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Old 07-13-2011, 10:42 AM   #145
George S. Ledyard
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Demetrio Cereijo wrote: View Post
Hi George,

Reading statements like this one Kevin made:

Make me wonder if the generalizad lack of response to your letter from your students is not caused only because "they don't care".

What do you think? Are there a significant number of scared students?

While I would say that most are not... I suspect that some are. My wife often says that I am somewhat unaware of the force of my personality. Since she is an extremely perceptive person, I will assume she is correct.

I think that, it's more a matter that, at least in most cases, my students actually like me too much. There's this whole "approval" thing that operates in any activity that has hierarchy. It's one of the reasons that so many really senior teachers fall into the "guru" trap. So, something as simple as who gets used for ukemi, how you tell someone that what they just did doesn't work, etc all gets invested with a whole layer of stuff that is unrelated to the issue at hand.

Different teachers handle this differently. Some maintain a distance between themselves and their students. On some levels I think this serves to protect them as well as buffer the students from getting too sucked in. It definitely serves to protect the teacher from getting too invested in the students and then being disappointed.

I have seen teachers who do the strict hierarchical, disciplined thing. I have to say that, this approach, in my experience had the highest likelihood of ending badly with abuse problems etc in the dojo.

Other teachers are the student's friend. Everyone is buddies, it's all low key. While pleasant, I seldom think this results in a dojo where people are apt to push themselves. Certainly, when everything is happy in everyone's training, there is seldom any personal transformation going on.

My own approach is to walk a fine line. It's my own and not modeled after any other teacher I know of. I am largely hands off about the dojo and let the students run the place for the most part. My letter was one of my rare cases of inserting myself into the process. I saw a small group doing all the work and hard training and a number of others not supporting the efforts.

My students treat me respectfully but are not at all slavish. When we travel to seminars, especially when I am teaching, they fold my hakama after class but generally do not do so on a daily basis. I mostly choose the ukes based on seniority (or the ability to safely do he ukemi for what I am teaching). Occasionally I rotate it through everyone there so as to not leave anyone out. I don't think we have too much of an issue with the "uke role" as a popularity contest.

I have created blocks of instruction, like an iai class, and a IP study group which, after I got it going, I stepped back in order that the students themselves get in the habit of keeping their training going rather tha being motivated just by me. It's worked well and the dojo would survive quite nicely if I weren't there tomorrow.

I suspect that the folks who are most "scared" of me are the ones I rarely see. I do not teach the beginners classes (something recommended by my teachers) and they don't know me very well. Not to mention that my training background was with a Japanese teacher... so my default setting was not as positive feedback oriented as it is these days. My wife has made an effort to get me to retool this area. When I trained one simply didn't get positive feedback. If one was doing ok, one was given the next thing to work on. If one wasn't doing ok, one got it pointed out in no uncertain terms. I trained for thirty years before I got an actual compliment about something I had done (in this case a class that I had taught that my teacher observed) that wasn't in the context of reflecting back on my teacher in some fashion.

So, I am always trying to find the right balance. The folks that come to my classes daily I do not think are terribly scared, nor do I think they are overly motivated by seeking my approval. On the other hand, I do know that they are proud of the dojo and want to do a good job "representing" when they have to be in public, as at seminars or at Dan tests. I am glad that they care... I want them to wish to do a good job. It makes it hard to get folks to want to test because they always want a bit more time so they can be "perfect". Usually i end up having to tell them they have to test. That isn't a bad thing I think.

Anyway, I do think about these issues. I think I m far more "supportive" in an overt sense than anything I grew up with in my own Aikido but I suspect that I can do better. I always look at dojos where I think the training is top level and try t see how their teacher handles things. If I think he or she is doing a better job, I will adjust. We all operate within our own limitations however, so I am not saying that I can't improve here. This is another "old school" thing in many ways. When I first started, what we did was considered Budo. Being scared on some level was normal and you were expected to suck it up. Having looked at how Systema folks deal with this I think I have changed my views on this. But my process probably needs to evolve to keep pace with my ideas.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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