Teaching a Beginner What Aikido Isn't
Today I had what I think I would count as my first moment of really 'teaching' someone, but it has left me a bit unsure of how to feel.
In most of the mudansha classes I attend I'm usually one of the two or three highest-ranked students, so if there are beginners there's a good chance that I'll be called on to show them the basics. I've had this before and it's fine. My teaching style (if I can call it that) needs a lot of work, but by and large it's just the same old dance of showing the basics to someone who usually has no prior point of reference -- very little changes.
Every now and again there will be someone who wants to know how to do the things they've seen Steven Seagal do or who really just wants to hurt people (or maybe is a bit hampered by their previous experience in another martial art). You have to listen to them, humour them, relate what you can of their interests and previous experience to what you're attempting to demonstrate in Aikido, but largely it's a case of "okay, that's cool. Now, let's try this technique again and see how it's done".
Today I was asked to teach the basics to a young man who has come up on perhaps one or two occasions before. He's a bit tall and very quiet. Once he gets talking he's quite chatty and very nice. I found out that he likes the new Karate Kid film. However, about halfway through the class, he asks if it's okay to use your elbow to hit someone in the face when you have them in a certain position (I believe it was from a tenchinage just before the point of the throw). It soon emerged that he's being bullied at school and it became very obvious that he wants to learn something to defend himself. I don't think he would harm a fly, but the fact that he asked that question gave the impression that he was actually quite worried about getting into fights and wanted to know what he could do to quickly get out of them.
At that point I stopped. I could have handed over to sensei, but I had been asked to teach this fellow so I thought I should give it a shot.
I explained to him that he should not attempt to use any of the techniques we were showing him in a fight. My first concern was for him getting hurt if he tried to. I explained that they were largely exercises to build up muscle memory and learn principles, rather than to learn practical techniques that could be immediately applied in their own right. I tried to emphasise that the most important and useful thing he could take away from training as a beginner in need of immediate knowledge was tai sabaki. "Move when they try to hit you; if you get the opportunity to, unbalance them a bit, but then run away". Things of that nature. If he couldn't avoid the fight and absolutely had no choice at all then yes, use the elbow to strike a blow, but then get away as fast as possible. I tried to explain that if he escalated a fight at all he may be lucky enough to win, but the odds of repeat success against the other guy and three of his friends the next day would be slim.
The whole thing has been concerning me ever since. Not so much that he is facing the risk of physical violence (most of us do at some point and hopefully his is not very extreme, not that I could actively prevent it in any event), but whether the advice I gave was really the best. I tried to be practical and let him know exactly what Aikido would and wouldn't be useful for at his, mine and sensei's respective levels. I don't suppose I could really have done anything more, but as my first moment of really trying to teach someone something useful in the dojo, I can't help but wonder.
I'm sorry that was a bit long, but if anyone has had any similar experiences (I'm sure most seasoned instructors will), I'd love to hear what happened and how you advised the student. I don't know if this fellow will stick with Aikido long-term, but I can see him coming back in the coming weeks at least, so it would be interesting to hear any similar stories.