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David Humm 01-28-2005 06:21 PM

Student ability
 
Although I've been a student myself for this my 17th year, I have only recently (4 months ago) started my own dojo.

It's only since I've been solely responsible for running a dojo that student ability really became apparent to me. (I suppose its from sitting more often from the other side of the mat) I appreciate everyone learns at differing paces and, there's no specific time scales on gradings etc however, I'd like to hear your thoughts on how one deals with the long term aspects of having a student who is committed (turning up twice a week without fail) Who exudes enthusiasm yet, despite having everything an instructor might want in a student, no matter how many times one explains, demonstrates or teaches, nothing appears to stick.

The case in question, the student had studied for about two years, week in week out with another dojo but became disenchanted when he saw students with less time and experience being promoted before him. He came to me almost as soon as I started my dojo and even though I knew he'd been training for about two years his physical ability, co-ordination and general 'function' on the mat is.. well far behind any student I've known with two years committed study. Indeed I have another student from a surrounding dojo who trains with me to add in another night's training, likewise this person has about the same time under their belt and, the difference in general skills is very apparent.

My philosophy isn't skills or grade based so I personally have absolutely no problem with anyone training with me regardless of their ability however, equally so I don't believe in grading for grading's sake. I can see a point in time where I will have students ready to test yet the person in question will probably still be far behind them and eventually feel I am not being fair. (this is of course my assumption based on what happened before)

Being honest is a good policy, and I don't have an issue with being polite but honest and saying "you just aren't up to standard at the moment" however, when I take into consideration the commitment this student has shown and is continuing to show by turning up and supporting what is after all a club in it's infancy, I feel torn in not wishing to exclude this person from future gradings. It is that obvious, his aptitude for the basics of Aikido movement is minimal and, as I've said it doesn't matter how many times I teach or re-teach something, even simple Tai Sabaki, he just looks like a week old beginner at times, it is very strange.

Looking forward to your comments

Kind regards

Dave

SeiserL 01-28-2005 07:14 PM

Re: Student ability
 
IMHO, it sounds like his mental map has not progressed. This, where the physical training does not change the way one thinks, is why some direct mental training comes in handy. See about a prvivate session and find out what he is thinking while trying to do a skill. He may have taken Shoshin (beginner's mind) far too literally.

Qatana 01-28-2005 07:28 PM

Re: Student ability
 
But some people DO actually have beginner's mind. My best friend trains at the dojo with me and she literally has to start from the beginning every single class. After ten or so months she still needs to be coached through "simple" exercises we do every week, such as tai no henko. She can execute a technique if she is coached through it but will immediately forget what she just did. Three more times.

If our dojo followed a syllabus where every technique is taught in sequence, giving students the time they need to absorb, she would retain a great deal more physical information, but as we operate more holographically, she has no continuity to build upon.

This was how she learned Morris Dancing, which has a lot of fancy steps and endless choreography to remember, but it was taught to her in a manner which she could absorb.Even she agrees that she would advance in physical aikido technique in that kind of envirnment, however it is Sensei and the environment he provides which keep her where she is.

However testing is not an issue for her, as a non-paying dojo member she considers herself a Guest of Sensei, and wouldn't accept an invitation to test even if she could retain enough information to do so.

David Humm 01-28-2005 07:41 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Quote:

Lynn Seiser wrote:
IMHO, it sounds like his mental map has not progressed. This, where the physical training does not change the way one thinks, is why some direct mental training comes in handy. See about a prvivate session and find out what he is thinking while trying to do a skill. He may have taken Shoshin (beginner's mind) far too literally.

Hi Lynn,
I've had a number of conversations with this student and I'm convinced he understands what's being said, but body function just doesn't seem to follow suit. I can place him in a group of similar experience (in time) and they'll be motoring on yet he'll struggle every time. I really feel for the guy because its obvious he loves doing Aikido, indeed he's never once complained that he thinks or feels he's doing badly or not so well as others so I'm out to keep this student at all costs (all but grading for grading's sake which I feel is unfair to everyone)
Quote:

Jo Adell wrote:
If our dojo followed a syllabus where every technique is taught in sequence, giving students the time they need to absorb, she would retain a great deal more physical information, but as we operate more holographically,

Hi Jo,
I work from my organisation's training syllabus pretty much all the time, partly because this is my first venture into the realms of running a dojo so, I'm keeping things simple for the time being, once we've all found our feet I'll diverse to broaden our training so, I'm all but always running the classes to a format of Kihon.

Again, I see some form of problem with motor function, its just occured to me that he may well have a medical condition perhaps even he doesn't know of ?? Basic tenkan, irimi tenkan and backfoot irimi tenkan, all conerstones of aikido movement and even after two years of doing this he's wobberling around like its his first week or so in the art.

Dave

MaryKaye 01-28-2005 07:48 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Is there any physical skill, inside or outside of aikido, that this student *does* have nailed down? If so, can you two work out why that one is different?

A medical problem doesn't sound impossible. There's a description in Oliver Sacks' _The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat_ of a woman who lost her sense of proprioception (body position sense) and had to relearn to sit, stand, etc. with great difficulty. A more subtle problem with proprioception, or the inner ear balance organ, or something interfering with the signals from brain to muscle, could really play havok with a person's aikido. If it's financially possible, a checkup by a specialist might be something to try.

Mary Kaye

maikerus 01-28-2005 08:02 PM

Re: Student ability
 
One of the interesting challenges that I discovered when I started to teach was choosing what words to use with what students to draw upon their existing background, knowledge and ability. Some words help some students understand a concept amazingly but don't do a thing for someone else.

As an example its hard to tell someone that the reason we keep moving our hands and body in the same direction as the throw even after uke has fallen is for follow through and commitment, as in finishing a golf swing, when that student has never played golf. You have to find another analogy that will "click" with them.

Or some students plateau for a really long time, and then make huge strides.

It sounds like your case is more difficult than many, but finding out the background of the student and more about what they are good at may help. I sometimes remember things that my instructors said to me that didn't really help (because of my background) and try them out...amazingly enough that sometimes works. Lynn's suggestion of a private session is, I believe, a good one. You also might consider using video as a training tool.

Good luck!

--Michael

Adam Alexander 01-28-2005 08:26 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Lack of focus is the problem.

I believe that the only way martial arts develops concentration is when a person forces themselves to focus. In order for this to happen, an instructor must not give too much help--actually, I'd say minimal assistance.

This is why I feel this way: I train under six instructors. I go to the beginner class, the regular classes, the advanced classes and train privately with a 20+yr veteran. Over my Aikido career, I've gone through periods where I train more with one instructor than the others. Every few months, it'd seem I was in someone else's classes more than the others.

Anyway, what I noticed is that when the instructor demonstrated the technique four or five times and then answered questions real friendly like, I got lazy. I didn't pay too much attention. My mind would wander and then when I caught it, I'd just say to myself,"ah, he'll show it again." However, there's one instructor who show's a technique two times. And if you ask questions, you really make sure they're not stupid before you ask them.

What happened? My focus was sharp as a tack when I trained more under that guy. Under the others, I was sloppy.


I see it with other students to. The beginners who are coddled perform like children--always looking to the instructor to make sure their foot's in the right spot. After a year of training, they still can't perform a very simple technique after it's been demonstrated.


Tell your student that HE needs to change. It's not the art, it's not the instructor, it's his problem that needs to be fixed....of course, do it in a nice way.

Focus and Practice.

David Humm 01-28-2005 09:27 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Thank you for your continued comments,

The chap in question is an otherwise co-ordinated individual who has a reasonable job and displays a level of comon sense. If I give the guy a bokken he's able to swing it with some ability (I also study Iaido and incorporate Batto-ho into aikido sessions) but, he does have problems turning at speed, that is one thing I've noticed.

We have two large roof mounted punch bags in the dojo, we sometimes do a bit of bag work and when we do this he's straight in, during these sessions he's spot on, accurate with his punching and hits quite hard.

Unfortunately he does seem to be stuck in this 'ive just started' mode when we practice aikido. His ukemi is rough to say the least. I stress in almost all my classes the importance of good quality ukemi, we practice several exercises to improve confidence in the more dynamic overheads... This involves rolling over a Jo which is held at an angle (one end resting on the mat), progressively students grab the jo at higher levels thus their breakfall gets more 'overhead' bizarely the chap in question is very caperble of this type of exercise and performs good ukemi however, and this really bakes my noodle; after he's done a few of those overheads with the jo, if I do even basic kote gaeshi and he's collapsing on the floor like he'd never done ukemi before!!

Dave

maikerus 01-28-2005 09:56 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Fear of falling is pretty normal. Some take longer to learn to hide it than others.

Qatana 01-29-2005 07:52 AM

Re: Student ability
 
Jean,
Some people have medical conditions or learning disabilities which make it Impossible to focus in the way you mean.
My friend definitly has this and it sounds as though Dave's student does as well. And it may be something as simple as losing all sense of direction when turning, which could be neurological.Reading this thread makes me think that "turning" really might have something to do with it.
Sometimes patterning helps with this, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes similar problems have different solutions.

Pauliina Lievonen 01-29-2005 08:24 AM

Re: Student ability
 
Quote:

Dave Humm wrote:
If I give the guy a bokken he's able to swing it with some ability (I also study Iaido and incorporate Batto-ho into aikido sessions) but, he does have problems turning at speed, that is one thing I've noticed.

We have two large roof mounted punch bags in the dojo, we sometimes do a bit of bag work and when we do this he's straight in, during these sessions he's spot on, accurate with his punching and hits quite hard.

... the chap in question is very caperble of this type of exercise and performs good ukemi however, and this really bakes my noodle; after he's done a few of those overheads with the jo, if I do even basic kote gaeshi and he's collapsing on the floor like he'd never done ukemi before!!
Dave

All of the above sounds a bit like it could still be a proprioceptive thing - he seems to perform better when there is something to focus on visually, and less well when he has to be aware of his movement and especially his lower body "from the inside" so to say. Most people have better control of their arms and upper body anyway IME, hands and arms are easier to see, plus we use them for handling things all the time. Legs are for many people just somethng to walk and sit on. Further away their awareness.

kvaak
Pauliina

rachmass 01-29-2005 11:25 AM

Re: Student ability
 
Different people learn at different rates, plain and simple. Your fellow might very well be picking up a lot more than you realize, and it will gel at some point quite suddenly. Two times a week though is possibly not enough practice time. Do you offer more classes? You might suggest he practice more, or even simple tenkan and hamni at home (just something to teach his body over and over again). Could he be a student who needs primarily to learn through his body, and to shut off thoughts in his head (explaining, thinking too hard)?

We had a woman at our dojo who practiced for 8 years rather steadily (3-4 times a week), yet every new beginner treated her like a beginner. It had to do with possibly a form of drawfism, where her arms were much shorter than her body. Her movements for the first 4 years or so were quite rough, but towards the end of her practice (she's since quit), I had noticed a huge difference in her ability, and in that she had actually gained quite a center. What I am saying with this is that if you compared her against other folks who were more physically adept, that she might not look particularly able (from an outsiders perspective), but comparing her against herself and where she started, I would say she came along further than anyone else I knew in that time frame. She gained confidence, center and ability, and it worked well for her. My teacher did continually promote her, because he saw this massive progression.

To me, this example really is one of someone learning something more deeply, more to the core, than on the surface would show. Perhaps this will happen with your student as well.

Just my $0.02

David Humm 01-29-2005 05:50 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Hey guys and gals... Thanks for your comments, always very much appreciated.

I'm going to have a good chat to this student when the opportunity presents its self and see what (if anything) he feels about his training. I am very humbled by those who wish to train and take instruction from me and although I see a potential problem as discussed in this thread, I intend to go out of my way to accomodate this student who has shown me loyalty and commitment.

Thanks again :)

Dave

senshincenter 01-29-2005 08:57 PM

Re: Student ability
 
I think everyone has posted some very nice ideas, and I also think that you Dave have come up with a lot of insightful things as well. But what about this: two days a week is not enough for him, maybe not for anyone. What does two hours of practice get you in playing the guitar? What about in learning a language? Assuming you have one hour long classes - two hours out of every one hundred and sixty-eight - well - that's only going to support so much and for so long. Maybe you are already seeing that now. I mean, who would take only $2 out of every $168 one has earned? I hope no one. Yet a lot of folks seem quite willing to invest in just this sort of way when it comes time to training. At our dojo, two classes a week is the bare minimum for a member maintaining dojo membership. That's about all it will guarantee. Things are set up so that while one can expect not to have their membership revoked if they attend classes twice a week, they can't be expecting much more than that (e.g. to be carried through the ranks). So... Maybe the solution is having him, and/or encouraging him, and/or making it easier for him to attend more classes - and helping him to understand why he should as well.

d

rachmass 01-29-2005 09:08 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Quote:

you Dave have come up with a lot of insightful things as well. But what about this: two days a week is not enough for him, maybe not for anyone.
Hey, I suggested that already ;)

Seriously, 2 times a week is maybe a large part of the problem....

Best wishes on this.

David Humm 01-29-2005 11:15 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Hey again :)

Unfortunately training twice a week is all that can be facilitated at the moment, issues such as the venue, my work and other dojo in the area all contribute to when and where we can essentially train.

I have one of three dojo in my area all training on different nights however, (and I know this will sound as if I'm sounding my own bells here but) I'm not the person who's building walls around their students making it difficult for people to train at other instructor's clubs. (Another long and pretty boring issue)

Potentially a student could train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday if *IF* the instructors of the other clubs were willing to let "their" students train elsewhere (pretty pathetic really) but alas that isn't the case, sad, but true

I appreciate that training just twice a week isn't a vast amount, but even comparing the chap in question with other students with about the same time training (two years more or less) taking into account individual strengths and weaknesses, there really is a very obvious difference in ability however; as has been said, may be he's a very late bloomer.

The issue here isn't really how good or bad he is as a student, I really don't mind that aspect, what concerns me is that as other students (who by definition learn much quicker) become ready for testing, I can see a situation forming where he might feel like I'm passing him over (as happened at his last dojo)

My fear (for want of another expression) is that he'll become disenchanted again and quit, I really don't want that, as he's a good person to have in the club.

I think what I must do is chat to him as previously mentioned and perhaps set out a specific training regime for him which sets targets and defines aspects of training which he is clearly missing.

Ta very much for your continued thoughts :)

Dave

rachmass 01-30-2005 06:18 AM

Re: Student ability
 
Dave, has the student progressed in comparison with where he started? Has he made improvement? Don't compare him with the other students; instead measure his own progress within himself. What rank are you testing him for (or not testing him)? There would be a vast difference IMNSO between gokyu and ikkyu test in terms of the absolutes you expect of your students.

Someone mentioned focus earlier in this thread, and perhaps preparing for a test can be a catalyst for focus. Maybe that is part of the problem, just like only being able to train twice a week. One more thought-do you have any kyu test videos from your organization that you can lend the student to study? Sometimes these can be quite helpful.

Kevin Kelly 01-30-2005 01:11 PM

Re: Student ability
 
If you have any times where he can have an open practice session, maybe have him start preparing and practicing for his next test. My sensei says that people who want to test and prepare for testing usually end up having better Aikido than people who never bother testing. I have found for me, in my short Aikido career, that it helps to practice the syllabus material during an open class and it helps me solidify the techniques in my mind. I know you only have classes a couple of times a week, but maybe if he gets an experienced uke to work with it will help.

SeiserL 01-30-2005 04:09 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Just brainstroming outloud because this topic really interests me; He appear to have genuine competent instructions. He appears to have honest motivation. He appears to actually get the mental idea of what he is to do. Then somehow, it isn't getting from the head to the body?

Hows his coordination? Perhaps, he can practice Tenskan Ashi-sabaki and skipping rope.

K Lynch 01-30-2005 04:11 PM

Re: Student ability
 
I may be reading this wrong, but I think Dave was saying that -he- doesn't judge the student's progress, or perceived lack thereof, but he was worried that the student might think he was, and give up on this dojo as well.

Speaking as another of those unfortunate students for whom mental pictures do not translate at all well to accurate body movement, I thank you for trying hard with him, as my Sensei/assistant instructors/anyone ever who has tried to improve my ukemi have with me.

In my case, I know why I have trouble with my aikido - a combination of minor birth defects, irritating illnesses and increasingly dodgy knees. But still, very now and again, I get down when I see people who joined 3 months ago execute ukemi, body movements or techniques with far greater ease than I ever have. And of course, they grade. I'm a 6th kyu (in a school that starts at 7th) and I've been at this about 3 years. But, as I say, I -know- why I find so many things difficult. Perhaps some would say, I have an excuse.

As some people have pointed out, try and encourage him to concentrate on -his- progress. It's obvious he finds this difficult, but still enjoys it, or he wouldn't still be doing aikido anywhere.... what has anyone else to do with that? I know that's easier said than done (to put it mildly!) but it is always worth keeping in mind on the bad days. And if - again, like me, I'll admit - he insists he hasn't made any progress, try and prove that he has. You say he finds some parts quite easy, - perhaps try and find out why?

*is going to stop rambling now...*
Regards
Karen

David Humm 01-30-2005 05:14 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Quote:

Rachel Massey wrote:
Dave, has the student progressed in comparison with where he started? Has he made improvement? Don't compare him with the other students; instead measure his own progress within himself. What rank are you testing him for (or not testing him)? There would be a vast difference IMNSO between gokyu and ikkyu test in terms of the absolutes you expect of your students.

Rachel, Yes my student has 'improved' but if compared with others who've trained for the same period (around two years) his general standard is very below par. As you say tho if I compare what he does now compared to when I first saw him join in his original dojo, yes there's an improvement.

Quote:

Lynn Seiser wrote:
Just brainstroming outloud because this topic really interests me; He appear to have genuine competent instructions. He appears to have honest motivation. He appears to actually get the mental idea of what he is to do. Then somehow, it isn't getting from the head to the body?

Hows his coordination? Perhaps, he can practice Tenskan Ashi-sabaki and skipping rope.

Lynn, your brainstorming is spot on :) His co-ordination is, I think, the main problem but he doesn't seem to have a problem outside the dojo which suggests to me its an 'Aiki' thing rather than a physical or medical issue (but that's just my non medical opinion of course)

Quote:

Karen Lynch wrote:
I may be reading this wrong, but I think Dave was saying that -he- doesn't judge the student's progress, or perceived lack thereof, but he was worried that the student might think he was, and give up on this dojo as well.

Karen, Well yes and no. I am judging his standards or should I say "monitoring" them as an instructor should with his/her student(s) however, I realise that he appears to be less dynamic in his ability to assimilate the teachings. I don't have a problem with this at all, I understand that every person learns at differing speeds, and his speed is unduly slower than others but, where I am concerned is in that as a dojo we run gradings on an annual basis when my Shidoin visits us, I'm concerned that given his slower learning curve he will feel left out, I have a number of students whom I'm very lucky to (have) and say are quite natural movers and their ability is quickly surpassing that of the chap in question.

I've formulated a plan involving a separate training regime. I'm going to speak with my Shidoin and let him know the situation and, perhaps we can set up gradings when required that will be between those we normally hold, that way he won't feel left out of the progression "thing"

Regards to all as always


Dave

senshincenter 01-30-2005 09:21 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Ah yes, apologies Rachel for the unnecessary repetition. My oversight.

If I can go on a bitů

I think there are two issues and, up to now, or mostly, we have been trying to deal with the easier one. There is the issue of addressing his capacity to improve and trying to somehow increase that capacity. That is the easy one (even though it is proving to be quite difficult). Then there is the issue of being discouraged and/or dissatisfied with one's own rate of progress. This latter issue is really the big one -- in my opinion. Its solution can only come from a total re-cultivation or transformation of the self. By that I mean to say that such issues can only be reconciled by cultivating a deep, valid, and creative experience of self and/or self-identity. On the positive side, that is supposed to be a big part of training. Some folks, and I have to include myself as one of them, would even say that that is the main part of training. Thus, while I think it is of course important to get him to train more and to train more efficiently, things I think you are doing (and doing quite well considering the circumstances), I also think he would benefit greatly from penetrating and/or having more access to penetrate the art and its nature more deeply. In that way, he can move beyond the superficiality of group-measured progress and institutionally imposed labels. In that way, he can move beyond what is meaningless to that which is real and vital.

How does an instructor lend his/her expertise toward this part of training? I would say, the easiest thing to do is to use the remaining five days of the week to educate him on or to inform him of the depths of Budo. For example, you can have group readings with him and the rest of your students -- read the classics that are readily available in English (e.g. Osensei, Kung-Tzu, Lao Tzu, Takuan, Musashi, Yagyu, Ikkyu, Ryokan, etc.). Zero in on all those parts where the Sacred, the Real, the Deep, the truly valuable, etc., is being discussed and placed above the superficial, the mundane, the this-worldly, etc. Look into some modern thinkers -- ones who have written on the hardships, the frustrations, the benefits, and the vital signposts of any spiritual journey (e.g. Merton, the Dalai Lama, Nouwen, Sawaki, Suzuki, Chodran, Hanh, etc.). Focus in on where the issues of patience, humility, endurance, and faith are touched.

This is something we do at our dojo, and though it works well here, I cannot say how well it will work for you in your environment. Our training environment sounds very different -- and I am sure that context has a lot to do with the power of the message. I am just throwing it out as a suggestion. So, of course, I would think you would have to modify it to fit your situation. For what it is worth, I put a lot of such sensei/deshi encounters (which are vital to an instructor's own growth -- in my opinion) in our "Exchanges" section under the "Writings" link of our web site. There are many other writings on patience, frustration, etc., in the other sections as well. Perhaps you, or your student, might find something useful there too.

I want to wish you the best of luck, but I also want to say how impressed I am by the concern and directed efforts you have made thus far regarding this situation. It is inspiring. Let us hope it is contagious as well. All instructors should act thusly. So thank you.

david

maikerus 01-30-2005 09:36 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Quote:

David Valadez wrote:
Then there is the issue of being discouraged and/or dissatisfied with one's own rate of progress. This latter issue is really the big one -- in my opinion. Its solution can only come from a total re-cultivation or transformation of the self. By that I mean to say that such issues can only be reconciled by cultivating a deep, valid, and creative experience of self and/or self-identity. On the positive side, that is supposed to be a big part of training.

Interesting point.

I'm reading "Moving Toward Stillness" by Dave Lowry right now and one of the points he brings up in one of the essays is that our culture's concept of time is so much more immediate than that in the past.

We think in hours and minutes instead of weeks and years for getting something done. So, even though we all know that studying budo is a lifelong commitment and that we will take years and years to understand only a little, we still worry about our "rate of progress" in terms of months instead of years.

Perhaps the "re-cultivation or transformation of the self" you mention should also include recognizing that progress takes time and to change our concept of time to include years and decades.

I haven't really digested everything in this book, but I thought this idea might be an interesting point in this thread.

cheers,

--Michael

senshincenter 01-31-2005 12:12 AM

Re: Student ability
 
Hi Michael,

Yes, I would definitely agree with your take on what I was trying to convey. I would also agree that any change in self-identity is going to have to include a transformation in how Time is experienced - which is why I tried to mention things like patience, humility, endurance, and faith. Training, I feel, is supposed to cultivate these things. And from what I can garner in the original post, this kind of stuff has maybe not been addressed as much as it could or should by the deshi in question. Thus, his training might be well served by a venture or by a deeper venture into such things.

Thanks for developing this point further.

d

SeiserL 01-31-2005 02:27 PM

Re: Student ability
 
Quote:

Dave Humm wrote:
Lynn, your brainstorming is spot on :) His co-ordination is, I think, the main problem but he doesn't seem to have a problem outside the dojo which suggests to me its an 'Aiki' thing rather than a physical or medical issue (but that's just my non medical opinion of course)

IMHO, rhythm train, meaning, show him a 90-degree and 180-degree Ashi-sabaki Tenkan pattern. Have him put on some music with a slow easy beat. Have him work the footwork with the music. Its a lot like dancing. He can also shadow-box by going through techniques with a definite beat and rhythm.

Also, skipping rope really helps with the coordination.


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