So, finally, I managed to start Aikido, at Seishinkan
It has taken me well over a year, from wanting to do Aikido, and even finding a dojo I like, to actually get started. Alas, life can get in the way sometimes.
Nonetheless, I thought I would share my "first impressions" of Aikido in this thread. Before I do though, here is a couple of disclaimers, as well as some basic info on the place to put the rest in perspective:
So, with that said, let's get started!
- Before starting, I spent the last year just researching Aikido, reading blogs, this forum, books, and so on. In fact, from various small discussions with the students at the dojo, I now know more "historical" things about Aikido than most of them. Point being, that I may refer to a bunch of stuff I didn't learn at the dojo, so don't blame them for my historical inaccuracies!
- From my original mails with the head teacher, who is a fantastic guy, there is a clear focus on "Aikido that works", and a general attitude of almost ridiculing "ki dances" and so forth. More on that later.
- While we are officially training Yoshinkan Aikido, we are not affiliated directly with Hombu. We are a branch dojo of Nippon Budoin Seibukan, and cross-training seems very encouraged (Kai Kuniyuki, the founder, is also an avid cross-trainer (there is a great article about him on Aikidojournal!)).
- The teaching mentality, when a bunch of newcommers arrive, is to pretty much pull the entire class down to the fundamentals. Since Yoshinkan focuses very much on the drilling of "basics", I guess that makes sense, since people would at times do it anyway, no matter the level.
- And last, these are merely my opinions and impressions, and does not in any way reflect official attitude or anything else from the dojo or Nippon Budoin Seibukan.
On my very first visit, two things immediately struck me:
1) People are super friendly! Like... really friendly. Surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, I quite like it to be honest. Compared to Judo, which I did a trial lesson of shortly before Aikido (since it was considerably closer to my apartment), people talk all the time. In Judo, the only thing you would hear was "IPPON!", "COME ON!!!!!", or laugh smacks on the mats (granted, I happened to walk into a dojo that was producing national Judo champions...).
2) There's not very many people! Really, not a whole lot of people. Still, not something I particularly mind though.
3) Warm ups are very light, and about equal time is spent stretching the wrists, and cardio/strength. Warmup is also fairly short - about 1/4th of Judo (granted, Judo warmup was so crazy, I could barely join in training afterwards, guessing about 30-45'ish minutes of intense cardio and strength. Again, with national champions, I guess that makes sense.).
The training each time pretty much followed the same basic layout. Start off by bowing and such, and then onto the warmups.
For the actual training, naturally I and the 3 other newcommers were put on rolling back and forth for a good solid while. Luckily, I've done a bit of breakfalling and rolls when I was younger (in some form of Jiu Jitsu, that I did for a few months, when around 14'ish), so it wasn't too bad. I did sprain my neck though, when I in a moment of confusion of where to properly slam one of my arms, rolled backwards over the wrong side of my head - which hurt quite a bit, LOL.
Next up was Kihon Dosa - the basic movements of Yoshinkan. I wasn't a big fan of doing them WHILE doing them, but they continue to be the things that get me most excited afterwards. As we got down to doing techniques in coming weeks, the basic movements in all techniques become more apparent, and is actually something I really want to drill the heck out of now.
Reminds me of the Kata's I did when doing Shotokan Karate when I was much younger. Though contrary to Karate (though this could have something to do with my young age back then), I have found the Kihon Dosa to be much more of a building block for techniques and movements later. In a strange sense, Kihon Dosa feels like much more of a practical exercise than Kata ever did. Kata felt like drilling what you had learned, Kihon Dosa feels like drilling so you can learn more.
Then onto techniques.
After having a technique demonstrated, we were paired up in groups of two, with each newcommer getting a senior student to practice with. Firstly, I was surprised at how difficult a seemingly simple technique is to pull off. That is something that continues to baffle me. It looks, obviously, amazingly smooth when demonstrated, and also looks fairly simple when broken down, but I continually have issues with actually making it work. At the same time, I have been surprised at how very small changes can have a huge impact. For the first round, I was in Nikyo-something as far as I remember, and I remember thinking to myself; "Well yes, it sort of hurts, I mean, it's uncomfortable, and I guess if he really put power into it, it could hurt, but not enough for me not just to punch you in the face" - my partner then shifted, what seemed to be a few centimeters, forward, and I was on the ground.
Joint locks hurt like fuck. Only once in Martial Arts do I remember something that hurt more - when I was 14, and accidentally took a fist to the jaw (exclusively my fault, for horrible posture), and bit my lip open.
The techniques are not taught as one long movement. Of course, that's what they should end up as, but they are being taught in steps - common in Yoshinkan, as far as I know. This is both good and bad. It's good, because it makes getting the details correct much easier. If I was just taught them in one fluid motion, sure, I might be able to "make it through" the technique without having to stop and think at some point (I have yet to do that), but mistakes would be endless.
It's bad, because obviously many (most?) techniques rely on countering force, going with the flow, and so forth. And since we train in segments, that opening force isn't there, and if it is, is gone by "step 2". That can make it extremely hard to pull off some things. That said, I'm sure that'll be the norm of training, once I'm not a total noobie.
I continue to not being able to do the pins correct - in any way.
Speaking of small movements making a big difference: By now, I've had to apologize twice, to two different seniors, for being far too aggressive in locks. I need to get used to being a bit more careful, since the gap between where "it doesn't really hurt much" to the point where you go "and now something is about to snap" really isn't that big. So twice, I've pushed a joint far more than I should have. Still feel a little bad about that
A big plus for me personally so far, has been that atemi has been an integral part of every technique so far. Both in opening the technique, as well as functioning as a finisher at times. Blocking atemi (from either uke or nage) has also been a part of pretty much every technique (and not merely "aikido-go-with-the-flow" blocking, more Karate-type blocking). I managed to get bumped in the head while on the ground at one point (lucky for me, they go soft on me since I still forget... well, everything), since I forgot to put up my block. Gave me a good chuckle - it was almost comical.
The (extra?) focus on atemi, is probably due to both Sensei's, as well as founder Kunyuki's, background in Karate.
Did I mention that these joint locks hurt like a motherf*cker?
After training, having tea and cake is the norm. And who doesn't like tea and cake?! At one point, I stayed for close to an hour, just chatting with some of the other guys around my age. Good stuff!
After each time training, I've noticed that my body hurts in weird places. Both muscles and joints hurts in places I'm not used to them hurting, which is pretty amusing. Training also makes me sweat a lot more than I thought it would. Now, I'm not in brilliant shape by any stretch, I smoke, I drink, and work with graphics on a computer. But still, even doing it, I get surprised at how exhausting it is!
Movements over all seem to be a lot smaller-circle focused, than what you tend to see at Aikido demonstrations. This is a positive for me. I have also yet to see one huge flying throw/breakfall.
Now, a couple of random negative things:
The first, being that the proficiency of students vary greatly. Hugely. It seems completely irrelevant to grade. There also seems to be a lot of confusion about how to properly train, and how to perform certain techniques (even for simple things like falls), when Sensei isn't around. I remember the first lesson, when rolling back and forth, and a yudansha was told to train us in it, while the rest did Kihon Dosa - told to train one way. After rolling back and forth a few times, one of the other students went and said "Why don't you do it X way? Why do it Y way? Y is completely wrong" which was a bit meeeh.
I've also had various dan grades do the same drills completely differently, and while practicing techniques, different dan grades have more than once needed to look over to Sensei, to see how the technique should be performed. This leaves me a bit worried. Sensei might be fantastic at what he does, but I worry that he, over time, might fail to teach his students to the same level.
I've also run into a guy, who's been there for several years, and is just outright horrible. He's just bad at Aikido. I believe he said he'd been training for 5 years or so - he's a green belt, but since I don't know how the grading system works yet (other than we only have one graduation per year), I don't know his grade. But having trained with him, as well as randomly observed him, his Aikido is just bad. Again, this makes me worry about the level people reach here.
Nothing to do specifically with the dojo, I was talking with another newcommer, who had only been there about one more trial lesson than I had at the time. She was rolling back and forth with the rest of us newbies, and struggling with all the same things the rest of us newbies were. I randomly asked if she had done this before (I expected a no), and she told me she had been training Aikido for 12 years. That was pretty shocking, since I'm pretty sure she couldn't perform a joint lock on a sleeping person.
A couple of random positive things:
Ki is largely ridiculed, and considered nonsense. If it is not considered nonsense, then it's because people refer to Ki as basically just the culmination of force+body mechanics+technique+so on. Basically, just a "perfect technique" you might say. I'm sure I'll get flack for putting that as a positive thing here, but it's a positive thing for me. I should add, without anything to back this up, that I guess this also has to do with my country, Denmark, than just the dojo alone. Denmark is a largely atheistic/agnostic country, and is not nearly as spiritual as Japan or the US.
Aikido is a Martial Art. While Sensei has clearly said something along the lines of "For proper Self Defense, you would probably need more than just Aikido", it's very much taught as a Martial Art, and not as a self-improvement system, a yoga workout, or spiritual training. I believe this is more common in Yoshinkan branches, than styles such as Aikikai, but I could be wrong of course.
A couple of random random things:
My seniors keep getting annoyed, because I bend in ways I shouldn't (when taking a technique). Now, if not for the following, I would added that under negative. But no, it's just that, as they say "that's fine, but then I would do a completely different technique, but that's not the one we're practicing right now", and so, awkward moments are abound, as they continually look at me with a "grrr, not again ._.'" face, when I bend and move in ways that don't correspond with the technique being learned.
Also, I love tea and cake!
And also, joint locks hurt like sh!t.
Now grab my wrist
(and I wouldn't be able to do anything with it)