Location: Summerholm, Queensland
Join Date: Dec 2004
Re: Inefficiencies in the Aikido Training Method
A general comment about the whole teaching/not teaching issue. To me, that is not generally what I would consider an efficiency issue.
Perhaps it would be useful if we could all agree what the ATM is firstly? To me, and this is only my general experience, the ATM (within the limits of a "classroom" scenario), generally follows similar lines of most MAs:
1. "warm up" exercises - which most are expected to do prior to the "lesson" proper. These may, or may not include, specific solo or paired exercises or drills, e.g. tai-no-henka, ikkyo undo, kokyu-ho, vestigial remnants of chinkon-kishin exercises, such as funekogi, furitama, ibuki etc.
2. "waza" - conducted within the "lesson" itself, which entails playing both roles of tori and uke
3. randori/jiyu waza - either one-on-one or many-to-one
In most cases, it is no different to how a jujitsu or karate class might be conducted, for example. So, what is different with the ATM and why is it inefficient? Compare it to a BJJ or even MMA class, that I once sat down to observe. I don't think it's any different. The format appears to be the same - warm up, techniques, free sparring/grappling. The issue I think, is not so much the method, than the recipe missing some key ingredient. If any here are at all familiar with culinary pursuits, sometimes you know when the recipe needs a little something (tabasco, splash of brandy...) to give it that extra oomph, and while you can vary the method to some degree in most things, certain recipes, especially cakes and pastries, require specific quantities and key ingredients, and strict adherence to methods. Is Aikido a cake or a stir fry? A stir fry you can put whatever you want in it - meat, seafood, (or tofu if you're vegetarian), and an assortment of vegetables, and legitimately call it a stir fry. If Aikido is a cake, what sort of cake is it? Different cakes have specific methods... while others are based on a basic butter cake recipe using the same method, with different variations.
Why is it necessary to make a choice between cheap, fast and good? I primarily do the cooking at home. It's MY form of relaxation. I can make cheap, fast, nutritious, AND BLOODY good tasting meals. Ask anyone. Why not the same with Aikido? It could be cheap if lessons were free or low cost. It could be fast if knowledge could be transmitted clearly, and in such a way as to enable rapid development of skill. It could be good if the student walks away knowing that they've learnt something concrete that can be applied immediately... to *some* arbitrary level of competency and/or proficiency, and not after 20-30 years of shelling out $10000s, for the outer shell of a corpus of knowledge to which the keys to unlock it have been deliberately withheld. One certainly doesn't have to shell out $1000s just to learn how to relax - not that it's really "taught" anyway... much less, learning how to generate and extend power in a relaxed manner.
The problem, as I see it is not how it is taught, or in many cases, not taught. In the majority of cases, and as Ellis writes, in Ueshiba's case as well, particularly in his earlier years, when he was still largely experimenting, auditing other sources, and formulating his own personal practice, many so called teachers don't really teach, in as much as they are experimenting themselves. In fact, some even make a point to say that they do not teach. As westerners, we tend to expect the teacher to, well, teach, and instructors to, well, instruct. Perhaps because society and education system have trained us that way, with text books, PowerPoint handouts, course notes, and information brochures.
The whole idea of "not teaching" because it is up to the student to steal it, is actually, IMO, by far the most expedient method of teaching. It saves having to explain a lot of stuff in words, if the student could simply intuit what the teacher means. Ellis has already written extensively on the raison d'etre for this in AI3P and HIPS, so I won't belabour the point regarding that, other than to say, it's the same reason one's business would run a lot more smoothly, with far less external intervention, when employees can pre-empt the boss' requirements, as would a household, when husband, wife and children are in-sync. Come dinner time, meals get put on the table a lot quicker, if everyone intuitively knew what was happening, instead of me having to shout the orders - lay the table, utensils, etc. etc. dammit child, you know the drill.
But I'm certain too there were times when I missed quite a few things, due to a momentarily lapse of attention and concentration, OR because I just didn't know IF I was missing something important, like some nuance or movement. And as is the custom, once that moment is gone, it's gone. Too bad if you missed it.
When I switched over to the dark side a few years ago, my jujitsu sensei made it quite explicit that I was expected to steal what I could. FWIW, I left after 6 months of training twice a week, having gleaned the core of what he was openly willing to show - all 223 basic techniques within the curriculum and more. By the end of which, I was already able to extrapolate a number of additional techniques that he had never shown, by just having gleaned the fundamental principles of the art. Of course, he kept a few secrets to himself, and which he quite candidly admitted to... but that was rightly his sole perogative, since I wasn't a formal student, but merely a guest from a related art and accorded the formality and respect as such. Even though, some of the students there made it a point to "test my skill" in the beginning. Not that I was any better or stronger than some, but that it was enough that I was able to hold my own and in some cases, was able to come out on top.
The real question is, what was he holding back, and why was it such a secret? What did I miss? Sometimes, it's just nice to be told what it is.
Aikido and the ATM, however, is quite a different animal. Although the technical curriculum is significantly pared down (as Ellis describes, HIPS p173), it shares several common techniques with jujitsu - certainly in the jujitsu I learnt. It is, however, applied quite differently. Again, Ellis has written quite extensively on this in AI3P and HIPS. The key is really how it is different and why it's different. To paraphrase Ellis in geeky terms, it's like having the public key to an encrypted text - without the private key, you have Buckley's of decrypting it! However, the martial/combative principles contained within Aikido are universal - i.e. they are applicable to *any* pursuit (martial or otherwise). This has been corroborated by many high level practitioners I've trained with, including one of my Aikido seniors. The problem is, is Aikido a martial pursuit dressed in spiritual robes, or a spiritual pursuit clothed in the martial attire? Or both? Again, Ellis talks about this at length.
Ellis' whole point about the inefficiency of the ATM is within the context of a martial art and technical corpus. To those that are of the firm opinion that Aikido is solely a spiritual pursuit with limited utility in a combative arena, I would ask this: If you cannot hold your own in a different venue, with different rules, then what purpose does clothing the practice in martial attire serve? Why not simply discard the keiko gi, the hakama (in jujitsu, the hakama is sometimes worn, in some places both for regular training and ceremonial rituals), and the ranks, and just pursue the spiritual practice?
If it is a martial pursuit, with spiritual overtones, can you still hold your own in a different venue, with different rules? If not why not? What is missing and why? Does it need fixing and how would you fix it?
For a short time I studied KU with Sensei Patrick McCarthy. Like every noob that turned up that first nite, I showed up in a white belt as well. Only Patrick knew I had yudansha ranking in Aikido. But it was quite interesting to watch the dojo brutes rough up the noobs and scare them off one by one. So, after about 3 weeks, of the 8 noobs that started with me, I was the only one left. Imagine the consternation when I, a lowly white belt, with just 3 weeks of training, and vastly outweighed by a good 60kg, was able to hold my own against a highly ranked practitioner, in a free-sparring/grappling session - ultimately submitting him in a leg hold, as he very quickly gassed himself out, trying to out-grapple me. Then there was the occasion when I accidentally got myself in an ankle lock by another student - a 2nd dan - who nearly ripped my foot off... not only was that totally unnecessary, and showed poor control on his part, but it clearly highlighted a shortcoming on my part.
So, if you cannot at least hold your own, what good is Aikido as a martial art then? One would be hard pressed to offer Ueshiba as founder and role model for the art, a man who took on all-comers and proved his martial skill and ability time and time again, if few can match, much less emulate his prowess and abilities.
I happen to like the ATM and as a spiritual-cum-martial pursuit - in preference to everything else I've done. Personally, I don't care if the ATM is inefficient or not - the satisfaction of simply training is sufficient for me. But that's me. Through my interaction and discussions with people like Rob John and Mike Sigman, I can now see where the ATM might perhaps be deficient and lacking, but inefficient? Maybe not. Maybe it's simply missing a key ingredient or certain methods aren't entirely correct or worse yet, incomplete. Sometimes it happens, especially with untested recipes scribbled on random bits of paper. Was that 2 x 1/2 cups (why not say 1 cup then?) or 2 AND 1/2 cups? You sure that says 1tbsp and not 1tsp? Mix ALL the ingredients together? But won't that just go lumpy?
If someone were to approach me because they knew I "do" Aikido, (and I have done this before) I wouldn't simply teach them what I know of Aikido (which in actuality, may not be very much at all). Their needs and desires may not necessarily be the same as my own personal pursuits and practices. It may be that I might teach them something else entirely appropriate for what they need to know now and are able to easily replicate within a short space of time. For starters I might not teach them basic ukemi. Perhaps I might simply teach them how to stand, how to root, how to shift weight, or how to change their body angle through a slight shift and turn of the feet instead of irimi/tenkan. And instead of the obligatory ikkyo and progression through a vast repertoire of wrist and finger locks, I might teach them how to strike vulnerable areas with or without a makeshift weapon. In that sense, yes, the ATM is inefficient for their particular needs.
But obviously, I wouldn't call it Aikido... why would I? Yet, by the same token, the principles contained therein are universal and not specifically unique to Aikido.
Last edited by eyrie : 09-06-2009 at 07:52 AM.