So last nights training I'm working with a new student. Technique is Shomenuchi Shihonage and I'm nage. I do the technique slowly as this student has zilch ukemi ability and I don't want to hurt him. I enter shihonage and begin to cut down uke begins to twist out of shihonage. We've all experienced this with beginners. With experienced Aikidoka I can just continue with a smooth cut down and a pin if I choose. But this is beginner stop and go aikido, so I tighten up the grip with a little elbow atemi to the back to prevent the twist. I gently suggest that twisting away from shihonage is a good way to get hurt, much safer to turn a little towards nage, easier on shoulder, better ukemi with more ukemi options.
I complete the technique and we begin on the other side. Same procedure, he twists, I restate and gently take him to the mat. By the third try he has decided its not his ukemi that needs work, but rather that my technique is all wrong and procedes to lecture me on how I should enter and block the attack, then move into shihonage. He assures me this will work much better. He is wearing a TKD gi, so I see were he gets his idea that this is some kind of block. I explain that in aikido the focus is on moving and blending, not standing still and blocking. He disagrees. At this point I'm looking for the instructor and of course she is on the other side of the mat.
Now don't take this the wrong way, cause my first experience in my first two weeks of aikido was that I was hurting the practiced students because I took the slack out of techniques no matter how bad they were in terms of aikido proficientcy.
I think it was my second week of aikido, in 1997, and I had this chiropractor who was an ex-marine, and pretty tough, but he kept putting up more and more resistence trying to show me that what I was doing was not going to work because I wasn't cutting down like most people do for shihonage. Looking back on it today, I had more of a chicken wing with a yonkyo than shihonage and that just wrenches the shoulder socket out of joint if uke resists. Well .. uke resisted and a scream of pain, a pretty loud yelp came out, so I let go and looked over at the teacher and said,' he is resisting too much." to which my partner gave the sad look that this new student was doing shihonage all wrong, which was probably right, but it takes time to adjust, at least for grumpy old men, ya know what I mean?
Anyway, the teacher asked the student to do exactly what he did with me, and the word came down ... he was resisting too much! RELAX ... don't fight the technique, but I should do it slower and keep my uke's arm over his shoulder not out to the side which would wrench my partners shoulder even more with any resistence.
Point is ... eventually, in about two years, even the biggest hardheads who kept saying I was gonna quit aikido because I didn't have a feel for the techniques ... just gave up trying to make judgements, and I learned to be gentle yet firm as I learned to feel how far I could go with different people. This was something I had missed in my jujitsu/ karate classes, learning to feel the tightness of my practice partner. For the first five years of martial art training, which is about what I had before aikido .. I just wanted to take out all the slack until pain, which was usually a yelp or tapping out/ slapping to release the technique, was the only motivator to release the techniques before injury occurred.
NO, it wasn't a kinder gentler aikido I was looking for in those first two years of practice, but a style of practice that left absolutely no other choice than compliance. And yet, I really wasn't looking to cause harm or injury to anyone.
It doesn't matter if you are a beginner, or from another style, or simply just passing though trying out an aikido class ... people with a good spirit will give your body back in as good or better condition because that is what good caring people do. When we borrow something, we give it back, barring accident or breakage beyond our control, in as good or better condition than when we borrowed it, including human bodies, right?
One last story.
My buddy and I were going to South Carolina to pick up some baby clams for his clam farm. (Yeah, there are clam beds where people are literally farming crops of clams, and they are licensed farmers, believe it or not.)
Well, we stopped by Okimura's sensei's dojo in Newark, Delaware. That night there were only two or three students, and Karate black belt who was in his late forties wanting to try out aikido class. Nicest fella you would want to meet. Polite. Knowledgeable, and completely open to the throws and techniques that we were practicing.
Here we are, two strangers from another dojo, although we had been there for three or four seminars over the last four years, we were helping each other out to understand not only the way Okimura sensei's teacher for that night wanted his student for that class to do aikido, but adding our own two cents for what our teacher practiced also, as we tried to help this person understand why we let ourselves practice so gently. In trying to keep the practice safe and yet fast paced enough to keep everyone up to speed, despite the variety of proficientcy levels for people in the room, we did keep it real for this karate black belt who wanted to try out aikido as well as see his variations for what we were practicing.
We had a few more hours to drive through the night, but I can't help but remember that this was a prime example of the people in aikido are not alone in world, nor do we have the franchise for being caring or nice. Sometimes there are opportunitys for us all to learn from each other.
Yeah, there are other stories of people coming to our dojo who were just plain unreceptive for the techniques or the training as they are trying to prove everything we are doing for aikido doesn't work. But then, if anyone even half understands getting closer and closer to reality is as much the responsibility of the uke as it is the nage while giving back that body you borrowed for practice in as good or better condition than you found it, this problem is not just a problem with beginners who have delusions of grandeur, is it?
As difficult as it is for some people to grasp .... we learn to hurt each other and yet be gentle and caring at the same time.
Strange world, huh?
Sometimes people are gonna get hurt when they have the wrong attitude, and they are actually trying to hurt themselves or others, but I would hope that we meet some nice people along the way and realize ... aikido has no patent on good caring people. They are everywhere, sometimes even in that new student who is pretty awkward for aikido practice.