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Today at Aikido Shobukan in Washington D.C., Eugene Lee Sensei was talking about distance-- from a yokomen attack, the different techniques you might use at different distances. I appreciated this because it forced us to analyze the situation and adapt to it. I think that quality is really important to cultivate, and you don't get it in 4 x 4 rote training. Lately, I've been thinking that every class should incorporate more jiu waza, so that we can learn to feel out the situation and develop natural responses to attacks-- each particular attack, i.e. this punch is slightly different from the last, so I'll respond this way.
Should beginners start with 4 x 4 rote training to catch the basic form, and then "move up" to open-technique practice? I'm beginning to think not. Earlier this week was the Mark & Ron show at Boulder Aikikai, and we were talking about how aikido starts in the center / so why don't we start teaching with the center, and move outwards-- instead, we start with the arms, which can allow the student to miss the point that this tiny kokyu-motion, this energy-spiral, begins in the center. Obviously, this is because the arm motions or the footwork are easy to see-- and we assume that as the student continues, they will figure out that the technique begins in the center. But I think that students are capable of grasping that the technique begins with this center-stirring at the commencement of their training-- that it would be helpful to kick off with this idea. There's plenty of models for it-- I think of a seed growing and spiraling outwards, the solar system-- it makes sense, this radial pattern, the enso calligraphied on the dojo wall-- life expands; this is its tendency. Ok. So: basically, questioning pedagogy; does rote training do more harm than good?
Two other recent thoughts:
--what is an attack? I mean, really, is it definable? as-- someone trying to do you harm? "take your center"? I have no idea what an attack is. I'm not sure I've ever attacked anybody. I better figure this out soon; it seems pretty crucial.
--Jun explained in a bokken class earlier this week how Japanese swords are different than Northern European swords; you have to use kind of a pulling motion to slice through (I would have to demonstrate this physically for it to make sense). I can't believe I never heard this before, or never considered the difference between types of swords and how the way we use the bokken depends on the nature of the instrument. I remember being surprised in a dojo in California when I learned that the jo used to be like ten feet long. What would be really cool for beginning students is a handout on the history of weapons, detailing how the techniques are shaped by this history. Of course, it's probably our responsibility to look that stuff up ourselves. Guess I'll have to add that to my list of research projects...
Other thoughts on pedagogy / the way we learn this art:
People have different learning styles (when I was learning to be a teacher, they taught us about eight "intelligences"); we should actively seek out a way that suits us. I'm a writer, so writing's a big part of my process (hence this journal). I can learn linguistically, but my kinesthetic intelligence is incredibly poor; I can watch somebody do a technique but my body can't figure it out, which is why it's taking me forever to learn aikido. I first started training at Baltimore Aikido, where there was no talking on the mat, and failed miserably at learning; it took a class where we discussed things for me to figure out what was what. So-- maybe we should develop classes that incorporate different learning styles-- verbal, spatial, artistic; discussion groups; scholarly classes... that would be exciting. In my dojo, most beginners drop out within a few months-- of course, aikido's not the path for everyone, but maybe it's because the way we teach doesn't suit their learning style. How accomodating should a dojo be?
I might have said this before, but I think it's important to look at aikido as something we're creating or discovering, rather than something that's Set and now we learn it this way / and I think you can do that without disrespecting O Sensei and what he developed and discovered...