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Janet Rosen 07-27-2013 01:08 PM

Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
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This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Janet Rosen 2013, all rights reserved.
A couple of months before her passing in late 2010, Gayle Fillman Sensei asked me to start a class for folks who wouldn't be able to handle the rigors of regular training. I started it under the title Aikido Energetics and more recently, following the lead of other dojos here on the Left Coast, Low Impact Aikido. I was given latitude to develop a curriculum so long as it was congruent with our dojo culture, and have been pretty much left on my own with my little Tuesday evening class.

The principles I started with and continue with are:
  • each student is an adult with the ability to judge his level of participation and his need to sit out or take a break,
  • no kneeling, rolling or falling is required
  • a variety of functional deficits, such as trouble with manual dexterity, sensory issues, poor range of motion will be accommodated
  • the practice is primarily principle-based exercises; however the attacks, movements and techniques will be martially sound (per my level of understanding and ability) and practical application will be demonstrated
A few times a year I include a four-week introductory course in our City of Ukiah Recreation Guide, which gets delivered free via the mail throughout the area. The booklet describes it as "martial awareness and self-defense principles through slowly paced exercises... includes basic techniques and an introduction to the Japanese wooden staff. It's ideal for the older beginner or anyone with concerns about flexibility, pain or stamina."

My goal for this course (besides hoping, of course, to have the regular enrollment grow) is to give folks a chance to try aikido in a low-commitment situation. I aim to create an environment where a student feels safe enough to smile and laugh during training, and trust that if buttons are pushed, we can identify the rising tension and return to a balanced state.

While I know the basic concepts and movements I wanted to cover during a four week session, I never have a planned starting point beyond how our regular beginner's classes start: introducing the idea of safe space, with exercises in recognizing and maintaining it. From there, things flow from one class to the next based on students' questions and my observations. Being an inveterate aiki-mutt, I've been fortunate to have stolen a variety of teaching concepts and exercises from instructors much more experienced and accomplished than I.

The most recent four week course, which ran in February, attracted four students. Here's how the curriculum developed over the month:

Class One:
  • Brief introduction to aikido, the dojo, and the class
  • A few minutes of breathing meditation
  • Slow-moving standing warm-ups, essentially a gentle but full range of motion
  • Wrist exercises, some ki exercises (funekogiwaza, shomunuchiwaza, udefuriwaza, udefuri choyakuwaza)
  • Introduction to the ideas of ma'ai, safe space, natural movement and intent: Paired partner practice
  • Katatori attack exercise: maintaining safe space, forward energy and holding the line while removing the target
  • Feedback and questions
Class Two:
  • Breathing, warm- ups
  • Some ki exercises focusing on finding center, breathing, intent and expansive energy
  • Exploring energetic and practical responses to an attack: Munetsuki as a thrust along the center line, experimenting with a few not-so-good options, then practicing simple irimi with both sides of body engaged, awareness in all directions and energy expansive
  • Demo of application: kokyunage balance taking
Class Three:
  • Breathing, warm ups, some ki exercises
  • Beginning floor work: Koho tento waza and gentle circular rolling (hip to upper back, across the back, down to the other hip)
  • Intro to uke's role as co-teacher/feedback loop for nage
  • Practice: Munetsuki with irimi-tenkan, continuing forward energy, leading/following without unneeded slack or tension
  • Demo of practical application: kotegaishi
  • Introduction to jo: Steps 1-6 of Tohei Sensei's 22 jo kata
Class Four:
  • Breathing, warm ups, some ki exercises
  • Floor work: Koho tento waza and gentle circular rolling
  • Introductory exercise for grabs: Approaching partner with natural movement to shake hands, then progressing to holding, directing and leading
  • Cross hand grab: breathing and settling, finding structure and freedom of movement, pivoting and leading
  • Two attacker Ryotetori (one partner on each arm): feel what it's like to fully tense, then let go, exhale, move fingers, feet, head, hips, look around the four corners of the room then move freely and with intent (scratch head or stretch and yawn) then direct and lead
  • Jo practice: Review 1-6 using mannequin target to make sense of the moves, then follow along with the whole kata
What I've found with these four week sessions is that most people will show up once or twice, decide it's not what they were looking for, and not bother to complete the session. From that last session in February I have had two students continue on so that now most of the time there are four of us on the mat.

One has some pain and range of motion issues, but more so is highly sensitive to others' energy and can only spend a limited time doing paired partner training; he had some karate and aikido in the past, so besides being sempai to our newcomers, he is my demo uke. One has a minor pain issue that mainly poses a bar to doing much weapons work, and a lot of trouble with finding center, seeming to float inches above the mat, ready to topple; she is happy to work on anything we do and willing to have her buttons pushed. One has disabling pain, stamina and mind-body integration issues and is slow to learn; he is very curious about both the practical "why do we do it this way, not that way?" aspects of the training and the spiritual component of aikido (for which I lend him books) - I often enjoy letting his practical questions send the class on productive tangents. All three show up with wonderful, open attitudes, ready to learn, to question and to work.

Some at the dojo were surprised that I don't offer the beginning course more often. My reply is that student progress is really slow in a class that only meets once a week. By not advertising the beginning sessions more often than four times a year (although a person can start anytime by showing up), ongoing students can slowly build on previous classes without having to go back to class number one too often.

Our Low Impact Aikido class serves many purposes: it's a lab for me to develop as a teacher and to have partners to work with on internal skills; it's an opportunity for people with pain or impairment (including myself) to relax, open and move more freely while doing a martial practice; it's an ad hoc study group for whatever questions and interests each participant brings week to week; it's a space to explore mind-body awareness; it's a place to develop or hone skills with aiki-weapons.

Janet Rosen
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations


Michael Hackett 07-27-2013 09:18 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Janet,

Sounds like you have a pretty neat program all mapped out. I hope it continues to be a success for you and your students.

SeiserL 07-29-2013 07:33 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
I am so sharing this ... compliments and appreciation ...

Janet Rosen 07-29-2013 10:52 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Thank you both for your kind comments.
Alas, life happens; two of my students are buying a house that both will eat all their money AND move them further than they choose to drive...so now it is me and one student. Our next four week course is in September so hoping to bring in some newbies!

Conrad Gus 07-29-2013 12:51 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Thanks so much for stealing this. I've been thinking about a class like this for quite a while, and it's nice to get some insight from someone that has already walked the road.

One question: what is "Koho tento waza"? I've never heard the term.

Conrad

Malicat 07-29-2013 01:11 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Quote:

Conrad Gustafson wrote: (Post 328456)
Thanks so much for stealing this. I've been thinking about a class like this for quite a while, and it's nice to get some insight from someone that has already walked the road.

One question: what is "Koho tento waza"? I've never heard the term.

Conrad

I can answer, and add a question for Janet. Koho tento is when you drop and roll backwards, from hip to shoulder, very gently. We usually do a few rolls from suwari, then a few more into handachi, and finally into tachi as a warm up before we do the more intensive rolling and sutemis.

For Janet though, I am wondering if you do more than that, since I haven't heard koho tento used with waza after it.

--Ashley

Janet Rosen 07-29-2013 03:10 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Quote:

Ashley Hemsath wrote: (Post 328457)
I can answer, and add a question for Janet. Koho tento is when you drop and roll backwards, from hip to shoulder, very gently. We usually do a few rolls from suwari, then a few more into handachi, and finally into tachi as a warm up before we do the more intensive rolling and sutemis.

For Janet though, I am wondering if you do more than that, since I haven't heard koho tento used with waza after it.

--Ashley

In Ki Society the various exercises had the suffix "undo" and for some reason when our dojo went unaffiliated it got changed to "waza." I forget it's not common usage!
Our Low Impact class doesn't require any floorwork but I've generally had students who could do this and really enjoyed how it felt, and I feel there is a huge benefit in adults relearning being comfortable on the ground whether or not they are able to take full-out rolls and falls.

Peter Goldsbury 07-29-2013 04:21 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Quote:

Conrad Gustafson wrote: (Post 328456)
Thanks so much for stealing this. I've been thinking about a class like this for quite a while, and it's nice to get some insight from someone that has already walked the road.

One question: what is "Koho tento waza"? I've never heard the term.

Conrad

The Chinese characters are 後方転倒, where 後方 kouhou means backwards and 転倒 tentou means falling. However, it is not a waza, if waza is understood to be something like irimi-nage or shihou-nage. As Janet states, it is 運動 undou: movement.

Janet Rosen 07-29-2013 10:39 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Quote:

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: (Post 328460)
The Chinese characters are 後方転倒, where 後方 kouhou means backwards and 転倒 tentou means falling. However, it is not a waza, if waza is understood to be something like irimi-nage or shihou-nage. As Janet states, it is 運動 undou: movement.

Thank you - much appreciated language lesson!

Aviv 07-30-2013 10:13 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
For those interested in this approach, we are hosting a seminar on August 30, 2013. The flyer can be seen at http://www.gashuku.net/documents/No-FallFlyer2013.pdf

We also have a free online chat group for instructors of low-impact, no-fall classes at http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/nofallaikido/

Janet Rosen 07-30-2013 10:39 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Thank you for the link, Aviv - taking steps to join the yahoo group. I was interested to learn of the seminar, esp. as Left Coast will be represented by Paul Rest Sensei :-) , but alas it's a bit far for a one day seminar esp. on less than a few months notice!

Diana Frese 08-01-2013 12:54 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
hi Janet I have not posted in a long time, work home repairs computer problems etc, but your topic is dear to my heart. I did have a class for several months and it was great. Started with one friend who stopped us on the street in our truck on the way to work. A psych nurse in
Westchester, lived across the border in Byram CT she came to Stamford to train with me as the local Stamford dojo at the time did not meet her only day off. Besides, she had a shoulder injury. Well, I had a knee injury. And then a few others joined, one with an ankle problem, another had trained years previously but ended up too busy with work and family and so felt out of shape. He brought his young half brother in law, who was a teenager . And one guy who preferred our class because he wanted to learn more slowly than in the regular dojo that my colleague Ray was teaching. (People who wanted a faster class we simply sent to Ray...)

No rolling, we were in a tiny room on the sixth floor of a loft building where my husband had a wood shop and the windows and frames were so old it was just plain scary. But I was amazed at how well everyone did even without rolling. It sure looked like real Aikido. Even "the kid" did fine, once he realized his arms were about a foot longer than the previous year. I knew he wasn't the type to try to push people through the brick wall.....

Seriously this is sooo important to have available for people interested in starting, continuing or re starting Aikido. For financial reasons, we couldn't hang on to the space, but I never forgot the experience and the knowledge that yes, most limitations can be worked around. Great that we can share these experiences on Aiki Web and thank you so much, Janet for your beautiful description of your class.

Sand-Wind 08-21-2013 04:46 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Thank you so much now I am really interested in coming to one of the no-fall Aikido seminars in the future looks like it would be very helpful.

Janet Rosen 08-22-2013 12:35 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
I'd love to attend one as well - chance to learn from and network with others who are doing this!

avi-rosenberg 11-01-2013 12:55 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Hi Janet
I wanted to thank you for this article. I had decided to stop training more than 3 years ago, because of chronic joint pains (mostly in my "aikido" joints) and the article helped me reconsider my decision. I realized how much I missed the training and the whole milieu of the dojo. I started to think about how I could train in a more controlled way, while accepting my disabilities and trying to learn to be more patient with myself. I have since gone back to doing a weapons class with some minimal ukemi and a great deal of appreciation for what I am able to do.
Thank you

Janet Rosen 11-01-2013 09:32 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Avi, thank YOU for the feedback. Wow.
I know personally what a powerful internal struggle it can be to truly accept a change in how one trains - I was so clear about not wanting to be treated as a "second class citizen" when in fact that was how I felt about myself for a long time.
Stay with it! Know your limits (and don't be afraid to push against them JUST a little from time to time to see if through slower more refined practice you are actually increasing your capacity a bit)....
You're post is the icing on a darn good day!!!

Bob Vandergrift 12-13-2013 11:08 AM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Hi Janet, I just wanted to thank you for this. I wish I could find this in my area as I started Aikido three years ago and was forced to stop the training due to long standing injuries. I would love to return to Aikido in a class such as this.

Janet Rosen 12-13-2013 06:52 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Bob...you never know what local dojos might be open to adding to their lineup if somebody inquires...I hope you can find some way to get back on the mat.

Bob Vandergrift 12-15-2013 03:41 PM

Re: Leading a Low Impact Aikido Class
 
Thank you Janet. I think I'll send out some letters asking about it. Worst that could happen is they say no lol. Thank you for some inspiration.


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