Dojo: Academy of Zen and the Ways
Location: Kailua, HI
Join Date: Jul 2003
Re: Aikido Works
It all boils down to priorities. There is only so much class time, and for every thing that is emphasized, something else is deemphasized. Instructors have a very, very difficult job picking what they think needs special attention and what can actually be taught in that massed-learning environment so that every student gets something important about the art out of a class.
Michael, you seem to think that learning breakfalls is a very important part of learning martial arts. That the faster one learns those skills, the better it is for all concerned. That belief may or may not be true, and I may or may not agree with you.
Judo does agree more with your sense of priorities, so its a good thing that you practice Judo. Maybe certain Aikido schools agree with you or maybe not. Maybe certain instructors at certain schools agree with you, as well. I know that I tend to find certain instructors more in line with my thinking than others. I also know that that changes over time.
I may think it important that people be in good aerobic shape to practice Aikido. From that sense, wouldn't I be justified in making people run in Aikido class? I don't feel that way - but I could, and if I was the instructor, all of my students from the marathon runners to the hideously overweight to the 70 year olds would have to suffer through it regardless of their personal training state and goals. Some would benefit, some would find it wasteful, and others might be harmed (heart-attacks). Would I be getting at the essense of the art?
Personally, I am at the point right now where I am interested in the idea that Aikido technique success or failure is resolved at the first martial moment. Because of that, the rest of the technique after that first moment is a waste, in my current outlook. Maybe next year my point of view will change and I'll be interested in zanshin. Who knows.
I still have to do the rest of the technique though, because that is what is taught. Besides, its only fair. Uke may not share my point of view.
However, all of these opinions are irrelevent. Neither you nor I is teaching any given Aikido class, and so the only vote that we have available to us is our feet, or our voices, should they be heeded. When you run a dojo, you can encourage or discourage whatever you think is appropriate, but I doubt you'll be seeing many older or infirm people in a place with a more robust physical regime.
The idea of following a tradition with a broad set of techniques (and the idea of cross-training in general in different skills or arts) is that you get a little bit of bit everything. If you're really interested in any one thing though, you're going to be disappointed. Aikido people who love koshinages should probably go to Judo or find the rare instructor who is obsessed with them. Aikido people who love effective strikes should probably go to Karate, etc.
Like any student in any subject we are all beneficiaries and victims of the biases and awareness of our instructors. When or if we are ever instructors, we can inflict our own bias on our students and fix all the problems that exist in their Aikido that we now see, and create a whole new host of new problems for them that we won't see at that time.
I think the stronger argument is that we also have the oppurtunity and the duty to incorporate whatever we think is important in our training but lacking in other training before, after, or outside of class with whomever we can get to work on it with us. This is what I try to do. After all, it may be sensei's class but it is my Aikido.
You know how I learned koshinage? I cornered the ikkyu Eric at my last dojo and got him to teach me koshinage. In 3-4 five to ten minute solo sessions after class I learned more about koshinage than I had learned in the prior 6 years that I had been doing Aikido. For the first time I actually felt safe giving and receiving the technique... and I had known how to do other types of breakfalls well enough already.
In retrospect, that was probably the best way to learn koshinage. I think it lends itself to one-on-one instruction with the body types picked appropriately. All the other times I had tried to learn it, it was tacked on to class in a hurried way, often on a crowded mat, with an uke I didn't know or trust. It was a technique that had me scared for my safety or theirs.
You can argue that this technique shouldn't be neglected in the curriculum, but it is. In the Aikido I have seen, koshinage is not a high priority technique for lower ranked people. I am not that interested in koshinage (although it is fun) so its a good thing that I take Aikido, and not Judo.
You're right that it is a shame and a waste when people get injured because they don't know how to do breakfalls. Add randori to that list of potential problems too. For that matter, add martial arts. If people knew everything they needed to know to not get injured in Aikido class, the class would be meaningless for them to take.
Most Aikidoka will try to tell their partner how to fix something that they think is a potential injury, or tell their partner not to hurt them. I know I've pulled people aside before class to work on their rolls or falls when they look especially painful. I'm sure you would do the same thing. This is not something that is always part of the dojo culture though, and some instructors frown on this instruction by students, in part because the students sometimes say the wrong things and junior students can pick up bad or harmful habits. Some junior students even resent any sort of advice. A rare junior student is also missed and slips between the cracks without acquiring basic skills. No system is perfect.
There are three people who deserve the blame for any injury that happens through lack of student preparation (and you could argue that all injuries happen through lack of student preparation). I'm sure you can guess who they are: uke, nage, and sensei.
It can be hoped that it won't take an injury for an instructor or senior student to spend some extra time with the unskillful student and help them to learn those extra skills such as koshinage breakfalls. Unfortunately, this type of outreach is not always encouraged, allowed, or possible, and junior students are not always made aware that they can ask anyone for help, or that they can sit out of dangerous techniques if they feel uncomfortable.
I tend to walk away when I realize I am far beyond my skills, but it took me a long time to realize that I could do that. I also tend to arrive early and train my own interests. When people do these things, their training matches their interests more.
This ability to realize who needs what helps is part of beginner's mind, I think: remembering what it looked like when we were a beginner helps us to tell the new students the right things. After all, us Americans are seemingly not used to learning by example without verbal prompting. They need to be told to and encouraged to learn this way from the beginning, especially when there is not beginner class and if that is the dojo culture. This gap in expectations causes many huge problems in Aikido.
Oh yeah... I also think that breakfalls from koshinage are a distinct skill, separate from other types of breakfalls. At least for beginners, they can be much scarier. I know that I still get worried about them when I have someone throwing me in koshinage who doesn't know how to do it. I often end up throwing myself over them.
The only other technique that I can think of that also deserves a similar asterisk for special breakfalls is shihonage breakfalls with a taller, standing uke.