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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.
So, here's what happened the first night the anticipated instructor arrived:
The class had been in progress for almost an hour. We had gone through a stretching warm-up and some basic movement exercises (tai no henka, tai no tenkan, etc.) when the new instructor appeared at the door to the dojo dressed for practice. I had not had any contact with him (I'll call him T.C. from here on) before this moment (which I thought was strange). Consequently, I expected that he would come simply to introduce himself and give us all a chance to get to know one another a bit. I did not think he had come to teach - but that was exactly what he intended to do! Without a word of greeting to anyone, he strode out onto the mats and commanded us all to sit in a row in seiza. When we were all seated, T.C. began to apologize for the terrible treatment everyone had been receiving at the hands of senior-ranked people. He assured all of us that such brutality would end that night. During this bizarre speech we were all glancing at one another wondering what in the world he was talking about. Certainly, the new students were looking at me with completely baffled expressions on their faces.
After T.C.'s harangue he proceeded to lead us through another warm-up, spending another fifteen minutes stretching and rolling. At this point I was feeling decidedly irritated. Who the heck did this guy think he was?! No polite introduction; no consideration for the fact that I had been the dojo's instructor;
I trained in S'toon for 3 years and attained the rank of sankyu by the end of that time. Shortly after getting my sankyu rank, life circumstances took me to Winnipeg. I quickly found the Winnipeg Aikikai, a dojo training in the St. James YMCA. The group at the time was headed by a fellow named Eric, who was a rank higher than me. The club had mostly middle-aged guys in it who were used to an easier pace to practice than was the norm in S'toon. Naturally, I trained with the vigor usual to my experience in Aikido the first time I was with these men. I later heard that, as a result, they hoped I wouldn't return. I roughed them up, apparently, though this was not my intent. You see, not only was I learning Aikido but I was also powerlifting, which made for a very "feisty" flavour to my technique. The fellows at the Winnipeg dojo, at least at first, definitely found this style of Aikido an "acquired taste." Nonetheless, they put up with me and allowed me to continue to train with them.
Apart from Eric, I was the only one with a rank higher than gokyu in the dojo. Eric was often away on work-related matters, and so it fell to me as the next highest-ranked person in the dojo to "teach." Eventually, Eric ceased to train altogether and I became the "teacher" by default. Ugh.
I was keenly aware of the inappropriateness of my situation as a sankyu-ranked Aikido instructor but I didn't see how I could avoid it. Suffice it to say, I was extremely insecure in this role and so trie
Here are some things I've been urging my students to observe as they work with each other in our close-quarter, free-style adapted Aikido class:
1. Do not simply evade strikes. Match the whole body movement of your attacker with your own whole body movement before a strike is launched. The feeling should be of breathing your partner in and then breathing him out as he launches an attack and then withdraws it. There is an ebb and flow to an attacker's actions that can be matched and manipulated. When one matches the attacker's rhythm well, it becomes easy to evade his attacks while at the same time opening him to countering actions. Getting the hang of this requires some very slow practice at first.
2. Stay flexible. Rigid, pole-like posture is a detriment to easy, rapid, and adaptive defensive movement. One's body should be like a spring that bends and moves against pressure but without becoming noodly. Often simply bending, twisting, or tilting out of the way of an attack is faster, easier and leaves you in a better position to counter than trying to step or pivot completely out of the way of an attack.
3. Use evasive motions to load energy for strikes and techniques. If you bend or twist your torso to evade a strike, use that bending or twisting to wind up energy for a counter. Also, often twisting away from an attack brings one arm back but the other arm forward -- to strike.
Some food for thought, eh? Play around with these things and see what you can
I had three primary teachers when I started Aikido: Mel M., Peter C., and Don R.. They rotated through the role of teacher fairly regularly, but Mel ended up being the one who taught most often. He was a high school teacher, which meant he was particularly able in making Aikido accessible to my fellow students and me. Looking back, I realize he had a rather scattered approach to training, always incorporating something new he'd read or seen about Aikido into our practice. As a result, classes with Mel often had an experimental feel to them. I did very much enjoy Mel and his training methods, however - especially his constant searching for new knowledge, for new ways of approaching Aikido training.
Peter was markedly different in his teaching style. He moved stiffly, I remember, and his technique was uncomfortable to take as a consequence. He was also less easy than Mel in the role of teacher. His training style was very consistent, however, and so we were able to learn the basics of Aikido movement and technique from him quite quickly. He wasn't inventive or adventurous like Mel, but he did offer a structure in training that greatly facilitated the development of our Aikido.
Don only taught once, maybe twice a week (and sometimes less) even though he was the chief instructor of the dojo. I most appreciated Don's eagerness to practice hard. Although we trained very vigorously with him, there was never a sense that he was wanting to hurt us or that he had something to