosen
06-30-2004, 01:05 PM
why they're training, what they hope to get out of it, etc.? Does he or she seem to enjoy training? Does the person seem frustrated with his or her current level of training?
I agree. It is not clear from your post what the student's attitude is, but it did strike me reading it that it is possible that you as a teacher are frustrated and not feeling your goals are met, but that the student is very pleased.

06-30-2004, 03:30 PM
Have them take a break from Aikido. Have them take a few weeks off, com aback and start again.

06-30-2004, 11:03 PM
How about you just put up with it and deal with their level of ability for as long as they continue to train.
If they don't ask for your help, then you can't help them.
And if they do ask for your help, maybe you should come up with simplier, more effective analogies which are easily graspable by their intellectual approach.

I think that when you're explaining some concept to a person that are completely alien to them, you need to break them down into the simpliest of simplest. If an eight-year-old kid can't understand what you're saying, neither will they.

07-01-2004, 01:01 AM
also an accomplished ballet dancer
You would think that a dancer is easier to teach - in my experience they can be some of the most difficult.

I've used this analogy many times - sometimes it works.

If a top level dancer does Giselle - she must become a 16 year old bundle of naivete. If she dances Carmen she must become a 26 year old pack of trouble. Budo is the same. You want to dance this role you must take on the mind of a fighter. Toss in a few french words (ballet is full of them) like sang-froid and explain how this relates to Budo and you may get somewhere.

If this person keeps coming they are getting something out of it. I usually, no matter how bad, put quite a bit of effort into beginners. However, eventually I leave them to their own devices. More often than not soon after there is a quantum leap in their abilities.

07-01-2004, 05:12 PM
Thank you for all your responses.

Thank you mr.Jennings for your suggestions, I will try several of them including the video taping over a period of time, I think this may be the key.

Have a nice day.

07-01-2004, 10:02 PM
Remember; Aikido is filled with plateaus and valleys where frustration sets in and it feels as if no progress is being made. I suggest that you don't worry about it, as long as it isn't disruptive to the class. We all learn different ways and at different times. He might be progressing in ways that you cannot see or don't imagine. What he's working on might not be what you are looking at, and there's very little that's more frustrating to a student than that.

I say, let him go. The answers to most questions is simply to train, and it appears he is training, so the answer will come with time.

07-25-2004, 01:08 PM
I have a similar problem with a student at my previous dojo - his physical interpretation of what he is shown / told / gets done to him is to yank uke around like a rag doll, preferably as painfully (to uke) as possible. He says he doesn't understand what he's supposed to be doing. I don't believe there's any malice in his actions, just pure non-comprehension. Having tried (and failed) to teach him visually, telling him what to do, and by having him feel the technique, I have no idea how to help this student. I think that all I can do is try to prevent him from unintentionally hurting the other students. This student has been training (albeit irregularly) for over a year.

What his barrier to learning is I can only speculate. (And it's not just me, he's the same with all the other instructors he's been taught by). The trouble is, I don't want to spend too much time on this student to the detriment of the rest of the class.

I'm hoping and praying that he won't turn up when I'm teaching (filling in for their regular sensei). If he does, I'd like to have a plan to deal with him, then I'll be less frustrated.

Any suggestions gratefully received!


Hagen Seibert
07-25-2004, 02:25 PM
I once had a student who was the most kinestic learner I ever met.
You could show him and heŽd say "Yes" and carry on,
you could explain it to him and heŽd say "Yes" and carry on,
but when you actually took his hand and moved them for him then heŽd say "Ahhh-yes!" and do it.

Maybe this ballet student needs the right input.
Perhaps you could contact his/her ballet teacher ?

keep it up !!

Hanna B
07-26-2004, 02:43 AM
What his barrier to learning is I can only speculate. (And it's not just me, he's the same with all the other instructors he's been taught by). The trouble is, I don't want to spend too much time on this student to the detriment of the rest of the class.

I'm hoping and praying that he won't turn up when I'm teaching (filling in for their regular sensei). If he does, I'd like to have a plan to deal with him, then I'll be less frustrated.

I had students who did stiff and jerky technique. Thay got this habits in other places where they trained, before they came to me. For both of them, it was a big step forward to learn to do technique slowly. When you do fast, you get away with all kinds of jerky movements but when you do slow you increase your sensitivity a lot, and feel the difference in what you are doing. I don't suppose that you get there in a single class, though, especially not if someone who not teaches regularly tries to bring on new concepts (the class tends to be sceptical) so I guess your focus is right: how to handle a single class without letting him take too much time from the other students.

Maybe you can just decide for yourself that it is OK to move on even if he has not gotten the stuff reasonably well? I have had some teachers who would stay with you until you got what they tried to get through. Others would give me a piece of information and then disapperad to let me work on it, regardless of whether I understood what he said or not. The danger of the first version is that if you don't find a way to get the message through, both you and the student might end up feeling miserable when in reality this student was not ready for that particular step yet. The danger of the second version is of course that if the student did not understand what you wre saying, it is not of big use.

Rocky Izumi
11-25-2004, 11:19 PM
I just posted something in "Concepts for Beginners" thread in the Voices of Experience line that might have a bit to do with this and you might want to look at.

The explanation there can explain why a well-trained ballet dancer has trouble learning Aikido even when they are being taught in the same way between the ballet and Aikido. Most often training in physical activities are done using very finite movements which are used as building blocks into larger sets of movements. Students may progress a very long ways and never get past the finite movements because they never learn the larger blocks made up by the finite movements. I have trained boxers to whom a jab/jab/cross/hook will always be a jab/jab/cross/hook and not a strategic response to counter-puncher. They may be very good boxers but they will never become strategic boxers.

Aikido is often a difficult art to learn because we often operate at and instruct at the operational level rather than the tactical or strategic level. We often miss taking people through the step of breaking down techniques into the fundamental movements. We most often don't train by calling out "first position," "second position," etc. We don't do techniques by telling someone to do a low plie (sp.?), then turn and rise into second position (I forgot what that was called).

We also do not go about training generally by ignoring the correct movements and working mostly on positioning to do the next technique in counter to the varying actions of the opposition as in eight-ball or zone training in basketball where they assume you already have those basic skill sets.

So newbies, who do not know the basic building blocks well, or semi-advanced people who have never learned the basic building blocks, very well, or people who will never be able put the basic building blocks into larger blocks because they have difficulty thinking beyond the tactical physical level, will always have difficulty learning Aikido as it is taught in the most common ways. That is, unless you teach them how to see Aikido movements in their basic building blocks. For instance: "see how this foot movement is really made up of a sankaku irimi, followed by a tenshin, followed by an irimi tenkan followed by a tenkai." (Shomenuchi Sankyo). For beginners, it looks like a mass of movement done all at high speed. Once you can see and identify the pieces clearly, it becomes easier for them to see and learn. Maybe, they might even begin to put these into groups of movement so that they can go beyond the tactical level: "do a Shomenuchi Ikkyo, grab Sankyo grip, then, after cutting them down, do a Kesha cut moving backwards, all the way to a kneeling final position for the cut, right into the Sankyo pin position." (Shomenuchi Sankyo again at a higher building block level of description.)

Or, you might go: "Move into a Sankyo position but don't cut them down if they start falling backwards, just move directly into Iriminage." (Even higher level buildiing blocks.)

Or you might go: "If the attacker is coming in very fast, no matter what your response, you still have to slow them down with either an atemi or by making them flow around your movement." (Even higher level.)

Or you might go: "Before the attacker attacks, you must win with your spirit." (Even higher level of building blocks since we are just looking at all attacks and all responses.)

Without being able to see and do the prior building blocks, the higher level building blocks become difficult to implement.

But then, there are some people who only work at the higher level and cannot do the lower level stuff well. They will never be very good, technically, at Aikido but they will be able to use it well in a real situation. I just came back from teaching a seminar in Jamaica. One of my Barbados students showed up on work there as well. While he could show the Jamaicans how to move correctly through almost any technique. He would never have the grip correct because he doesn't see the different grips very well. He can't at this time. I will work with him so that he knows the different Sankyo, Nikkyo, Yonkyo, and Gokkyo grips but right now, he can move everything correctly but just does not understand the grip positions. He is so confused about them that he does all his techniques without holding on to Uke. He does it all with Ki no Nagare. I will have to break the grips down into the fundamental building blocks for him during the next while. It was nice to have him in Jamaica with me, though. The Jamaican dojo needed help with the flow of each technique even though they could get the grips right.

Hope this helps.


Jeanne Shepard
11-25-2004, 11:52 PM
I'd be interested to know what the student's perspective is on this. Does he thik he hasn't made any progress?

(I'm a slow learner too.)

Jeanne :p

11-26-2004, 02:46 AM
I would suggest that if they are attending five times a week, there is definately focus and drive. The fact that they are not progressing as you would like them to is irrelevant, the only thing of importance here is whether they feel that they are progressing. Your job as an instructor is to show, guide and inspire them, it is their job to learn, and they learn at their own pace, which will be different to you or the person sitting next to them. As long as they keep coming, you keep showing, as long as they keep practicing, they are learning and progressing.



Rocky Izumi
11-26-2004, 08:11 AM
In an addendum to my last posting in the middle of the night last night:

The guy having the trouble with the grips works with his hands all day, and has been doing this for over 30 years. He just started Aikido a couple years ago. His problem is that he has trained his hands to work in certain ways and the neural net he has built up expresses all his hand movements in terms of the way he uses them at work. I have ridden in a vehicle with him and even his driving motions express his arm motions and grips at work.

As such, I cannot just leave him alone since he needs help deprogramming his hands. Even though he conciously knows what he has to do and what he wants to do, his muscle memory makes him do something different that is close but not right. If I leave him alone to flutter in the wind, I will be doing neither him nor the rest of the people in the club any good as an instructor. I know what the problem is and how to fix it, so I should. Even if I didn't know how to fix it, I should work with him to do so to extend my own knowledge. I don't learn anything from doing nothing.

Often, I think that in situations like your ballet dancer, it is most difficult for people to learn aikido if they have become extremely proficient in another activity where the movements are like those in Aikido. Ballet is definittely like that. It becomes difficult to deprogram the person's muscle memory because the motions are so similar and they fall back on familiar patterns. I remember one of the Shihans telling me once that OSensei used to teach people with different martial arts backgrounds slightly different versions of a particular technique so they could use what they already knew in a new Aikido way. Instead of deprogramming the people, he just let them add the Aikido program on top.

Sometimes that is possible, sometimes it is not. With the impossible grips of my student, deprogramming is necessary.


11-26-2004, 11:59 AM
Rocky has hit it. Ballet is taught linearly- you do step #1 until you get it, then go on to step #2. Each step, each technique is learned by rote,and used as building blocks toward the next technique.

The aikido that I study, general aikikai, is taught holographically-you are shown the completed picture and have to fill in the blanks as best you can until the technique does itself.

My best friend is a perfect blank page. She literally has to start from the beginning in evry class she attends because she cannot physically program the simplest movements so that after six months in the dojo she still has to be taught tai no henko every single time we practice it. She can execute a flawless technique as long as she is getting precise verbal instruction, and will completely forget it in the very next throw. She agrees with me that technically she would perform better in a dojo with a set curriculum like the Yoshinkai have, but she has chosen to train with my sensei, because of who is is(as a person, not by lineage) and is happy to go on as she does, most of the time.
The ironic thing is is that she can do extremely complex group dances suck as English Country and Morris Dance, althought she tells me it took her years to grasp those principles as well.

11-26-2004, 09:13 PM
After seeing one of the special needs children that my sensei has taught pass their first test with flying colors, and seeing all the progress they have made as far as learning to coordinate themselves. I am convinced that you can teach anyone something about aikido. Things take time. Some longer than others.

Some people will be learning basic movements their whole life. Others will begin to move past tenkan and ikkyo undo and progress through the ranks and their skill will expand. Those even more endowed will gain their shodans and nidans. The ones who surpass them becomes our teachers and mentors. And those greater still become the shihan who we look up to.

Is everyone capable of being a shihan? Certainly not. But everyone is capable of learning SOMETHING from their aikido training.

Peter Brown
12-21-2004, 01:38 PM
I would treat this student as a learning curve, for yourself . If all students picked up Aikido quickly it would become a very short life in Aikido as an instructor, i believe we don't always learn from our seniors, the student can stretch our abilities as an instructor
Pete Brown

Lyle Laizure
12-21-2004, 11:50 PM
Perhaps you should study a little ballet.

12-23-2004, 01:46 PM
Thank you all for your responses. Some I took and used and others I passed over.

I definately can identify with some of approaches given here while others make me wonder when aikido stopped being a martial art and started becoming a feel good club.
While I can certainly agree that personal development is part of the art, not fooling yourself is also part of personal development IMHO.

The student in question asked me to help because they believed believed they were not making any progress, not I.

The video tape idea worked wonders.

My thanks

Jeanne Shepard
12-23-2004, 03:11 PM
It is very, very hard to get something out of your body to get something new in, not just because the old way feels "right", but because it is very hard to let go of anything you think you do well already and start another with beginner's mind.
I take swing dance classes with a woman who is a trained ballet dancer. You can see it from her posture and movements, a mile away. It takes a tremendous effort for her to let go and be a jive swing dancer. She looks like a wierd hybrid, even though she knows she needs to let go.

Jeanne :p

Alvin H. Nagasawa
01-20-2005, 12:31 AM
Re: Help with student.

To: IP:--.246.88.182 ( I hope to see a name in the future! )

If the Video taping worked, I can see why!. In ballet is practiced with mirrors in the room. He needed to see his movement to grasp what he is doing. Some people learn by watching others need to see themselves in action. Ballet they understand flowing movement, stance posture,balance, action reaction to movement. This is Aikido in it's self. Dose this person know how to roll?. and get up properly. Test him with these basic form. Tell him to center himself observe what is been taught and "empty ones cup" (his mind).Listen and feel the motion, show him one on one practice.

I hope this helped. you received valuable response but to much information will confuse anyone. Don't overwhelm yourself or the student in the process.

02-03-2005, 11:50 AM
well it sounds like to me that this person might have a self confidence problem.. maby they aren't "getting it" and are afraid to speak up.... or maby they don't want to make any progress and are just training to get the work out. i know in my dojo there is a very nice 65 year old who has been there for like 7 years and has only tested once.. by her choice... so why don't you just ask them if they have any questions... and reassure them that it is ok to seek help...... in learning aikido