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akiy 12-19-2002 09:07 AM

Learning How to Learn Aikido
 
Hi everyone,

One interesting question that I've been chewing on is how to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido. I very much believe that pretty much most, if not all, of us can teach people, but it seems to be a much deeper task to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido.

Basically, I think there's a difference between learning something and learning how to learn something and was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on how to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido.

For example, I've seen folks who seem to have the desire to learn aikido but, for one reason or other, just don't seem to get "it." I've seen folks who seem to be all too keen on getting it "now -- and right now!" A lot of people seem to either want to just get to the end of a technique no matter what -- kind of like skimming through a mystery novel to see "whodunit" without enjoying (nor understanding) the meat of the book. There are others like the "I have 12 years of experience in Foobarbaz-do so I slip back into that mode a lot" folks, the "Geez, I make so many honkin' mistakes every time I move that I can't even get through the tenkan exercise without beating myself up over it," folks, the "I've been doing aikido for ten years so I'll just keep doing the same things over and over and over and over and over" folks, and many others.

The above were just examples, of course. I'm sure people can come up with many other types.

My thoughts seem to come back to the topic of "awarness" in all of these cases, but that could just be me.

What sort of tips would you give to someone who just began their aikido training if they asked, "What approach should I take in learning aikido?" Or someone who has had six months of training but is getting frustrated? Any concrete exercises or thoughts that you can give to people like this?

-- Jun

Creature_of_the_id 12-19-2002 09:17 AM

I think when learning, asking the question "why?" is very useful.

If I ask myself and understand why I do something I am more likely to remember it in the future and apply it.

if a student watches an instructor do an irimi movement, they tend to see the instructor just move forward.

When they understand "why" he moves forward then they are likely to also see the distance that is covered and how close to the uke the instructor is.

When we watch or learn things we filter the information into a frame of reference that we have, based on our own limited experience.

asking 'why', instead of taking it for granted, removes our assumptions and allows the student to build on the new information.

so... I guess that was the long way of saying, if I wanted to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido I would recomend they questioned each part of the movements and understand why their funtion.

paw 12-19-2002 09:37 AM

Jun,

Reading your post, my first thought was "why is this a learning issue and not an instructional one"?

Curious,

Paul

akiy 12-19-2002 09:50 AM

Hi Paul,

That's an interesting point.

What I often see is a disconnect between the student's learning process and the teacher's presentation -- not in the material covered, perhaps, but in the manner of learning.

I think the student has to have the responsibility for learning as I think the relationship of student/teacher isn't just a one-way street. However, I also think that, often times, students are going about learning in an inefficient manner.

Just like we can develop good study habits for college courses (ie rather than skimming the five chapters for organic chemistry while attending the game at the stadium but studying the chapters in a quiet environment), I think there are ways to improve a student's learning process in aikido -- kind of like trying to maximize the potential to learn for students.

I'm not too sure if I'm communicating the above too well. Does that make sense?

Thanks,

-- Jun

opherdonchin 12-19-2002 10:42 AM

I have two thoughts on this, Jun.

The first is the importance of having respect for the amount of time it takes to learn some things. Everyone understands that it takes a few years to learn how to play the violin at even a passable level and a few years to learn to 'do' AiKiDo. People tend to have less appreciation for the amount of time it takes to learn some more cognitive skills. Calculus takes time to 'sink in' for many people and nothing substitutes for the time and practice they need. Learning to learn and watch AiKiDo also seems to me to take time, just like learning the AiKiDo itself.

The other thought I had was that, just as we teach the AiKiDo primarily by example, I strive to teach the learning-to-learn primarily by example. By being open about my own learning process, the things I'm thinking about and wondering about, the things I'm paying attention to, I hope that I communicate my own process of learning. Some students may find that a helpful model although, of course, others will go their own way.

Kat.C 12-19-2002 12:01 PM

I agree completely that you have to learn how to learn aikido, my first few months were that much more confusing because I didn't do that. I'm not a teacher but if I was going to pass on tips to anyone else I'd mention these things that I've learned, which help me to learn how to do the techniques properly.
The most important and the most basic is to really listen to sensei partly because if I hadn't listened to sensei then I would never have learnt any of these things which help me. Also when he demonstrates a technique he will often explain how and why we do certain things eg.'cut in front of you because...' or 'keep their elbow up so that...'. I would be lost if I didn't listen to his verbal explanations. I've had to learn to not just imitate sensei's movements but to use those movements to unbalance uke and take their centre.I'm learning how to feel uke's center, to know when I have taken it and to know if I've kept it for the duration of the technique. I need to feel a connection between us, to feel if uke is going down because of what I've done or because sensei has shown us how and when uke is supposed to fall. To feel if I've lost that connection and then to understand why.
I've also learned to pay very close attention when sensei demonstrates a technique on me, in understanding what uke should feel I can more easily make them feel it. Anyways just some things that have helped me immeasurably.

paw 12-19-2002 12:34 PM

Jun,
Quote:

I'm not too sure if I'm communicating the above too well. Does that make sense?
Well, not really.
Quote:

I think the student has to have the responsibility for learning as I think the relationship of student/teacher isn't just a one-way street. However, I also think that, often times, students are going about learning in an inefficient manner.
Could you give an example of an "inefficient learning manner"?

Regards,

Paul

akiy 12-19-2002 01:37 PM

Quote:

paul watt (paw) wrote:
Could you give an example of an "inefficient learning manner"?

I gave a few examples in my original post up above...

Here's another example. Say you run into someone who spends his time trying to just get to the end of the technique regardless of the integrity of his posture during the execution. He muscles, totters, and nearly falls over you as he throws you in iriminage.

Rather than just saying something like, "Hey, you're muscling through the technique and not keeping your balance" to him, what sort of "higher" level teaching (a meta-teaching, perhaps?) can you point out to help him realize these things on his own?

For me at least, it comes down to awareness and being able to come back to a centered place. In other words, I personally feel as though this ability to recognize such things in myself helps me learn.

I guess another way I can put it is: how would you, as a teacher, create an environment in which the learning process is most efficient and/or effective? What sort of things would you tell your students to develop a sort of philosophy of training?

Did that make more sense? If not, can others who understands what I'm talking about (and I hope this makes sense to some!) help out?

-- Jun

paw 12-19-2002 02:21 PM

Jun,
Quote:

I guess another way I can put it is: how would you, as a teacher, create an environment in which the learning process is most efficient and/or effective? What sort of things would you tell your students to develop a sort of philosophy of training?
Teach them to flow in a dynamic environment.

Scott Sonnon on "Flow"

Regards,

Paul

Erik 12-19-2002 02:49 PM

Quote:

paul watt (paw) wrote:
Teach them to flow in a dynamic environment.

Scott Sonnon on "Flow"

Paul, I'm nearly speechless. It's beautiful!

Reinforcing technical-dependency for confidence-development requires placing trust in an intangible "concept" hoping that it will somehow bring competency. We've become martial idolaters, worshipping at the throne of the sacred Technique, praying that it will bestow upon us competency, wisdom, and autonomy. It will not. It cannot. How many times have we heard the question, "What style has better techniques?" We hear this said, and yet we all KNOW intuitively that it is not this elusive, ephemeral concept of a "technique" that lends victory, but our own natural capabilities. Where would we be as a culture, if each person KNEW this? Just imagine if no one was conditioned to be not-talented (for we are all naturally talented with our own "unique genius.") How many times have we seen "Free-thinkers" (the "Gifted") who come to class, listen attentively to the instructor, and then during dynamic drills, they explore, improvise, innovate? It's fulfilling to be creative. They enjoy themselves quite a bit, doesn't they? It would be amazing if the entire class was full of "natural talent," wouldn't it? Well, it is.

and...

We should tell them to go. Go play. Go work. Go explore. You are your own authority. This is the greatest service we could do... and so many coaches are terrified to do it. I know I still am. I know I still get the willies and think "Am I no longer needed?" We're always needed, just not for that. We are NOT needed to think for them. We are needed to keep providing the reinforcement and environment conducive to maintaining independence.

Col.Clink 12-19-2002 04:04 PM

Re: Learning How to Learn Aikido
 
Quote:

Jun Akiyama (akiy) wrote:
Hi everyone,

One interesting question that I've been chewing on is how to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido. I very much believe that pretty much most, if not all, of us can teach people, but it seems to be a much deeper task to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido.

Basically, I think there's a difference between learning something and learning how to learn something and was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on how to teach someone to learn how to learn aikido.

-- Jun

Hi Jun,

an interesting topic, and I think we all have different approaches in not just teaching Aikido, but teaching how to LEARN Aikido.

I never thought about it until your question, and we actually (or I) do teach how to learn Aikido, in my own little way i guess. I'll try to make it brief, as I tend to go all over the place in long posts.

When people enter the Dojo, I have noticed they have some sort of preconceived idea what it is going to be like, and unless they have already heard or read something on Aikido, they are either overjoyed with their first experience, or very dissapointed. Some think it is going to be like Karate, others think Tai Chi, and some have abosolutely no idea!!

But, to the point of teaching how to learn, I think it comes down to the basics, depending on what each Sensei considers basics.

If a student can go home at the end of class and say " I learned something today", wether it be a technique, movement, or even something philsophical, then we are succeeding in showing them how to learn, because they have got passed the "how the heck do I learn to do that!!" stage, and ARE learning. If a student cannot grasp the idea how to learn Aikido (now that can be anything from Tai Sabaki to Ukemi) it is up to the teacher to find another way to help them, So long as the student WANTS to learn mind you.

When a student or newcomer say's "how do I learn to learn Aikido", my answer would be "We'll teach you". I think it's all about helping them to understand themselves, and my reward is seeing them do something they thought they could not do. I think in this day and age, we need to explain things more to people in order for them to understand.

I was teaching a student to do Munetsuki Kotegaeshi, when he said " but I would'nt hit someone in the stomach like this so why am I doing this".

I then put a knife in his hand, and told him to do the same thing. His reaction was quite different, he realized I wasn't just teaching one technique but how to move from several techniques, also showing him the Shomenuchi variation. My whole point was to help him with his movement, at the time he did not realise this, it took a little longer to get him to understand, but for the next 3 weeks all he wanted to learn was Munetsuki Kotegaeshi!! His movement now is much better too!!

;)

I think I've rattled on enough, I did say brief!! I hope you see what I am getting at about how we teach to learn....I think I do:confused:

cheers

rob

Kat.C 12-19-2002 05:18 PM

Quote:

Jun Akiyama (akiy) wrote:
Here's another example. Say you run into someone who spends his time trying to just get to the end of the technique regardless of the integrity of his posture during the execution. He muscles, totters, and nearly falls over you as he throws you in iriminage.

Rather than just saying something like, "Hey, you're muscling through the technique and not keeping your balance" to him, what sort of "higher" level teaching (a meta-teaching, perhaps?) can you point out to help him realize these things on his own?

-- Jun

Wouldn't just some basic paired exercises in balance breaking and ones for checking posture help such a person to become aware of the problems they are having when executing techniques? One of my karate senseis had us do some balance breaking exercises which allowed you to feel not only how little effort and movement is required to unbalance someone else but how easy it was for someone to unbalance you. We did them in various stances and would do them with and without lowering our centers and vary which partner lowered their center and sometimes both did, sometimes neither. These exercises made me very conscious of my posture and balance during techniques back then, and now in aikido.

akiy 12-19-2002 05:33 PM

Quote:

Kathryn Cole (Kat.C) wrote:
Wouldn't just some basic paired exercises in balance breaking and ones for checking posture help such a person to become aware of the problems they are having when executing techniques?

Sure, but that was just one example. What sort of teaching and/or thoughts can we provide to the student to allow him to realize himself that he's making these kinds of mistakes so he can try to fix it himself?

Thanks for the link, Paul. I haven't had a chance to read what was contained there, but I will...

-- Jun

opherdonchin 12-19-2002 07:27 PM

I wonder if what Ki society (and, to a lesser extent Seidokan) do with 'Ki exercises' partially speaks to what you are talking about.

Seidokan takes as one of its basic tenets the principle of Gogo-no-shugyo (training after insight/understanding). This means that part of the training is to learn how to explain techniques and ways to think about them. I don't know whether I think this does or doesn't work. It probably works for some people better and for others less well. Still, it would be something for you to check out, Jun.

YEME 12-19-2002 08:19 PM

open mind/receptive spirit
 
i've started several new activities over the last six months and the common thread is :

its not just going to learn..its being ready to.

All it takes is one 'click' type moment for it to become easy and understandable. Sometimes its something the instructor says/does...sometimes its watching another student. There are days when everything is understandable and clear. Others where people are there in body only. Literally there for activity rather than practice.

While trying to figure out how to learn, I've come to the conclusion that its a personal thing - much like the brick wall thread. Maybe sometimes we just don't know its there.

The wall/the stubborness or even fear.

IMHO.

PeterR 12-19-2002 09:06 PM

I must say I really don't understand the question.

An environment is created to teach in this case Aikido and the student adapts to it. The more sucessfully they adapt the more easily they learn what's being taught. I guess the adaptation is the learning to learn.

We have a lot of paired exercises (as per Kat's post) and the dogma is that it is through their practice that your Aikido improves. This does not address learning to learn but in the five classes I've had with my new group most of the time is spent getting the basic exercies up to speed. I've actually only had them practicing 8 techniques in all that time.

Paula Lydon 12-19-2002 09:42 PM

Hi Jun,

~~In ukemi class, we practiced the basics of taking ukemi by nage presenting us with a structure, a framework. We weren't told to take 'air' ukemi--just throwing ourselves around the mat. Well, I think that in order to learn how to learn Aikido the student must be presented with a consistant, stable, clear framework from their sensei and seniors. These are the principles, these are the fundamentals, this is how it works, this is why that didn't work.

~~I think it's ultimately time-consuming, ambiguous and frustrating to simply demonstrate something a couple of times and then cut people loose to flounder about as best they can when you've given them no understandable framework. Structure isn't negative; there is still plenty of room for self-exploration and self-discovery, perhaps more so since you have a sound foundation to reach out from.

~~Just my thoughts on an interesting topic.;)

akiy 12-20-2002 02:25 PM

Hi Peter,
Quote:

Peter Rehse (PeterR) wrote:
An environment is created to teach in this case Aikido and the student adapts to it. The more sucessfully they adapt the more easily they learn what's being taught. I guess the adaptation is the learning to learn.

Perhaps, but I'm not completely convinced at this point. Maybe the "sink or swim" method in aikido works some of the time, but I think there ought to be a better way.

I don't like using analogies, but what would you think, say, if such were the approach in your daughter's elementary school? In other words, what sort of environment does the teacher create for the students to learn? What kind of "study habits" do they instill for the students to learn well?

In the same way as one can learn better "study habits" in college (ie not just skimming the chapters on organic chemistry while attending the football game in winter but, rather, going through the material in a me), I wonder if there "training habits" that one can cultivate in students to help them along better?

Thanks for all of the thoughts, folks. As people here have said, this just might be a personal matter in that it may differ from individual to individual. But, it's still something I'm chewing on...

-- Jun

shadow 12-20-2002 09:43 PM

Jun,

the best piece of advice i ever read came from a book by koichi tohei sensei and that was to approach every class as if you are intending to teach it to someone else. this has helped me i feel "learn to learn" because when something is told or shown to me i try to understand it not just for myself but for any other person i want to show it to.

im not sure if this is what you are looking for, but if i have to give credit for any one piece of advice ive ever had for my training and understanding methods it would be this.

mike lee 12-21-2002 05:35 AM

empty your cup, then practice
 
Traditionally in Asia, those who studied any art, began with meditation. They were serious students. But it seems that these days, even in Asia, such a concept is being lost.

Stopping all those neurons in the brain from firing every which-way and getting them to focus on the task at hand seems to be the quickest way to learn a complex skill. But people, these days, don't even have the patience to sit down for five minutes and clear their mind. These self-centered individuals want instant gratification; they want "instant aikido," but they don't want to do their homework. They don't want to follow instructions and suggestions because they "don't have the time." And when they get frustrated, they cry, they complain, they blame the teacher, they blame their classmates, and they even blame themselves, but they still don't do anything about it because they're insincere and they're lazy.

In the end, Darwin was right the fittest do survive; and the wannabes, sooner or later, just fade away. Good riddance, I say. The sooner the better. Such individuals just waste everybody's time. And time is the single most precious commodity in the world.

SeiserL 12-21-2002 09:19 AM

Yes, IMHO, many people miss the initial "learning how to learn" stage and still try to learn Aikido with a non-Aikido learning strategy. IMHO, get a map that matches the territory. The model is implied congruently in the training and the Waza. It starts with relax, breathe, and enjoy yourself.

Until again,

Lynn

PeterR 12-21-2002 09:44 AM

Hi Jun

Not talking about the sink or swim - but I am away from home, a little drunk, and I must fight tomorrow. Maybe I can give a better response on Monday - when I have my own keyboard.

At Shodokan we have a very structured environment and I must say the dojo produces some seriously gifted aikidoists. The ones who adapt to the system do extremely well. Others, like myself, do less so. This is what I meant. If you adapt to the system you are learning to learn. It really is independent of the particular system of learning although I will say tat certain personallities are more in tune with one form or other.

Jimro 12-21-2002 05:20 PM

If someone is concerned about getting to the end of the technique so much that they are off balance, muscling and otherwise not doing aikido: SLOW DOWN!

If slowing down doesn't help and the individual is still muscling, off balance, etc. Have a senior student be uke, and let that senior student totally screw him/her up.

If I totally botch a technique I expect my Uke to stop me and help me correct it. When something doesn't feel right, usually something is wrong.

Help each other learn. I've told my partners often, "We're doing something wrong, but I don't know what, let's ask sensei."

Iriminage isn't called the 20 year throw for nothing.

opherdonchin 12-22-2002 05:55 PM

I'm becoming interested in the flip side of this question. That is, can any of us point to experiences that really helped us 'learn how to learn' aikido? That may be a better guide than our somewhat blind stabs at it as teachers, and more useful than just saying 'we all pick it up sooner or later' (even if that's true).

For instance, I really remember my teacher once telling me (and I've repeated it any number of times since): "In life, we tend to hurry through those times when we are uncomfortable. We often do that in AiKiDo techniques as well. However, it is precisely the part of the technique that we are least comfortable with where it there is the most to learn by slowing down and understanding exactly what is happening."

TR6 12-23-2002 09:28 AM

I've been taking Aikido for about two months now and I have less than 20 hours of training, so I think I can bring a beginner's perspective to this discussion.

For me, Learning How to Learn is always my first goal. In school, I failed all subjects while teaching myself SDL (Self-Directed Learning) and reading many different advanced subjects on my own even if I could not understand them. By the 10th grade, I had become an entirely independent learner and I suddenly started to get straight A's even though I failed all classes in the previous 9 grades. This was due to SDL. SDL has helped me learn 7 programming languages and many subjects with no instruction. SDL is independent learning without a teacher or instructor (and it's equivalent to RTFM if anyone knows what that means hehe).

So far, I think SDL's effectiveness is very limited in Aikido due to the need for a highly-experienced practictioner from which to learn. Beginners can Learn How to Learn Aikido by watching and listening very carefully for subtle similarities, patterns, and larger ideas that are being taught, but this is not self-directed learning, it is only the familiarization and intellectualization of concepts.

So far I've only used SDL in Aikido to teach myself (at home) the Aikido philosophy and how to count in Japanese, but I must hear the teacher in order to learn how to actually pronounce the words as well as the application of the philosophy. Sooner or later, I may even use SDL to teach myself the Japanese words that are used throughout Aikido. I can forsee limited other uses for SDL in Aikido, at least not for my next decade of training.

So far, in Learning How to Learn Aikido, I've learned the following strategies:

-Watch a few classes while you're a beginner. I injured myself in my third hour of training (strained stomach muscle) so I had to watch Aikido classes for the next 6 weeks. The senior students told me that they were amazed by how much I learned by watching for 6 weeks.

-Early on, find out who the most senior students are and learn primarily from them and the instructor. Also work with them in class as often as possible early on.

-If you get confused, first focus on learning the foot movements. (Sensei explained this.)

-Early on, you cannot do a movement quickly and learn very much from it. You're more likely to get hurt or to hurt someone else. (Sensei explained this.)

-Remember to relax your body and mind or you will not learn anything and, again, you'll hurt yourself or somebody else. (Sensei explained this.)

-Read the Dojo newsletters and speak to the instructor and senior students as often as possible. This will help you to easily realize large concepts that are very difficult to realize on your own. (Don't speak to them during class though! I learned that the hard way! hehehe.)

-DO NOT EVER ask a non-senior student for help learning. If they offer their advice, acknowledge it but do not trust it. Also, DO NOT EVER teach others how to do a move until you're a senior student. Ask sensei or a senior student instead.

-Participate outside of class. I fail to see how one's service to the Dojo is separate from one's training. Yes, you can learn Aikido by vacuuming under the mats. For example, I learned that it's easier to vacuum from your center than with your arm.

My theories may be wrong, but I hope this helps with your discussion.


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