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Old 06-05-2009, 01:11 PM   #1
George S. Ledyard
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Teaching Methodology

I think that Aikido should be taught completely differently from the way it is generally taught. The vast majority of the Aikido that I see out there suffers from two major problems:

a) People mistake harmonious movement for "aiki"

b) Technique is generally physical relying solely on muscle strength and good body mechanics

This was pretty much the state of my own Aikido for 25 years, despite the efforts of some of the best Aikido teachers in the world. It was the Aiki Expos which put my training on a different path altogether. It was there that I noticed that much of the best "aiki" was being done by teachers who weren't doing Aikido. When I went to the classes offered by these teachers, I found that they had systematic, principle based, body centered explanations for what they were doing. Not only could they do amazing technique, they could teach others to do so.

I came away with a new perspective about how to teach what we do. First of all, I think we have people trying to do technique too soon. I think that it makes far more sense to focus on getting a solid understanding of the principles of aiki both mental and physical using various simple exercises rather than attempt waza without any ability to do it with proper body mechanics and mental state.

Aikido training is essentially the reprogramming of the body and mind until the principles of aiki become ones default setting. It is far, far easier to do this from the start of someones training rather than after they have done years of practice and thousands of repetitions wrong. Undoing something wrong is much harder than teaching it right in the first place.

So what is it that needs to be taught that generally isn't? It's how one receives the energy of an attack into the body and how to give energy back to the partner without collision. There are mental or psychic elements to this process and there are very specific physical elements.

It's not that anyone is going to master all this immediately, regardless of how excellent the instruction. But a certain level of understanding should be present before any attempt to have speed or power into the training is made. Of course this is the exact opposite of the way I was trained. We grabbed each other as hard as we could, executed our strikes as forcefully as possible, stopped each others technique, etc. From the perspective of my current understanding virtually everything we were doing was wrong. We trained that way for decades, got very strong physically, developed a "go to the center" attitude and we had no idea what our teacher, Saotome Sensei was doing.

It's not that physical strength isn't important, it just needs to be the proper kind of strength. A strong, fearless spirit is essential to do our art. But it cannot be the spirit of fighting... it must be the spirit of "fudo shin" or immovable mind. Every element of training should be directed at getting the student to relax. Relax the body and relax the mind, these are the most important elements in "aiki". Most of the way folks train tends to make them "ramp up" emotionally as they train faster and harder. One of the things I most appreciate about Endo Sensei is that he insists that the uke and the nage are doing the same thing. He demands a continuous connection between the partners. He won't let people train wrong. He doesn't allow them to fall back on empty physicality, he won't allow the ukes to plant or shut down their partners. Over time, their bodies start to understand that it is relaxation that makes them safe, not contention.

In order to start developing the intuition that is the hallmark of really high level technique, it is necessary to quiet the mind. When the mind is excited or "noisy" you are feeling yourself, not the partner. As you quiet yourself down, you start to vibrate sympathetically with your partner. You begin to "feel" the change iin his intention that precedes a physical attack.

All of this is what "aiki" is about. There has been discussion on the forums that Aikido translated as "The Way of Harmony" is perhaps not the best translation. While I think that description is a good characterization of what the art is intended to be, it is a bad translation in terms of actually describing what the practitioner does. "joining" is a far better term for describing what we are trying to do in Aikido. We join psychically, we join physically. We establish "ittai-ka: or "single body" in which there is no separation between the two partners. We remove the mind of contention so that there is no conflict of intentions between the partners.

The training we do should focus almost exclusively on how to do these things until the student begins to have them imprinted in his mind and body. Then it makes sense to focus on technique because only then can each technique be learned using a correct foundation of "aiki" principle. I think it may take quite a bit longer for students to feel as if they can actually do their Aikido martially, under some pressure, freely applying various techniques, but when they do start to work on this, their waza will "work" and it won't need to be undone in order to get to the next level (there is always a next level).

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