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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.
Ha hah! The Ikkyu Curse has finally been broken! I now have two Ikkyu-ranked students in my dojo! Took bloody long enough! (No fault of my students, of course) I have come very close in the past to having students ranked to this level, but one of them contracted a heart infection that ended up requiring five open heart surgeries to remedy and the other fell in love and moved to the States. The nerve of these guys, eh? What happened to these two produced the "Ikkyu Curse": A half-joking, half-serious, superstitious idea that attempting to obtain the rank of Ikkyu in my dojo would be prevented by injury or some significant life change. Well, nuts to that! Jamie and Jeremy have just put that superstition finally and permanently to rest.
Since turning forty (I'm forty-one now) my body has begun to complain about my past hard use of it. I used to powerlift and did a lot of slam-bang Aikido practice when I was younger. I herniated a disc (L5-S1) in my early thirties and damaged my left shoulder rotator tendons pretty badly five years ago. I also sustained a mid-spine injury (just below my shoulder blades) from a heavy squat gone awry when I was in my early twenties. Until recently, this old injury hasn't bothered me a bit. Now, however, its giving me some grief.
I mention all this because I had to take ukemi for Jeremy's Ikkyu test. I have taken pains to maintain as much limberness as possible, but, regardless, my ukemi is not what it once was. Prior to his test, Jerem
At the end of class tonight I had my students practice evading shomenuchi from multiple attackers (3 this time). I wanted them to work mainly on evasion and body movement rather than on applying a particular technique. This is pretty straightforward stuff and didn't require having any skill with Aikido techniques, so I let even the new student (first time tonight) have a go at it. He was ducking and dodging as new people do and getting hit quite a lot. At one point, the action passed by where I was sitting in seiza. In an attempt to avoid getting hit, the new guy lunged and ducked sideways so sharply that he completely lost balance and ended up sitting on me! Ha! I saw him coming and got my arms up so that he came to rest on them almost as though he were sitting in a chair. Still sitting on my arms, he looked around at me in surprise and then, abruptly, stood up. We all had a good chuckle. I've been bopped and poked, smacked and wrenched doing Aikido, but I've never had anyone sit on me before!
Since we had a couple of new people in the dojo, I was, once again, teaching katate-tori shihonage. I was thinking about how many times I've actually taught this technique and, roughly estimating, realized that it was over a thousand times. I have to be careful, consequently, not to become robotic about how I teach this technique. I tried to remember what it was like for me when I first tried to do shihonage. Recalling the excitement and fascination I had with it so many years
I had a bit of a strange thing happen at practice tonight. A young fellow showed up to check out a class. Nothing strange about this, of course. It was what happened between myself and this young man after class that was, well, odd. When the class was concluded, I approached the young fellow and asked him if he had any questions or concerns. To my surprise he responded by saying, "Well, I don't want to correct the sensei after my first class but..." I kept a smile on my face, but I was thinking, "This guy's got a lot of nerve! If he offers a correction on my Aikido technique things are gonna' get ugly!" He continued, "...your pronunciation was wrong. Its 'shichi' and 'kyu,' not 'shi' and 'ku.' He was referring to my pronunciation of '4' and '9' in japanese. I wasn't sure whether to be irritated or amused. I went with amused. "Well, I don't really fuss about it," I said, "I'm a Canadian, not japanese, and not too concerned about how well I pronounce japanese terms." The young fellow grinned, made some conciliatory noises and moved the conversation to a different topic.
I'm still a little baffled by this young man's criticism. I mean, what a way to introduce yourself to someone - especially a martial arts teacher from whom you wish to learn! My shihan would have thought such a fellow extremely rude and flatly refused to teach him. Ah, well. I'll see how things go. An odd beginning, though, don't you think? Sheesh.
I have a new student at the dojo who has come from a fair amount of training in striking arts. I think he said he'd done kung fu, boxing, and karate. Anyhow, watching him move reminds me once again of the benefits of learning a martial art that focuses on building a solid base. He has light, fast hands and a bounciness to his movement that one would expect from a striker, but virtually no root. The thing is, although he can strike quickly, his striking has no deep power. I can see clearly that his punching power originates from the shoulder and tricep. He has a complete disconnect from his hips, which astonishes me since he claims to have quite a bit of martial training. This guy is not unique, however. I had an Isshin Ryu karate instructor practice with me for a time who told me he had never been shown how to punch from the hip until he came to my dojo.
Speaking of hips and root and power, I've been thinking about, and experimenting with, how to transfer loads through my body. This, I believe, is key to having a solid base and becoming immoveable. I used to think that one gripped the ground somehow with mental intent, bent the knees, widened the stance and physically resisted an attacker's force, but no longer. As I ponder and attempt to employ the principle of tensegrity within myself, fine-tune body posture, transfer and bear loads efficiently, and learn to get out of my own way physically, I am beginning to feel more "rooted." I have fiddled with some Feldenkrais stu
I have had the opportunity - many times - over the years to field inquiries about practice at my dojo. Generally, they are the same sorts of inquiries: How much? How often can I practice? Do I need a gi in order to start training? And so on. Usually, the inquiries are brief, to the point, and involve only one or two exchanges.
Frequently, a potential student will make initial inquiries, establish a time at which they intend to come to the dojo, and then not show up. Okay. Happens a lot. No big deal. But then there is a new e-mail from the absent, wanna-be aikidoka; one that apologizes for not coming and expresses a deep desire to want to show up for practice soon. Time passes and this would-be student still doesn't appear. In his place, however, another e-mail appears. It contains more apologies and new proclamations of intent to train. Nonetheless, he remains absent.
I've often tried to make sense of such people. Probably, I shouldn't bother. It just seems so odd to me, though, to go through such a lot of apologizing and promising for nothing. Usually, people come to watch a class, realize they don't want to do it, lie to my face about how they thought what they'd seen was "neat" or "impressive," even ask how to join, and I never see them again. I don't much care for the polite lying, but I do prefer this approach to the protracted one I've described above.
Anyway, can I encourage anyone who is reading this and considering joining a dojo to not make overtures tow
The first time I tried randori I was just third kyu. For some of you that may seem a bit early for randori; for others of you it may seem a little late. In any case, the first time I tried to do randori I had only the sketchiest idea of what it involved. What I had grasped of the concept and practice intrigued me and I was hell-bent to give it a try.
I showed up to practice one day not long after discovering randori and found that I was the senior person on the mats. It fell to me to "lead" the class, which I did, straight into randori. I think part of me was itching to see if my Aikido actually worked, so I didn't put much in the way of restrictions on how randori played out. Basically, as I understood it at the time, randori was more or less a sparring match. The attackers attacked as they liked, and the defender defended with Aikido technique until he could no longer do so. Remember now, I was only third kyu and had never done anything like this before. Unfortunately, my fellow students had fairly extensive training in other martial arts like tae kwon do, karate, and kick-boxing. Consequently, I got a royal beating. I fractured a couple of molars (It took two bottles of 222's and a week and a half for the pain from my molars to subside), developed some lovely bruises on my ribs, and lumps on my face. To add insult to injury, I never managed to actually throw anyone!
I learned alot from the experience, however. There's nothing like this sort of a reality check to ma
Lisa is another one of my most dedicated students. She's been around for awhile now fairly consistently. She works hard and enjoys her time on the mats - mostly.
Lisa's not got what I would call a robust frame. In fact, she's rather...slender. Lisa's not short, though, and has, actually, surprisingly long arms, which reach out and "touch" you during atemi practice with an extension one does not quite expect.
Lisa's unnaturally flexible (as far as I'm concerned) and relaxed. I'm not sure she could be tense if she tried. This lack of tension makes her alot of fun to throw, however. I can toss her with a fair amount of power and she just kinda' bends like a sapling in the wind and absorbs it.
Lisa's a really mild person, which is her only shortcoming on the mats. She is timid and careful when she should be strong and assertive (in the performance of technique, I mean). I don't know how many times I've heard an unnecessary apology escape her lips during training. In fact, Lisa is so mild - even when she punches at me - that I sometimes get hit by her. I just don't perceive any threat in her attack and so sometimes when her arm very peaceably stretches out and puts her fist ever so kindly in my eye I find myself surprised (and feeling just a little betrayed ).
I'm going to be very opinionated in this blog entry.
I just watched a high-ranked aikido teacher (8th dan, I believe) doing some no-touch "throwing" on YouTube. Naturally, I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. The students were flinging themselves in massive, flipping arcs through the air in response to small waving motions from the sensei. I would've laughed at this demonstration if it didn't make Aikido look so bad.
I watched a vid clip on YouTube of a "ki master" doing similar things with his students.
This guy would wave his arms around and his students would leap through the air, or they'd jerk and writhe on the ground in response to the smallest movement from their teacher. I later saw the same "ki master" in another vid clip knocked on his butt and humiliated by a young kick boxer. This "ki master" lasted about a minute (if that) before his little fantasy world of ki mastery was brought to a humiliating end.
I think this needs to happen to some of the senior Aikido teachers I see representing the art in the same way as this "ki master." I think having a few of the big names in Aikido actually prove their Aikido works (or not) against a genuine challenge would be extremely good for the art. Much of the nonsense that has found its way into Aikido would be removed by this vigorous "process of elimination."
(For those of you who have seen clips of Osensei doin
I had my students working on close-quarter striking and defense last night. Here's some of what I told my students:
1. Whether you're attacking or defending, plan ahead (or, at least, don't get attached to what you're doing).
I've noticed that a student who is brand new to randori will focus entirely upon what they are doing at the moment. By this I mean that every action totally absorbs the student's attention until it is completed. If attackers are attacking en masse, one doesn't have the time to observe the full result of one's actions. One must meet the attack, join with it, lead it, and then let it go. This all has to happen seamlessly and quickly without attachment to the end result. The more concerned one is about how one's defensive action has affected the attacker, the less attention they are able to give to the next oncoming attacker. In this condition one is rapidly overcome.
Likewise, when one is defending at close-quarters against, and counter-attacking with, strikes, one must not choose one's next move after the present one is complete. One must, in the midst of deflecting one blow, be choosing and delivering the counter-attack. Actually, one can, to a certain degree, anticipate and even order how one's opponent defends. In so doing one can, in a sense, force one's opponent to open up for an attack (in Aikido we'd say "lead" rather than "force"). But one must multi-task, defending and attacking together, without strong interest in the result of any
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