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So after trying to teach atemi, I took a bunch of poor students at my dojo and gave them a class on atemi. I've got such a 'soft and gentle' Aikido reputation that one of our sandans actually scoffed when he heard that I'd taught a class on atemi. "THAT I'd like to see," he said.
At the end of the class I usually ask for questions. Xavier asked, "What are the points to concenrate on when doing atemi." It was a nice question because it let me sum up the points I was trying to make in the class:
Atemi should not interrupt the flow uke's movement
Atemi should be used as a check of positioning and stance
Effective atemi should not rely on the 'respect atemi' agreement between partners. Truly effective atemi commands respect
Effective atemi should not rely on hurting uke. If you can not influence your partner without hurting them then your positioning, stance, timing, or intent need work
These are easy things to say, difficult things to demonstrate, and nigh-on impossible to teach, I think.
It's amazing how ideas that are simple and everyday in one dojo can be revolutionary and inspiring in another. Sunday at Capital District Aikikai is an open-mat day. I showed up hoping just to throw and be thrown. Still, I was the only yudansha and we had a circle of 7 people working techniques and it seemed like people were pretty much following my lead, so I started to turn it into an informal and simple randori class. Now, anyone from my home dojo can vouch for me when I say that my randori is nothing to brag about. Still, we do randori very regularly and start on it from the very beginning, so in my 4 years at the dojo I've at least learned the basics of how we teach it. That was what I brought to the class.
It was a lot of fun helping the students let go of the break that came up for them between one uke and the next and helping them let go of the tendency to get stuck on one uke as they tried to complete a technique. I'm not a big fan of the 'randori as fear inducing threat to high level students.' I like much better the everyday randori-as-meditation. Finding the flow of moving from uke to uke and feeling that you are still at the center and in control is a wonderful and exciting feeling. It was fun to share it.
This isn't the first time I've visited the Capital District Aikikai Dojo in Latham near Albany, NY. It is the first time that I've had a chance to show up for a large, well attended class. Unfortunately, the sensei -- Irv Faust -- didn't show up today, but the man who taught the class did a very nice job. The dojo was welcoming and warm and beautiful. The class was very active and dynamic, and the mix of students was delightful. I'm not used to lining up by rank or to having the group work separate out by rank / willingness to breakfall, and I admit to feeling a little uncomfortable with that. On the other hand, I love the way that the teachers at this dojo give a lot of time for each technique (is that characteristic of Federation dojos?). Combine that with the fact that almost no time is wasted on lengthy explanations and that the techniques usually involve a lot of flowing and movement, and you can get a pretty good work out in during an hour.
The thing I work most on learning when visiting this dojo -- or most other Aikikai dojos I've been in -- is managing to pay attention to the detail of the form and to put aside the tendency to improvise (from ASU) or to cut corners (from Seidokan). This is great practice for me.
I don't teach koshi nage very often: I'm just not all that comfortable with it. Still, yesterday it sort of 'popped up' in the flow of the techniques and I found myself focusing on it. The idea I'd most like to get across when teaching koshi nage is that koshi is continuous with other Aikido techniques. That is, when people go to do a hip throw, they almost always approach it differently than other throws (which may be because we don't do them as often as we should and it may not). I like to show how there is a continuum between a regularly throw and a full koshi, and along the continuum there are different degrees of allowing your hips to unbalance and unweight uke. I find that this is easy to demonstrate, but not always easy for the students to grasp, so I'm still working on it.
I think that small classes are harder to teach than big classes. On Friday, only two people show up, but still 4th kyu and under. Two, I think, is the hardest class size because one person is always just sitting around. It doesn't 'feel' right to run it traditionally: demonstrating and then simply letting the students practice. I almost always work it as a threesome, rotating the technique whenever I feel like it is going smoothly enough. Still, any time I stop to explain things, one person is left just sitting around. That means that the techniques need to be pretty high energy in order to keep the class energy up. On the other hand, with only two people doing a lot of high energy techniques, we all get tired pretty quickly.
In Seidokan, teachers are trained to be very clear about what they want a student to be learning. In ASU, there seems to be less of this. So, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it is that Chuck thinks I need to learn. On Tuesdays class, it seemed like it was the idea of keeping the whole body moving. The two-sword katas are great for teaching this, as they force you to move your hands in opposition to one another and to communicate that to your heaps and feet. I want to learn to visualize my techniques as though I am holding two swords.