I wrote the following after a frustrating and irritating aikido seminar. I don't feel quite as sharply about it now as I did then.
I'm curious to know if any other aikidoka have had similar experiences and how they chose to respond:
I had an interesting experience a few weekends ago at an aikido seminar. A high-ranked aikidoka (5th or 6th dan) decided in the course of a "discussion" we were having about the themes of the seminar to "check" my tai-no-henka technique. He couldn't prevent me from turning (which I think he thought he'd be able to do), but after I had performed the pivot he would bump me off balance with his hip. I have done this to beginners in aikido to demonstrate that they are too close to uke after their pivot, but no matter the distance I put between me and this higher-ranked aikidoka he continued to bump me off balance. Finally, in the course of demonstrating to me what was "wrong" with my technique, he had me grab him. Of course, I could bump him off balance too, which, out of respect, I did gently. When he realized that I could do to him as he had done to me, he then began to lead me forward out of the tai-no-henka position (and out of position to bump him).
Now, this higher-ranked aikidoka had been trying to emphasize to me the importance of bringing my gripped lead hand right to my center. I already knew keeping my lead hand in front of me was important, which is why I bring my gripped lead hand to the inside of my lead hip before turning. I wasn't placing my hand as directly in front of my center as he was, nor was I tilting foward as he did as I moved past my lead hand to pivot and so, as far as he was concerned, I was doing tai-no-henka wrong. What was further curious to me was that his form wasn't like the form of tai-no-henka performed by the shihan teaching the seminar -- the form I was trying to emulate.
Questions (and answers) began to rise in my mind as this senior aikidoka "straightened me out":
1. If I can bump him out of his stance as easily he did me, what was the point of bumping me in the first place? There was no point, I believe, beyond making me feel that my technique was inadequate and in need of his input.
2. Why, when I performed the tai-no-henka movements precisely as he wanted, did he become so completely (actually inordinately) easy to move? To reinforce the fact that he was right, of course. Again, this was just another (and somewhat deceitful) way of attempting to establish to me that his input was valuable.
3. Since he couldn't prevent me from pivoting easily, fully and stably, and extending my arms with the form of tai-no-henka I was already using, what real benefit was there in adopting his way of doing tai-no-henka? None, I think -- except to make him feel good about himself.
This sort of thing isn't unique to my experience as an aikidoka. I've had other higher-ranked aikidoka over the years block my technique to show me their way is "better" and, until now, I've not challenged them. But, I think I'm done with this nonsense. I've been doing aikido for almost twenty years and, while I'm far from mastery of this art, I'm not completely without skill either. Certainly, I've enough skill to perceive when a person's input on my technique is genuinely useful and when it is not. I can tell now when I'm dealing with a stylistic difference rather than a legitimate mechanical/martial concern. And I can see when ego is motivating someone to "correct" my technique rather than a sincere interest in seeing me improve as an aikdoka.
No more Mr. Nice Guy. If another aikidoka (senior or otherwise) tries to challenge my technique he/she better be up to the same challenge from me (shihan excepted, of course).