Re: Dan Harden workshop in Hawaii November 20-21
Here are some of my after-workshop thoughts and impressions.
Dan and I have spoken back and forth over the internet for some 15 years, when he first started ruffling feathers with his appearance on the old Aikido-L mailing list, but this is the first time that we've actually met in person, so he's sort of an old friend who has become (I hope) a new friend.
Hawaii is the furthest he's ever gone to teach one of these workshops, and this was actually the smallest group he's ever done a workshop with. What I'm getting at is that, between air, hotel, food and miscellaneous expenses he had to go out of his own pocket in order to come here and get put to work. I'd like to thank him publicly for his time and efforts to come out here and share his training with us.
In the internet or in person, he's a plain-spoken meat and potatoes type, and that directness has made him a controversial figure over the years. In person, however, his passion and sincerity come through clearly - so much so that nobody seems to mind being told (justifiably so) that they "suck".
Dan is very much a "show me" kind of guy, without much patience for claims that aren't backed up with actual performance. On the other hand, he is willing and able to demonstrate, clearly and compellingly, the strength and effectiveness of his theories and approach at all times. Throughout the weekend he showed his stuff on small guys, big guys, even on random guys that he struck up conversations with on the street. Believe me when I say that the demonstrations leave little room for doubt or confusion - once hands touch all arguments become moot.
The next step is explaining what has been shown. The Founder never gave technical instruction in a systematic and detailed fashion. He would demonstrate and his students were left to "steal" the techniques if they could, and to develop systems of instruction on their own. When he did speak, his language was filled with such obscure religious terminology that his students (by their own admission) could barely understand what he was talking about. This, combined with the "rinse and repeat" method of traditional Japanese kata training, led to students who either could not replicate what their teacher had done, or could replicate parts of it without a clear understanding of how they were doing it and where therefore unable to pass along those skills to the next generations.
Dan presented a consistent core theory that expanded rationally from standing and walking to martial applications and weapons. Perhaps the most surprising thing, to some people, might be the fact that it was all (from my viewpoint) pure Aikido. Rather than contradicting anything done by the Founder, Dan's theories explicate in a refreshingly clean and coherent manner.
None of Dan's students were able to accompany him this time, so we had no way of seeing how his teaching plays out over the long term, but I think that everyone there was able a replicate, in some small way, the theories presented. Compare that to most standard seminars, where people may leave with some new technical tricks, but are rarely able to duplicate the core functionality demonstrated by the instructing shihan. Clear hands-on demonstrations and understandable logical explanations make the difference.
He left us with a large repertoire of solo exercises and the hope that he'll be coming back soon - we're already working on planning the next workshop!