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I teach Aikido at a small dojo in Winnipeg, Canada. Been doing so for many years now. This blog is just a collection of ruminations on teaching, descriptions of the events of daily practice, and the occasional funny story.
No, this ain't about Bruce Lee. Its about my senior female student, Jamie. First time I spoke to Jamie it was over the phone. She was inquiring about practice and I told her it was just a bunch of sweaty guys with whom she'd be training. Didn't phase her one bit. Without missing a beat she said, "So when can I start?" Its been sorta' like that with Jamie ever since.
Jamie's on the small side, but is absolutely determined not to let that be a disadvantage. Like Jeremy, she's a perfectionist and gets frustrated fairly easily. Its been a concern to me to see that her drive for excellence sometimes makes her very unhappy, but if she trains right I'm sure balance will come to her in this area, too. Lately, I've felt her moving with a solidity and strength that one would not expect from someone her size. Its very gratifying as a teacher to see this happening.
Jamie's usually wearing her hair in a ponytail during practice, which she uses to whip her attackers in the face. She says this happens purely by accident. Uh huh, riiiight. Imagine our concern when she shows up with her hair in two ponytails! (I'll have to say something if she starts tying little bits of stone or glass to the ends of them...)
Jamie really enjoys randori. If she gets the new video clips ready sometime soon (ahem, cough, cough) you can see her do her thing. During demos we get quite a reaction from the crowd when this little filipino woman starts planting people into the mat. She turns into this
So I had my students work on balance last night. We did a few rooting exercises and then spent the remainder of the night studying how a person can be made to lose their balance. I just had one of a pair stand, feet square, knees slightly bent and working in place to keep balanced. The other of the pair could do anything they liked to make their partner lose balance - but only with a single point of contact and with no abrupt force. We moved on to balance-taking with two points of contact and then three. Finally, I allowed the one being unbalanced to step about to maintain balance. We worked slowly, studying how to find that off-balancing angle or action that prevented any corrective steps or body shifts or that used these corrective steps or shifts to further bind the person and take their balance.
This practice was totally principle-oriented. I showed my students no particular technique whereby they could take their partner's balance and urged them to resist using actual aikido technique to do so. I asked them to be very creative about how they applied the principles of balance-taking. I think my students were both fascinated and frustrated by this challenge. Often, they would be moving along the right line, but at not quite the right angle. If their initial effort didn't induce their partner to lose balance, though, they would simply stop the action entirely and start again. I had to encourage them to feel out their action thoroughly and see if small shifts in its dir
Attendance has been ebbing these days rather than flowing. The upside of this is that I can give much more concentrated attention to the few who show up, which I think they appreciate. The downside is that it kinda' takes the wind out of my sails to have been running a dojo for so long and still find myself clawing and scraping for students.
Speaking of which, I have had some very odd would-be students at my dojo. One fellow, for example, showed up, watched a class and then began to query me enthusiastically about training. After I had answered his many questions, he then says, "Oh, actually, I should tell you that I've had torn retinas and can't bump my head or jar my body. If I do, they might tear again and then I'd be blind." I remember staring at him and thinking, "Well what in the world are you doing here?!" I mean, really, does a fingerless person take up typing? Does a blind person take up photography? Needless to say, the fellow never joined the dojo.
This keeps happening, though. I've had people with bad backs observe class and then explain that they'd like to train but they can't twist their torso, or bend their back, and falling is absolutely out of the question. I wonder if these same folk think deaf people should tune pianos?
There are also those people who ask, "What if I can only train once a week or maybe only a couple of times a month? Is that okay?" I always tell them "Sure, if you don't mind seeing people who start years after you, but who tr
Well, we had a visitor from another CAF dojo in Saskatoon show up for practice last night. It was interesting to see how this yudansha was doing his aikido. It was, in some respects, rather different than the way I do things. We were practicing yokomenuchi shihonage (omote and ura) last night so my observations are only about this technique. I usually begin the cut down at the end of shihonage with hands, head, hips and feet all in a line -- just as when holding and cutting with a sword. This fellow, though, using only one hand, would bring uke's hand over his head and with a strong, casting-forward action, cut uke's arm down to the mat. Didn't really see any sword-like cutting motion at all in his form, so I'm not sure about the rationale behind this style of execution of shihonage...
The visitor had been a professional coach for many years and I think it was hard for him not to fall into that role with my students. A couple of times when I was offering instruction to one of my students (with whom he was working), he chimed in and offered his own advice! Raised my eyebrows, I can tell you. He wasn't going overboard with the shadow teaching thing, and I didn't want to embarrass him, so I waited until the end of class to privately encourage him not to assume an unappointed teaching role in someone else's dojo. He's a very decent fellow and didn't get all up-in-arms when I explained to him why I didn't appreciate shadow teaching in my dojo. He recognized the validity of wha
It was a regular Tuesday night practice -- again. We worked through a series of two-man exercises emphasizing relaxation, soft contact, energy connection, and taking uke's center by moving through it. We didn't have our mats available to us, so we didn't do any vigorous classical Aikido throwing.
Here's a few of the exercises that we did:
1. Facing each other squarely, uke, with only one hand, pushes nage 3 times. Nage, without moving backward, slips the pushes with body movement and placement and moves through uke's center. No hands allowed on nage's part. Gotta' stay really relaxed in the upper body and work the angles on this one!
2. Same as before only this time as nage slips the pushes he/she must strike uke. Nage is still moving through uke's center. Lots of timing work, multi-tasking, and striking at angles with this one. Often, attempting to strike uke causes tension in nage, which makes slipping the pushes more difficult. A big part of the challenge of this exercise is to stay relaxed even when delivering a strike.
3. This time uke is actually striking nage from any angle (slowly, at first). Nage may use hands to strike, or to trap uke's striking arm, and legs to trip or sweep uke's legs. Nage must not retreat.
I often give the following instructions to my students:
We are not fighting. We are learning how to fight. There is a significant difference. When you are working with your partner, you are not trying to make your partner fail; you are
So, Jeremy, along with Jamie, is my senior-most student. He's a professional trombone player for the Winnipeg Air Command Band (which is part of the military). He does a fair amount of jazz playing, too. Jeremy is a tall fellow (about 6'3"), but not a big one (he's just under 200lbs.). He's in his early thirties, and nearing his black belt rank, which means he's eager to fling and fly in practice.
I think Jeremy is something of a perfectionist, which probably stands him in good stead as a musician. As a martial artist, however, his perfectionism seems to make him relatively easily frustrated. Mind you, he used to get frustrated at the drop of hat when he started with me; he's considerably milder now. These days, when he gets upset, his face flushes red, his brow furrows and he purses his lips tightly (which you really notice on a guy who plays the trombone for a living), but there isn't the muttered cursing and angry slapping of his thighs like there once was.
Jeremy's coming along very well as an aikidoka. He'll make a very competent black belt. When he uses his length well, his technique feels like he might throw you right out of the dojo!
The one unfortunate thing about his having to train at my dojo is that everyone he's working with is shorter. Jeremy already unconsciously shrinks himself in his movements, and when he's practicing with someone like Jamie, who is only a little over five feet tall, he sometimes has to condense himself so much that, as I watch
I wrote a bit about Jim, the oldest member of my dojo, in my last entry, so I thought I'd continue with the introductions by writing about Gary, the second oldest member of the dojo.
First off, Gary is Irish. This means, of course, he has a very ready and very witty sense of humour (Jim has a sense of humor, too, but its dry as a box of soda crackers). It also means he's gregarious, has a bit of a temper (tho' of the passive-aggressive sort), and has a very independent mind. Gary's always thinking things through, asking questions and making observations. He likes the "why" of things, as well as the "how."
Gary has the amusing habit of talking his way through the performance of a technique. He often works through technique muttering, "So now I want to do this...and then go like this... and then..." Of course, when he's doing this he's moving at a speed that allows it. When things go faster, he makes up for being unable to say anything with some really remarkable faces. His very mobile Irish features make for some astonishing facial configurations!
Practicing with Gary is always enjoyable. He works hard, studies what he's doing, but still manages to have some fun, too. Who cares that he sweats more than a sauna full of football players.
I have an interesting bunch of people with whom I train. I've taught Aikido to folks from all walks of life: welders, security guards, doctors, business men, students, musicians (a lot of these), soldiers, policemen, housewives, general labourers, etc. etc. Presently, I teach Aikido to a fairly diverse group ranging from a sixty-something Phd. in clinical psychology to a twenty-year-old auto-glass installer.
Jim, the retired-teacher-turned-clinical-psychologist is the oldest member of my dojo. He began his study of Aikido with an independent dojo - a sort of off-shoot of Ki Aikido. He trained there for a dozen years (I think) and reached the rank of nidan. Unfortunately, the dojo shrank to nothing and Jim found himself looking elsewhere to train. Eventually, Jim found my dojo and began to train with me. He's been with me for a number of years now (Five or six? I'm not sure...) and has been nothing but a boon to the dojo.
The transition from what Jim knew as Aikido to what I was teaching was...significant. Let's just say my style of Aikido was more "gritty." Anyway, Jim has stuck with me, endured the re-orientation of his Aikido, and is now a core member of my dojo. He's never quite lost the Ki Aikido-ish way of moving - a hopping, swinging, weight-underside style of action - but I don't really expect him to.
One of the things about Jim that stands out in my mind is his habit of dropping to his knees when he's put off balance. I mean, he drops straight down. Not for
Nothing much to comment on regarding class. The usual sort of practice: Suwari waza (shomenuchi nikyo), tachi waza (shomenuchi irminage) and little zesty sprinkling of jiyu waza to finish things off.
Its fun for me to occasionally demonstrate directly to new students what is possible if they'll persist with training. The newbie, Jeret, was doing his usual katatetori shihonage (which he's been doing each night since he started a couple of weeks ago) and looking a little bored. So, I interrupted his practice and had him grab me katatetori as strongly as he could. He was a little tentative at first, but after some urging from me he began to grab my wrist very aggressively. I did with him the same technique he's been practicing the last few weeks. Of course, I've had a bit more practice at it, so I did it a little differently than he does. I gave him a soft version of shihonage and the look of surprise and bemusement on his face as he fell to the floor made me grin. By the time I was finished throwing him he was breathing hard, but with a big smile on his face. Most importantly, he didn't look bored when he returned to his practice of katatetori shihonage.
Well, they say brevity is a sign of genius, so, for now, I'll write no more.
It was just the older guys and the newbie tonight. So, instead of a night of thrashing and pounding I slowed things way down and had my students practice a series of opening tai sabaki against yokomenuchi for the entire class. I think the older guys appreciated this brief respite from the usual vigor of practice. I think they also liked the depth to which I went in explaining the mechanics of the various sabaki -- except maybe the new guy, Jeret. At one point, he asked, "Can I punch him now?" with such a note of hopefulness in his voice that I chuckled a bit. I think he felt some of the fun of practice was gone when no one was being hit or flung to the mat.
I've noticed that people have their own particular practice habits on the mat. For instance, last night after each time I interrupted the older guys to explain something, they always resumed their practice with more or less the same exchange:
"Um...whose turn is it?"
"Yours, I think."
"Really? I thought it was your turn now."
"Hmmm...maybe...No, I think you've got a couple of reps left."
"Oh, okay. Did we do the left side last?"
"Yeah, er, no, it was the right."
"Right? The right side?"
"Right, then. Okay."
And so on.
They also had this strange "stance dance" that appeared to be part of their lets-resume-practice ritual. They'd both get into gyaku-hanmi and simultaneously realize they ought to be in ai-hanmi. So, they'd both switch stances and find themselves ag