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BacktoAikido 06-05-2009 06:57 PM

Giving Advice

I just started training again (and posting here) after an absence of many years, and I am having a hard time negotiating one thing about my new dojo's culture. Everyone gives a lot of verbal advice. A lot. Lots of talking on the mat.

I definitely need guidance. I am super rusty, keep falling on my tailbone, can't consistently tell right from left, or which side I should be attacking, or whether to go omote or ura. But while my last dojo was not rigid about no talking, there was a culture of thinking before offering advice, and trying to stick to non-verbal advice. There were benefits to this. It made it a lot easier for me to keep my own mouth shut about my own training--to keep from swearing under my breath and otherwise opining about each move I made. And it made it a lot harder for wannabe Cliff Clavens to dominate practice with their mouth.

So I get to this new dojo and everyone feels like a Cliff Claven, because everyone's got an opinion! The first thing I need to do is obviously relax, and see that the culture is different. But once the mouths are open, then how does a re-beginner who definitely needs guidance shut down genuinely unhelpful advice without looking like an ingrate?

Pauliina Lievonen 06-06-2009 05:07 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Well, since talking is obviously tolerated, I'd suggest talking. ;)

Seriously though, you could say something like "Thank you for the advice, but right now I have trouble concentrating on my footwork/balance/whatever, could we train silently for a little while so I can focus on that?" or something like that.

It won't shut people up forever but it might give you some space.


Karo 06-06-2009 06:36 PM

Re: Giving Advice
I agree with Pauliina. Ask the "helpful" partners to please give you some time to work it out on your own. Tell them you know what to fix, but just need their patience while you fully focus on it.


ninjaqutie 06-06-2009 08:41 PM

Re: Giving Advice
This is a touchy situation. You don't want to offend your partners/dojo. I would say tread delicately something similar to what was mentioned before. You could take the "You know, since I have come back, I am in sensory overload. Would you mind if I don't talk so I can better focus on my technique/footwork/form?" This may clue in the other person to stop talking to you... or if you are with a hardheaded person, it may not. Good luck and welcome back!

Abasan 06-06-2009 09:03 PM

Re: Giving Advice
throwing you into the deep end with everyone practising more 'advance' techniques etc is probably the reason.

And because you can't do it properly or fast enough, you're probably holding back your partners thus the 'advice'.

The ideal way to me is to have you have a couch for several classes to go through the basics at least till you can hold your own for regular classes and then gradually folding you in. At that point in time, unwanted advice can be channelled via, let me do it this way and after class please help me do it better.

ruthmc 06-07-2009 04:31 AM

Re: Giving Advice
Hi there,

Welcome back to Aikido :)

Can you have a quiet word with Sensei, and explain that you are struggling to concentrate with all the talking going on, and that you really need to be able to think about which foot, which side etc?

With any luck Sensei will tell everyone to give you a break and let you concentrate :D

Good luck!


Ketsan 06-07-2009 09:10 AM

Re: Giving Advice
You need to increase your social value. At the moment you're the new person so everyone feels that they're superior to you.
Just say "Yeah, maybe" to everything they say in a disinterested kinda way. Eventually they'll get the feeling that they're not worthy of speaking to you and they'll probably start asking you for advice.

BacktoAikido 06-07-2009 09:12 AM

Re: Giving Advice
Hey everyone,

Thanks for the helpful advice. I agree that it is a dicey situation because I don't want to appear as if I think I don't need any advice at all. I think that the best way to fold in to the culture of this dojo at this point in my practice is to be thankful even for unhelpful advice, and to ask nicely for quiet so that I can use the advice that's been given.

I think that the problem is not so much about working with a coach and not being ready enough as it is about moving from California to New York. Everyone's got an opinion about everything here, and everyone is expected to take care of themselves. I like that about the city. I just never thought about how it would work in a dojo environment beforehand...

BacktoAikido 06-07-2009 09:13 AM

Re: Giving Advice
Wow, Alex I like your answer too. I will deploy both!

Mark Uttech 06-07-2009 03:57 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Onegaishimasu. Years ago at a summer camp I watched this new student always say "Hai" and then just do whatever. It was a little comical, until I noticed that seriousness doesn't hang around long.
I never forgot that wonderful lesson. Even when people couldn't understand a word O Sensei said, they always said "Hai." I hope this little anecdote or two helps.

In gassho,


jxa127 06-08-2009 09:06 AM

Re: Giving Advice

I've learned that quite often when people offer advice or opinions, it to gratify a need of theirs as much as it is to help the one receiving the advice. At their best, people are very enthusiastic about something they understand to be very important and want to help you understand it; at their worst, people like to point out their supposed superiority by being "helpful."

I've been at both ends of the spectrum during my decade of training. :-(

Over time, though, I've learned to not talk so much or offer much advice. I do ask questions, though, and communicate with my partners when necessary. I've personally found that I can be quiet and respectful during training even when my partner is very talkative.

One thing that helped me is to state, "I'd like to feel what you're talking about." That's a good way to get back to working with your body.

All that said, don't discount what people are telling you. It's probably pretty good advice...


Ron Tisdale 06-08-2009 09:06 AM

Re: Giving Advice
I like Mark's answer a lot.

Ron (not that the others aren't good as well...but I've used Mark's answer before, and it worked well for me)

Mark Uttech 06-08-2009 05:11 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Onegaishimasu. Thanks for a nice compliment Ron! You just never know when someone needs one!

In gassho,


BacktoAikido 06-08-2009 05:54 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Hey All,

Thanks again. Drew, definitely not discounting advice, I do need it.

Today I paid a little more attention to what I was defaulting to, and found that I was being a little overly grateful sounding, probably because I don't want anyone to think I am being stubborn or anything--sort of telegraphing my own worst worries about how I will be perceived.

So I just settled on an easy, "Okay." Or "Okay, let me try that," and tried to get the inflection out of it. This worked well. I got the advice I needed, got a vastly improved experience of shihonage, didn't get tripped up in the other person's getting something out of it.

It helped that this time the person I was working with was giving seriously thoughtful and pertinent advice. Sometimes that's simply less true. There are a few yudansha who have an interesting common blind spot. Technique X will be demonstrated, and they will do Technique Y, which is literally another technique. I have enough experience and knowledge to tell X from Y by looking at them (Say one's omote and one's ura, or the footwork is totally different. I'm talking basic differences that even I can see). I certainly don't have the experience to just do X correctly and fluidly without pausing or thinking about it on both sides, so I can't just do my thing and not sweat it. And even on the rare occasions when X is simple enough for me to just execute, I don't have the social capital to Be Right in that situation.

I don't really care a whole lot about Being Right, but I would like to avoid the lame social situation that ensues now:

1. Yudansha does X.
2. I try to do Y, get lots of corrections and advice, even when I am doing okay.

I feel like I have two losing options for number 3: I can either say Hai and keep doing whatever and keep ratcheting up the yudansha's frustration, or I can say "You know, I think it's like X" and get into a verbal thing that I don't see any good coming of--I'm there to train, not jibjab about the difference between X and Y.

Any ideas about handling that? Because first of all, this person may have his X and his Y confused, but it's not like he's got nothing to teach me, so I would like to be able to stay soft about it. And I can see myself growing out of this scenario after awhile, as I stop being the new person and start being more body-responsible for what's being demonstrated, instead of just mind-responsible. But for now, this scenario is as big an impediment as my compulsion to swear under my breath and mercilessly critique every single thing I do against a memory of a past proficiency.

Any advice about that beyond just letting it go?

BacktoAikido 06-08-2009 06:23 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Um, just to clarify... coming back to this is just hard in ways I could never have expected. I am so happy I am doing it. But it's maddening that I know a bunch of things in my head, some of which are true and useful and some of which are not true or useful, and remember some things in my body, again, which are mostly reliable but not entirely... it's an extra layer of reading.

I feel like it would be easier to just be a real beginner instead of a rebeginner. If I were a real beginner, I would just do whatever the yudansha says and not worry about what was demonstrated, and I don't know whether that's appropriate now. I know it's what the yudansha in these scenarios is expecting.

I also feel like I would be easier to train with if I were a real beginner, because I wouldn't be giving mixed signals, like committed attacks with only passable ukemi. Or constantly bungling iriminage but intuitively figuring out yonkyo. Forgetting how to do kokyu-ho and staring blankly when partner says kaiten, but still being good with a jo.

It's weird, and I wouldn't quite know what to make of me either.

Peter Goldsbury 06-08-2009 06:43 PM

Re: Giving Advice
I did not stop and restart. I moved three times before becoming a yudansha and so had to un-learn and re-learn the movements and waza three times.

The dojo 'culture' was different in each case (the chief instructors were all Japanese).

In the first dojo: no talking, at all;

in the second dojo: more talking, but much more emphasis from senior yudansha (not the shihan) on executing the 'perfect' technique, where everything is right;

in the third dojo (much smaller, with much more hands-on attention from the shihan): some talking, but also much more technical input, and less possibility of yudansha doing Technique Y, when Technique X is shown.

Now, thirty years later, I have my own dojo (with everything in Japanese), but my two instructor colleagues have different training histories and do things a little differently.

Of course, one can argue that it there was a correct teaching methodology in aikido, such variations should not be possible.

Best wishes,

Keith Larman 06-08-2009 07:06 PM

Re: Giving Advice
As others have pointed out each dojo is different. But it seems to me that if you're a beginner "re-beginning" maybe you need to open your mind a bit more and just quietly listen to the advice being given. Is it possible that someone who has been doing it longer in that style may actually have helpful advice to you, the person who hasn't? It may not be what your ego wants to hear or what you think you need to work on, but hey, you're a beginner... So what do you know? ;)

Some start many times before they find some place to stay permanently.

And even if the advice seems contradictory or less than helpful, after a while you should be able to figure out who knows and who is full of hot air. Some guys help too much. Fine. Say thank you and move on. I figure mastery is a good lifetime or two away so I'm really not in any major rush to maximize every minute on the mat. I can deal with a few minutes of aggravation now and then when I pair up with a weenie. Heck, if for nothing else to test out the advice given. Good or bad.

Or else maybe you should go somewhere else where the culture is less talkative and more to your liking. Aikido isn't exactly hard to find.

FWIW with new students we try to be sensitive to their needs and what they are hoping to get from what they're doing. But we are there to teach what we know. And that's quite often not the same thing as what the beginner *thinks* he or she needs to know...

Best of luck.

BacktoAikido 06-08-2009 07:14 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Hi Peter,

One of the reasons I came back to aikido was the mental flexibility it gave me to do things I don't expect from myself in other parts of my life. I think that I can accommodate this problem by using the very lessons that are on the mat already. The first step seems to be whining and flailing about it a little...

Seriously. Do you really think that it would ever be the case that there would be one correct teaching methodology, or are you deftly pointing at my own inflexibility?

bknapp 06-08-2009 07:37 PM

Re: Giving Advice
Hi - your description of yudansha patiently explaining how to do the wrong technique makes me laugh: I recognize myself! Don't worry, sooner or later the Sensei will come by and vindicate you completely, and they will be embarrassed...this is one reason I try hard not to teach when I am not teaching. Sometimes people ask me for advice, and I usually start with, "well, this is what I saw"...and finish with, "but I miss things sometimes, so you should do what you saw." (sometimes I just say, I don't know, do what you saw Sensei do)

From the other side, if I don't want advice I usually respond to it with a deadpan "oh". or just a nod. Or sometimes with someone senior to me I might say in a respectful and only slightly confused tone, "I see...but that is not what I saw..." That worked well for me when I was a keen and focussed 3rd kyu or thereabouts. It works less well now I am one of those ditzy now I just nod enthusiastically and shout Hai! and hope Sensei comes by and proves me right. Funny how things change with some rank.

BacktoAikido 06-08-2009 07:45 PM

Re: Giving Advice

"Don't worry, sooner or later the Sensei will come by and vindicate you completely, and they will be embarrassed..."

Were you and I training together last week?

Honestly, if I enjoyed any consistent comfort on the mat, the urge to settle into that comfort and do Y would be irresistable!

Peter Goldsbury 06-08-2009 09:25 PM

Re: Giving Advice

Anonymous User wrote: (Post 232221)
Hi Peter,

Seriously. Do you really think that it would ever be the case that there would be one correct teaching methodology, or are you deftly pointing at my own inflexibility?

:) :)

Well, have a look at George Ledyard's blog on teaching methodology. Along with dojo colleagues, now yudansha, George trained for years with a top shihan and only now is it becoming clear what the shihan was teaching.

I think that there are there are loads of issues here, which directly relate to your own experience.


Linda Eskin 06-08-2009 11:33 PM

Re: Giving Advice

Anonymous User wrote: (Post 232216)
Um, just to clarify... coming back to this is just hard in ways I could never have expected. I am so happy I am doing it. But it's maddening that I know a bunch of things in my head, some of which are true and useful and some of which are not true or useful, and remember some things in my body, again, which are mostly reliable but not entirely... it's an extra layer of reading.

I feel like it would be easier to just be a real beginner instead of a rebeginner. ...

This is a really valuable insight.

It's hard enough being an adult beginner at something completely new. We like to imagine that we are generally competent, coordinated grownups who can do something simple after being clearly shown, whether that's an Aikido technique or a dance step. It's a bit of a blow to feel utterly lost and confused.

It's worse, as you've observed, and I'll second that, to be a "rebeginner." (That's a great term you've come up with.) I run into that with my guitar playing. I used to be pretty good. Years of lessons, festivals, week-long music camps, jamming with friends, etc. Now (after several years off due to hand/wrist problems) if I try to pick it up and play a few tunes it's terribly frustrating. There's that sense of "I used to be able to do this really well, but now..." D'oh!

I feel the same way with new versions of software. Nothing is where I expect it, nothing works right. I used to know all the shortcuts... I've finally learned to just ignore all my own complaining and whining for the first week. It doesn't mean anything. Sure, I go ahead and fuss about how awful the new app is, and curse its usability team, and jump up and down about this or that insane feature. But I know I'll get through that stage and become proficient, and will probably come to like the new one better, even. So I just have fun ranting, but don't give my frustration any serious validity.

As for having technique Y explained after technique X was demonstrated, I've had that happen a few times. As an utter beginner I can only notice the most obvious things, like grabbing the wrong wrist. I'm in no position to correct anyone, but I can look for a moment, in my confusion, at another nage/uke pair on the mat, to see how they are doing it. Often my partner will look too, and we'll realize together that we were attempting the wrong thing, or Sensei may notice the confusion, and clarify what he wanted us to do.

I don't know how my dojo compares, on the talking continuum, but I've found my partners' explanations tremendously helpful. One thing that really struck me from day 1 was how good everyone is at teaching. And hearing things several different ways works well for me - one of them is bound to sink in. ;)

Anyway, hang in there through that difficult rebeginner period. You're just going to feel awkward and frustrated for a while. You'll get your chops back soon enough.


Mark Uttech 06-09-2009 01:54 AM

Re: Giving Advice
Onegaishimasu. Funny how tossing a new word, like "rebeginner" into the mix makes the soup taste funny. Can two people dance together to the same song? I think that Peter Goldsbury hit on the real problem in this thread: "Beginner wants to be an advanced beginner." No one likes to be told what to do, especially by so many!

In gassho,


ruthmc 06-09-2009 04:13 AM

Re: Giving Advice
:confused: I'm confused :confused:

If somebody is doing Y when Sensei demonstrated X, why isn't Sensei correcting them?

You can always ask for clarification "Sensei, are we to do the omote or the ura version?" or "Sensei, is the footwork for the technique like this?" thereby making sure you are clear in your own mind. Yudansha can easily misinterpret things, so it's alway best to ask Sensei for clarification :)

My Sensei says we must communicate with each other. This doesn't mean idle chatter on the tatami, but ensuring that training partners are clear on what they are doing, and knowing if either party has any difficulties or limitations.

Of course I realise this is easier in a smaller dojo than a large one, but Sensei should still be aware of how each student is performing the technique...


BacktoAikido 06-09-2009 06:00 AM

Re: Giving Advice
Hi Ruth: It's a really large dojo, sensei is sometimes correcting but not always, and to clarify this is like 2 people in a big class, it's not that big a deal. I didn't want to sound like a jerk or like I wanted to be right by bringing it up. Sorry about the vagueness.

Mark's right, this is about me having a hard time getting over myself because I feel like I know what I am doing, and clinging stubbornly to little bits of evidence that confirm that worldview. My ego, like most egos, is enormous and largely unhelpful, but it's mine all the same, I don't really have any choice but to deal with it. Isn't that the persistent problem, not just with aikido but with a lot of things?

Linda, yeah. Getting new software that doesn't do things exactly the way you would has a similar whine-curve.

Peter, I will check out Ledyard Sensei's teaching methodology and appreciate the direction.

I've got to stop thinking about it now... I'm going to stop commenting here and go start getting over myself.

Thanks everyone for the insight. I'm just going to keep training!

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