Join Date: Mar 2002
Re: The Nage/Uke Dynamic - Guidelines
I must say that you are too kind in your praise. I have read your posts on the various aikido forums and learned a great deal from them, so if I was able to repay the favor in some small way in this thread then I consider it in an honor. As I feel that we know each other somewhat now, I would appreciate it if you would call me by first name, as everyone else I know through aikido does.
Your point that you cannot prevent people from reading the guidelines (or anything else) in a way that advances their own agenda is well taken, though I think that what we each assume as a given and therefore do not state also leaves our words more open to misinterpretation than we might like. For example, I did not address the parts of your guidelines on spontaneous practice partly because I agree with them and take it as a given that this should be part of aikido training. I also would have gone much further in a specification of spontaneous practice and how it relates to kata practice if I had written such guidelines myself.
Briefly, I see aikido practice as a continuum from form to spontaneity, and I do not see why we must limit ourselves to only those two poles. I often situate a class somewhere in the middle, perhaps starting out with a form and then moving into how that form changes into other forms based on slight differences in the attack or in uke$B!G(Bs reaction to the initial movement of the technique. Or perhaps I will start out with spontaneous practice and then identify a particular situation or movement where there is some confusion or difficulty and examine it in more detail with the study of the corresponding form. By constantly moving along this continuum, I integrate kata practice and freestyle into one coherent whole so that each informs the other. Too often in aikido, would-be freestyle practice is seen as an entirely different entity with little connection to forms practice other than perhaps through stilted attempts to find a way to $B!H(Bspontaneously$B!I(B employ a technique learned in forms practice. There is no deeper connection between the two, and hence the forms remain dead while the freestyle is ineffective at applying aikido principles and movements to novel situations.
The main reason I did not address that aspect of your guidelines, though, was that I was more interested in the question of what role the instructor should play with respect to kata practice because I wanted to find an answer for this question myself, so I hope you will forgive my selfishness in focusing upon that issue. I personally find it very easy to engage in freestyle practice or to let my students do so, perhaps because we all approach it with a beginner$B!G(Bs mind, but I find that kata practice brings with it the baggage of all the hours I have spent on the mat in mainstream aikido classes. It is still too easy for me to slip into copying some pedagogical pattern that I have seen before without thinking about whether I can justify doing so according to the principles of the art as I now understand them. I find that I have to constantly reevaluate my approach to teaching kata in order avoid perpetuating the bad habits and ineffective methods that I learned earlier. My ultimate goal is to develop a completely new framework, to replace the one I have learned from mainstream aikido, for this kind of instruction that is consistent with the principles of the art as I see them.
As I have been discussing, I think that comparing aikido to koryu is very instructive here because koryu offers a complete, proven method of kata instruction that can form a point of reference for developing a similar method for aikido. To do this, we must take into account the many structural differences between koryu and aikido and the pedagogical implications of these differences. Perhaps the most significant of these is the fact that in koryu, fixed forms are passed down in a tightly controlled manner from the leader of the art to the students via direct transmission (through instruction in the uke-nage dyad) from himself or his delegated representatives. Because the headmaster personally verifies all of the forms (which is also to say those who are permitted to teach them; the two are equivalent in koryu), one must simply trust his judgment that they are valid within the context of the overall system; just as the forms and those permitted to teach them are functionally equivalent, the headmaster is also equivalent to the system itself. While we can still establish objective standards for evaluating koryu and look at a specific form according to such criteria as whether it has immediate tactical relevance, we cannot question the validity of a form itself from within the system unless we have been granted the authority to do so by the system (which is to say by the leader of the system).
Aikido is based upon a completely different structure, and among the differences in structure is that there is no person in aikido who has authority over all of the forms in the system. This is because aikido is not primarily a system of forms, as koryu are. Validity, as such, is a very personal measure that has little to do with adherence to canonical form. My criteria for a correct form may be very different from another person$B!G(Bs, and it may even be very different from my own at another stage of my progress in the art, but in some sense, all have a certain validity, which is not to say effectiveness, within aikido. While I may have been suggesting in earlier posts that effectiveness should be the criterion of validity even when it is outside the experience of a particular instructor (and I find it troubling that this is so often the case), I can no longer support that position. Instead, I must acknowledge that each is free to pursue the art according to his own personal criteria, even if effectiveness is not among them.
The stipulation that many different approaches to aikido have validity does not apply only to teachers, but equally to students as well, so the implication of this for instructors is that they must allow their students the freedom to pursue their own criteria, even in kata practice. The role of the instructor should be to facilitate the students' study of the art through interaction with himself and their partners in the triadic model. Because of the natural imbalance of power between instructors and students on the mat, the priorities or criteria of the instructors can easily subsume those of the students, so it is incumbent upon instructors to be sensitive to the goals of the students and to attempt to adapt the practice to meet their needs. The added power of that role to advance one$B!G(Bs understanding of the art at the expense of others also comes with a corresponding responsibility to rectify that understanding with those of one$B!G(Bs students. To use a description from the popular lingo of the art, an aikido teacher should be able to blend with a student$B!G(Bs mindset or understanding of the art and come out on the other end having influenced that understanding with his own and thereby changed, but not wholly replaced, it.
Note that the way I have described this process is almost the exact opposite of what is normally taken to be the accepted method of instruction in aikido (and other martial arts), wherein the student must rectify his understanding of the art to that of the teacher. My criticism, then, is not so much of your guidelines as it is of the accepted method of kata instruction in aikido generally, which your guidelines only obtusely reflect, so I apologize for hijacking your thread and using your otherwise accurate guidelines as a springboard to expound upon this topic. Thank you for challenging me with your questions and comments and forcing me to clarify my thoughts on this subject. I have enjoyed this exchange and I look forward to continuing our dialogue on this or other subjects as time permits.