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Jay Vigilla 10-18-2005 02:02 PM

The Role of Sempai
 
Hello everyone,

My thoughts today rest upon the role of the senior students in a dojo. These thoughts arrive mostly from my insecurities as to how to approach two of my training partners in our dojo. The two are now on their second year of training with us (we are a college dojo) and come from other disciplines, which is welcomed. They do seem to still look to how to make our techniques hurt to indicate their reliability. I, personally, fear that the approach that they take discourages some students from continuing to train with us.

My fellow sempai and I do what we can to keep these two from training only with each other and from leading the newer students into potentially dangerous habits and behavior. We encourgae the two of them to be lighter-hearted and to use less strength in their technique, though their competition oriented mindset does make it difficult to explain our motivations with the Aikido philosophy.

Any suggestions in how we can reach these two? Our sensei is great and understanding, though with our status as a Univertity dojo it is sometimes difficult to enforce (self-)discipline. I hope to hear from you all.

Chris Li 10-18-2005 03:30 PM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Quote:

Jay Vigilla wrote:
Any suggestions in how we can reach these two? Our sensei is great and understanding, though with our status as a Univertity dojo it is sometimes difficult to enforce (self-)discipline. I hope to hear from you all.

It may be a radical approach :), but how about just talking to them directly? In all but a very few cases that should be all that's needed. It always surprises me that such an approach is not the first choice in so many cases.

Best,

Chris

theflyingheadbuttsuplex 10-18-2005 04:00 PM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Quote:

Jay Vigilla wrote:
Hello everyone,

My thoughts today rest upon the role of the senior students in a dojo. These thoughts arrive mostly from my insecurities as to how to approach two of my training partners in our dojo. The two are now on their second year of training with us (we are a college dojo) and come from other disciplines, which is welcomed. They do seem to still look to how to make our techniques hurt to indicate their reliability. I, personally, fear that the approach that they take discourages some students from continuing to train with us.

My fellow sempai and I do what we can to keep these two from training only with each other and from leading the newer students into potentially dangerous habits and behavior. We encourgae the two of them to be lighter-hearted and to use less strength in their technique, though their competition oriented mindset does make it difficult to explain our motivations with the Aikido philosophy.

Any suggestions in how we can reach these two? Our sensei is great and understanding, though with our status as a Univertity dojo it is sometimes difficult to enforce (self-)discipline. I hope to hear from you all.

I think know from experience what you're dealing with, me being a wee bit too intense sometimes. :blush: I will often be too forceful, mut my philosophy behind that was that I felt I was cheating myself and my partner if I wasn't giving my techniques a little Oomph. behind them.

Are they honestly trying to make the techniques hurt, or are they being enthusiastic about their training?

Nick P. 10-18-2005 07:41 PM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Sounds like you and the other seniors covered what you can when you described "keeping them in check".

At the risk of being flamed, the other students are adults, and should, to a degree, learn how to fend for themselves. If the "dynamic duo" see enough people shying away from them, they might get the hint. Of course if there is a real risk of injury intervene, but shy of that...

If you lead class in Sensei's absence, you could take it upon yourself to REMIND everyone that you are all there in a spirit of cooperation (oddly my Sensei did this the other night, though the person who could have benefited most from that reminder was not there).

I know all too well the feeling of "Boy, I better talk to these guys before someone gets hurt, and put them on the right track"; I have needed to curb it often. But I learned that the lessons on the mat (good and bad) should mostly be left, well, to be learned by those working through them. Sorry if that seems vague.

As for Chris' comment above, I agree with talking to them, but would caution WHEN and HOW; if done on the mat, during class, in front of fellow students ESPECIALLY a junior to one of the two mentioned, it could be misinterpreted as a dressing-down or scolding. Tack (sp?) is required, I think.

And what Burt says above could also be the case.

Feel free to send me a private message and we can discuss it further.

Camille Lore 10-18-2005 10:48 PM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Our sensei seems to repeatedly remind people when he is showing a technique that we should remember to show compassion towards our uke. He will actually say this a few times while he is demonstrating, and I think it sinks in. He specifically directs this to the older members and references the newer members....He will also sometimes choose peoples' partners for them, saying " I know both of your wrists are injured, so you two work together since you will be more aware of the other's injury."

sullivanw 10-19-2005 01:25 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Hmmm..... it is a fine line to walk. Hopefully they have enough experience to realize that grievous injury can result if someone doesn't have the ukemi to receive a technique. And the insight to realize that everyone has their own learning curve.
However, from the sound of your post it seems like they want to bull their way through class with a 'survival of the fittest' mindset. I think that since the situation is alarming enough for you to seek advice here, then it definitely warrants a conversation with the individuals, off the mat of course. That is your role (with deference to Sensei). Their role is to actually listen.

So, do they injure people? (more often than the odd training injury)

What does your Sensei think, and how is he/she dealing with the situation?

Jay Vigilla 10-20-2005 09:16 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Perhaps I have not given as much information on the situation as I had originally thought.

Neither of the two in question have safe ukemi (safe being a subjective term of course, but it's not too safe for them to be falling in the ways that they happen to). That, I feel is something they can work on. However, the two feel it entirely necesary to throw each other in high falls and with great distance regardless of the available space they have on the mat. There are many near misses in regards to collisions with other training students.

Sensei has asked me to walk around in begining classes to help make sure the large group has their questions answered. Many times I see that my two junior with whom I have this gripe will show the begining students how to do the techinique while verbally promoting the possibility of injury. At those times I do step in and show the safer, nice, more Aiki version and explain the risks of training the harder way. Though I do not feel that the constant reminders of the nicer way is taking a toll.

Sensei himself has tried to step in and has stepped into their training. When either of the students in question are "non-copoperative ukes" with beginers, I've seen Sensei step in to help the beginer and then to show how the "non cooperative uke" routine is actually leaving more openings than causing problems. I worry, however, that it signals more of a "train harder in your striking arts" message instead of the "work together with your training partner because you're not helping them right now" message that is intended.

But yes. They do need someone to talk to them about the way we all train together on the mat. I will make time today to speak with at least one of them and then stick to the other and train with him as often as I can to help them understand. My next question then is, how to begin the conversation.

Janet Rosen 10-20-2005 09:54 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
sigh. [rant mode on]
Almost every time I read a thread like this, it involves a concerned student trying to do the work that should be done by his instructor because the latter will NOT take a firmer attitude towards students, either because the instructor doesn't want to deal w/ it or because the instructor hopes that the problem students will, like the rest of us, "learn by doing" and mellow out...and it really ticks me off to either witness or read of yet another dojo where unsafe, crank-their-partner students essentially are told how and why it is wrong, yet keep being permitted to train that way and get promoted to where they are senior students and free to injure themselves and others with impunity.
I've come to believe that it is the role of the instructor, who is ultimately responsible for creating dojo rules and dojo culture, and that I'd not want to train in a dojo where this was allowed to go on for long. YMMV.
[rant mode off]

Nick P. 10-20-2005 11:31 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
As Janet said above, this is a speech to be given from your Sensei. If she/he wants you to give it, make sure you both are clear on the "...or else" part.

I would say...

"It's nothing personal (ok, maybe it is, but lie) , but I need to talk to you about your training here. If you want to endanger yourself, fine. Go ahead.
But every time you are on the mat, understand that you are a serious risk to the person you are training with, and an equal risk to those around you. Whether you choose to not listen to what you are told/shown by Sensei (or myself or the other sempai), or are trying to and still unable is of no matter.
It (enter list of issues here) has to stop. It will stop. I cannot allow this to continue. Change or you will be banned."

Think of it as a verbal atemi ;)

For those who do not listen to what Sensei has said, you could choose to be the enforcer; be your usual self with everyone else, but really lay it on 'em (someone say "How un-aiki"?) when you train with them. This could backfire, however, and encourage them even more.

Or simply do not train with them anymore, which is my preferred tactic.

aikidojoe 10-20-2005 12:32 PM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
If they are endangering people, or not training in the school approved methods for that aikido class, then your sensei or you have to speak to them. I would even go so far as to have your sensei write them a letter explaining it. That way if it gets to the point where they have to be expelled from the class, no legal/discrimination issues come up.

If they don't immediately change their ways, boot them. Aikido isn't for them, they have other avenues to train if they choose. Flat out tell them that what they're doing isn't Aikido. If they want to do something other than Aikido, fine. They can do it elsewhere. You absolutely can not accept the risk of endangering people beyond the normal scope of the class. Especially in a college environment.

Joe

Lorien Lowe 10-20-2005 02:03 PM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
My dojo hasn't seen a *lot* of this type of thing, but when it does show up we generally isolate the person by having sempai pounce on them as partners after every technique is demonstrated. That way, they are always working with people who can show them their openings as well as providing an example of how the techniques can be effectively done without so much pain/injury potential. It also limits the instructor mode that they sometimes get into.

-LK

erikmenzel 10-21-2005 03:43 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
When new people are in the dojo we always try to keep an eye out for situations like this. First of all we try to explain to people that they should train with everybody. Second, if we notice someone being to rough or mean we start training with that person and we usualy dont fail to mention that it might be a wise idea to be gentle with your partner cause your partner's turn is next.

Usualy this already changes the way people train. Rough beginners get confronted with gentle yet firm sempai. Nearly always this works inspiring enough on the beginners.

Unfortunatly it sometimes isnt only beginners that act like brutes. Guests to our dojo will find that the first couple of partners they will get will be some of our sempai.This is just to check if this person is "safe" for our less experienced fellow aikidoka.

At seminars in our dojo it of course is nearly impossible to check everone out in advance but protecting beginners against brutes/idiots still takes place. Unfortunatly it does happen that sempai have to descide that someone isnt allowed near any beginners. Punnishment is not our task so we dont do that.

Dirk Hanss 10-21-2005 09:37 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Quote:

Jay Vigilla wrote:
Any suggestions in how we can reach these two? Our sensei is great and understanding, though with our status as a Univertity dojo it is sometimes difficult to enforce (self-)discipline. I hope to hear from you all.

HiJay,
I just reread the thread and I am very curious about what you mean with that last sentecnce.
Aikido attracks people with poor physical constitution an as I understand with those "senior" students the danger of damage increases dramatically. As I understand US law, these damages could be very expensive for the university or the state.

Thus I cannot believe, that there is no way to enforce discipline. If they act in a dangerous way set them off exercises for a few techniques - at least the more dangerous ones. If that does not help, suspend them from training for a longer period.

In any case you can encourage other students to refuse practicing with them if they fear injury or even simple pain.

And it is not a question about wich aikido style is the right one. As an example I am thinking about a semi-contact karate training with some full-contact karatekas who insist in full-contact bein the only real way to train.

I think your sensei has to talk to them. How to start best is always difficult, but there is no use to waiting for the first accident. If they do not agree they can look for another dojo or another instructor at university.

Just another idea. If you offer - let's say once a month - an advanced aikido lesson, where resistent uke are allowed and you try to find ways to overcome them, it might be more fun for those guys. Of course attendance would require sufficient ukemi. And there you can try to show them, that force helps only little, but exact technique and timing - what we call "feeling the power" - enables to do appropriate techniques even to strong resistent uke without waisting power and energy.

Just my humble opinion.

Kind regards Dirk

Jay Vigilla 10-23-2005 09:04 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Dirk, good points and questions made. THe difficulty of discipline with our dojo is that we are a no credit PE course at a university. Here in California we are having sufficient budget cuts to our education system and PE classes and other no credit classes are the first to lose funding. We do not want to lose students and show a decline in interest by the enrollment going down or the program may be dropped. Booting the two from the class or making them feel unwanted is not an option I think we should approach. The reason I believe Aikido is a wonderfully philosophical art is that our techniques promote forgiveness.

We have not needed to discourage others from wanting to train with them as the other juniors have chosen to do so areleady. It does, however, seem to have encouraged the two of them to train together and encourage them to practice the techniques as described by Sensei in a manner that is not safe for the level they are at.

Although I do like your idea of a separate training time where they can "test" their strength against technique. It would give the two of them extra mat time and closer attention.

Yes, it is difficult to start a discussion with the two of them in relation to this. One of them has, I have noticed, softened up and is not trying so hard to force everything. I am proud to see him make this sort of progress. He seems more comfortable and his techniques is getting smoother the less he tries too hard.. those that have trained understand what that means.

In regards to your comment:
"Aikido attracks people with poor physical constitution an as I understand with those "senior" students the danger of damage increases dramatically. As I understand US law, these damages could be very expensive for the university or the state."

The two students in question are my juniors. THey are not, nor is anyone in the dojo, really of a weaker constitution. This is, in part, because of our location on a university campus. We are all approximately twney years old. The students, too, are currently mostly male and are seemingly more interested in jujitsu. That, to me, is fine. And in that case, I feel they should look to train in jujitsu if that is their will. But the situation does not get expensive for the university in the case of an injury (from the legal stand point) as the university requires people to sign a waiver for each class the PE or recreation department. But yes, the more liklihood of harm deos imply a greater necesity to speak with students about safety.

THe issue in question is currently being resolved. I hope that the two will learn from the experience and be able to diffuse a similar situation in the future.

ruthmc 10-25-2005 05:31 AM

Re: The Role of Sempai
 
Quote:

Jay Vigilla wrote:
However, the two feel it entirely necesary to throw each other in high falls and with great distance regardless of the available space they have on the mat. There are many near misses in regards to collisions with other training students.

The students are being incredibly selfish. The mat space belongs to everybody and is to be shared equally. In my home dojo the other seniors and I will simply ask people to move over and to consider their space and that of other people. If they ignore this they will just be told to shift in no uncertain terms!

If this discipline is not followed by everybody, there will be collisions and there will be injuries. Ask your sensei to choose how they'd like the dojo to be in this regard :straightf

Ruth


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