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Carry Tiger 10-17-2002 01:10 PM

learning aikido & tai chi
I started my study of akido this January and am really enjoying the atmosphere of the dojo, the sensei and my fellow classmates. Since I am a relative newcomer, and have only attended this one dojo, a question arises regarding the teaching of waza. Prior to embarking on the "do", I spent many years learning tai chi. In my experience, tai chi is aquired in a linear fashion, taught piecemeal then placed together into the particular form you study (yang long form, sword form, forms 24, 42, etc.) There tends to be considerable repetition in the learning, taking the form apart and studying the pieces. This gives on a sense of appreciation for the entire form and enables the eventual practice of the total form without "thinking" about the component moves. Tai chi is seemingly taught in a linear context.

Aikido is more of a matrix to me. There is an given attack, to which a given counter may take many forms. I appreciate the complexity of this and find it quite appealing. It is also very daunting. I add here that my class meets twice weekly. We tend not to practice with repetition as the basis for learning. Sure, Sensei demonstrates the technique several times for the practitioners to view. However, we practice this for a few minutes before Sensei moves us on to a variation, then a variation of the variation, etc. If you miss the fundamentals then you find yourself confused, frustrated, or worst of all faking the move with speed as your cloak.

So here's the question: Is this the method for teaching aikido? Is it my Sensei, who is very accomplished and gentle in his teaching?
Is it me? (I would never approach Sensei and ask him to reformat the class structure.) I know practice would be a good solution, but that presents another problem because most of my classmates can only make the dojo twice a week at best.

Please advise.

Regards: Carry Tiger

opherdonchin 10-17-2002 03:35 PM

Hi and welcome to AiKiDo,

I went the other way, taking up Tai Chi after several years of AiKiDo. I'd say that what you describe is fairly standard in many schools of AiKiDo. Some of them emphasize pedagogical technique explicitly, but most of the places I've been the instructors just sort of demonstrates or 'teaches' whatever is on their mind that day or that week.

Perhaps one of the reasons this works is that, fundamentally, there really is not all that much material to be learned. I haven't 'studied' as much as a lot of people around here seem to have, so I'm not sure that I really know how to break down AiKiDo into a bunch of component elements and examine them individually, but in general there aren't a lot of them. Just a couple of days ago, I was visiting Irene Wellington's dojo in Saint Louis and she said: "tenkan and irime; that's basically all the footwork we have in AiKiDo." The number of attacks is, of course, very limited and from each attack you can do more or less any of the 'techniques.' On top of that, each place I've visited has a few basic techniques that seem to show up in every other class, so at least some of the variations start to look very familiar very quickly.

The real question is why it's taught this way. Of course, I have no real clue. It just always is. I like it because it seems to help me learn through my body more than through my mind. It helps me understand the idea that there are many different connections between the different techniques, and to see how they connect up in the teachers mind by watching the flow of the ideas through the class.

Of course, maybe I'm just being knee-jerk conservative about how I learned it ...

Carry Tiger 10-17-2002 03:49 PM

Thanks for the insight! I understand there to be a few "basic techniques", but at this point in my pursuit of aikido, they still seem numerous. We typically have a rondori at the end of each class as a means for the participants to demonstrate their understanding of the techniques and variations. This is where I get the most frustrated as I repeat the same thing over and over, not showing a grasp (no pun intended) of the day's teachings.

Thanks again for your assistance.

Carry Tiger (a tai chi posture actually called "carry tiger to mountain")

Kat.C 10-17-2002 03:55 PM

Can't you ask your sensei for help while you are practising? He'd most likely demonstrate the technique for you again, probably using your partner, or talk you through it. Using speed to cover up that you're confused seems to me to be self defeating. When I get confused this is what I do or I ask my partner or I just watch someone else next to me.

Aristeia 10-17-2002 09:10 PM

You're pretty much on the money describing it as a matrix. Like alot of matrices it looks complicated at the start but once you start to make sense of it it's alot easier.

I can clearly remember the light dawning as I stopped trying to think of say, yokomen uchi shiho nage as a distinct technique. Instead realising that there were 3 or 4 ways to recieve a yokomen attack, and that you could pick which technique to tack on the end. In otherwords, you'll get to the stage where you're familiar with a technique and just need to learn how to "get it started" from a particular attack. Enjoy it while you can, I can also remember how sad I was when I realised I'd now seen all of the basic techniques.

You will find it is still repetition just spread out wider. One of the things that attracted me to Aikido was the fact that different stuff wasn't taught to different experience levels, everyone learns the same thing. That may be the nature of the practice I guess, arts which are based on alot of forms and solo technique (eg, working on your front snap kick in a line with 5 others) you can group the beginners together. In Aikido and I'd venture similar arts (say Judo), if you have beginners training together they basically stand there looking at each other trying to figure out what to do.

If you're struggling, the best thing you can do is every time you train a technique, make sure your partner is the highest grade you can possibly get your hands on. Don't be shy about rushing over to nab them when it's time to partner up. You'll learn a heap faster. Trust me it won't be that long before you start seeing the commonalities in the techniques, often you can do 5 or 6 techniques in a class but have spent the whole time working on the one principal.

G DiPierro 10-17-2002 09:38 PM

Re: learning aikido & tai chi

David Fisher wrote:
Sure, Sensei demonstrates the technique several times for the practitioners to view. However, we practice this for a few minutes before Sensei moves us on to a variation, then a variation of the variation, etc. ... Is this the method for teaching aikido? Is it my Sensei, who is very accomplished and gentle in his teaching?

Is it me? (I would never approach Sensei and ask him to reformat the class structure.) I know practice would be a good solution, but that presents another problem because most of my classmates can only make the dojo twice a week at best.

David, you are in a difficult situation. Your teacher's method is one possible way of teaching. Aikido, with the occasional exception of a beginners course, is normally not taught in a linear manner. You just go and learn what you can from whatever is being taught that day. There is a great variation among teachers. Some will teach three techniques in an hour, some will teach 15 or 20. Some just show the technique a few times and then let you practice it and others explain it in detail, tell stories, and just prattle on for a while. It's all a matter of personal style and philosophy.

The reason it's difficult for you is that, as a beginner, you don't yet know the basics well enough to follow the variations. That's why most dojos either have a seperate beginners class or at least distinct basic and advanced classes. But if you only have two classes a week, you'll just to have make do with the instruction available to you. If you are really having difficulty, talk to your teacher about it. Even if he does nothing, at least you will know that he knows you are having trouble. Sometimes you just have to operate on the assumption that he won't know if you don't tell him.

Aristeia 10-17-2002 10:00 PM

Just thought of another thing. If you're getting alot of classes along the lines of "here's a techique, here's a variation on that technique, here's a variation on the variation...." etc. most teachers won't have a problem with you just training the first, core technique for the bulk of the class.

Kevin Wilbanks 10-17-2002 11:09 PM

If you have an analytical mind, it may help you to systematically break down all the possibilities. I have done this before to some extent - writing them out in a notebook. I know some people with drawing skills who have done this along with nice overhead-view illustrations.

If you want to be analytical, or taxonomical, it's basically a process of dividing a mass of information into parts and those parts into more parts. The usefulness of your taxonomy is largely a function of how well you make the first cut.

Right now you've got an unorganized morass of techniques and variations and attacks. Where to make the cut? I decided to start with the attacks, because that's what happens first. There aren't that many traditional attacks (coincidence? accident?). So I started out with






Then I identified every directional response to each attack, since that's the first thing I do. So for Shomenuchi, there is going straight in to the front preemptively, out of which proliferates go-for-the-chin irimi, and the whole ikkyo, nikkyo, sankyo... series. There's going in to the back, which begets irimi nage variations. There's a tenkan response, which would give way to subcategories, depending upon whether your arm is over, under, or beside theirs... You get the idea. Perhaps it's only something you could do with more experience.

Another possibility would be to get yourself some index cards. At the end of each class, write the name of each attack plus technique on its own card, and leave the back for notes. You could accumulate the cards and decide how to organize them later.

How much energy you want to spend on this kind of thing depends upon assessing how important your intellectualizing faculty is to you and your learning. On the one hand it might make you more comfortable, on the other, it might end up being a dead end. Maybe you would be better off just dealing with the uncertainty, trying to do what you see in class, and not worrying about trying to make sense of it.

I went through my analytical process in preparation for a test. I knew there was jiyu waza from a moving ushiro attack and a shomenuchi attack, so I went over dozens of baroque taxonomized variations I planned to run through. When the test came, I think I looked overqualified enough up until that point that a couple of heavy hitters came up for ukemi, with the idea of really pushing me. Their attacks were so serious that all my baroque variations went out the window and I had to act from a more 'instinctive' place. I think one was really attempting to embarass me. Anyway, it turned out well. I didn't get to use most of my carefully developed taxonomy of techniques. Whether the process was of any use I don't know.

gasman 10-18-2002 03:49 AM

hiya Tiger

I had also studied tai chi before i took up aikido. actually, i took up aikido because i could find no good tai chi classes in my area after moving back home from abroad. i am quite happy with this choice, i found that the one aids the other, and i still remember my long form tai chi so i can do that at home.

i noticed the same as you, although our beginners class (up until the first grading) was fairly linear and syllabus oriented, i found that after we joined ordinary classes the teaching style was more or less like you described.

we have the syllabus for our next gradings pinned on the wall and it is our own responsibility to memorise them and to learn them, that means that we have to "nag" :) the sensei to show us. usually he puts aside 15 minutes at the end for syllabus training.

A grade syllabus usually consists of 5-6 techniques. Memorising the names helped me greatly.

whilst the matrix of aikido appears complex at first, there are only 5 basic techniques that i am being taught at the moment. variations are countless though, but i find that this style of teaching keeps me sharp and aware. after about 2 years of training i have now a grasp of it and can follow most of the new techniques i am being shown, BECAUSE i have done so many variations.

and, as mentioned, there is system in the chaos.

time, man.. time.

grasping the birds tail,


JJF 10-18-2002 05:04 AM

The day before yesterday we did allmost nothing but Ikkyo the full two hours. I guess we did about 12 variations including to-sabaki, ken-tai-jo and ken-tai-ken variations (AFAIK something quite specific for Nishio-inspired aikido). A few weeks ago the same teacher gave a class where we did half the 3. kyu grading curriculum which is about 10 techniques - some of them in a few different variations. Other times we practice nothing but one attack and then different techniques in response to this.

For the first couple of years I just 'went along with it' and tried to enjoy myself and get a hold of how it's supposed to 'feel'. But lately I have had a few 'eye-openers' where I suddenly realise how some things are related - a bit like what Michael desribes in his post - I've had one with the concepts of Irimi and Tenkan, I've had one with Omote/ura, I've had a few regarding the practice with bokken, iaito and jo and I've had one regarding irmi-variations in shomenuchi (after a Shishiya seminar in Kiel :)).

In my opinion these 'realisations' are part of what makes Aikido so great. At the same time things suddenly seem so utterly simple and yet so entirely complex. It's mindboggeling. I guess that's why I enjoy practice so much since each time I go to the dojo every little thing that bugs me from my everyday life is pushed out of my mind to leave space for all these wonderful new discorveries. And when I get back to reality, I have so much more energy to put into my life, chores and work.

Enough rambling. The answer to the orignal question is: Yes! That's pretty much the way it is - and no! It's never EXACTLY like that ;)

Ghost Fox 10-18-2002 06:58 AM

Re: learning aikido & tai chi
[quote="David Fisher (Carry Tiger)"

...We tend not to practice with repetition as the basis for learning. Sure, Sensei demonstrates the technique several times for the practitioners to view. However, we practice this for a few minutes before Sensei moves us on to a variation, then a variation of the variation, etc. If you miss the fundamentals then you find yourself confused, frustrated, or worst of all faking the move with speed as your cloak.

So here's the question: Is this the method for teaching aikido? Is it my Sensei, who is very accomplished and gentle in his teaching?Is it me?[/QUOTE]IMHO:rolleyes:

I might be just talking out of my ass :blush: here but aikido is taught that way because it is not linear and not subject to left brain segregative thinking. If a teacher allows you too much time on a particular technique it's human nature to try to segregate the technique into basic components. Now instead of practicing a technique with your complete Being part of your consciousness/energy is divided into rationalizing the movements, and you're no longer practicing aikido and flowing.

In a perfect world during class you should be only analyzing the waza when Sensei demostrates it in front of the class and then when you practice with your partner you just do it. After class you can review what you've learned in your minds eye and try to soldify your intellectual grasp on a technique.

Aikdio is intuitve and flowing, trust the technique, trust yourself.

Peace and Blessings.

:triangle: :circle: :square:

Carry Tiger 10-18-2002 08:04 AM

Many excellent ideas, in particular the diagraming of techniques. My professional training is in a field which affords me the luxury of being able to draw. I sketch the initiation of the attack and the basic responses. Not as sophisticated as the book "Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere", but something in the generation of the drawings forms a memory for the possibilities.

Everyone who responds to my inquiry becomes a part of the community I've found to exist in aikido. A group of like minded individuals who seem to have a sensitivity toward life that sets them apart from the rest. This is not what I expected when I started aikido, but what I've found by serendipity to be the case.

Carry Tiger

opherdonchin 10-18-2002 10:32 AM

I originally 'grew up' in Seidokan. There, our first (5th kyu) test required simply that we 'demonstrate one technique from each of the following attacks: katate dori, katate kosa dori, ryo katate dori, ryo te muchi, kata dori, ryo kata dori, shomen uchi, yokomen uchi, munets ski, and an ushiro attack of choice.' Each student was allowed to select the techniques he or she felt most comfortable with, and the tests were always an interesting exercise in individual expression. (Subsequent tests just required that you demonstrate two, three, four, etc. techniques from the same attacks.) The interesting thing is that it forced you, at the level of 5th kyu, to put order into your understanding.

In general, the structure of AiKiDo is that there is a limited number of attacks and a limited number of techniques and then different ways of connecting each attack to each technique. Thus, you can get a lot 'conscious understanding' mileage by asking yourself "how do I get from attack X to technique Y." If you can answer this question for all X and Y, you have internalized a lot of the structure. I didn't get there until well past 2nd kyu, and sometimes I wonder if I'm there yet.

When watching demonstrations, this is what you probably want to watch for. First, decide what the attack was. Then, decide what the technique was (Sometimes this is hard than it might seem). Finally, and this is the tricky part, how did the sensei get from X to Y. For that question, the most useful sub-questions involve the legs and hips. Specifically, what steps did he/she take and and which walls was he/she facing. In all, this may not be more than 5 things to remember after you stand up. That may be too much, of course. Like someone else said, make sure you work with advanced students.

As far as randori goes: don't try to do techniques; don't worry about doing the same thing over and over again. Treat it like an extended pushing hands where you are just interested in sensing and feeling your partners and not in making them fall down. The falling part and the techniques will happen on their own, or else they won't but who cares.

Sorry to prattle on.

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