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Old 09-04-2014, 07:41 PM   #1
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 1
review of Dan Harden's Aug 2014 Intensive

I'm normally don't post/participate online but I'm breaking my general rule because Dan asked me write a review of his recent Intensive. Unfortunately I can't really write about the Intensive without actually talking about my overall experience with Dan and his teaching methodology. The reason I was willing to sign up for a 4 day Intensive was because I already knew it was going to be worth my time.

As a general background about me, I'm not an aikido practitioner and almost zero experience with Japanese martial arts. I know more about Chinese and Southeast Asian martial arts. I read some of Dan's posts on some Chinese internal martial arts discussion boards, but I didn't even really know about aikiweb or some of the strong feelings he engendered in the aikido community until around the time I went to my first seminar (about 2 and 1/2 yrs??)

To be perfectly frank, before I met him I wasn't sure what to make of Dan's online persona. After meeting him, some of the stuff he previously wrote and his writing style started to make sense but unfortunately a lot of nuances get lost in written form and his writing definitely doesn't convey everything. Dan is a no-nonsense/no-b.s. kind of guy with a wealth of knowledge to share. He's also extremely personable, funny, self-deprecating, and extremely generous person who honestly wants people to get the material.

At the first seminar I went to, Dan not only impressed me with the explanatory model of what he was doing and his physical abilities, but also his passion for sharing this material. He made a point of trying to interact with and touch hands with every single person (in a completely friendly, sharing, non-competitive kind of way...just so it doesn't get misconstrued) and told people to speak up if they didn't get any 1on1 training time with him. When one participant couldn't stay for the whole seminar weekend, Dan explicitly carved out extra hands-on time to try to make sure the participant got a chance to feel what Dan was talking about. Dan's theoretical/historical presentation of aiki and aikido was eye-opening for me. The stuff he talked about helped me understand stuff I've seen, felt, and read about in chinese martial arts but had no fleshed out framework to help explain what was going on. Because of Dan, I had to completely revise my impression of aikido and some Ueshiba clips which I previously dismissed as collusive and not feasible. Dan talked highly of Ueshiba and kept saying aikido had the potential to be one of the most powerful martial arts in the world. After meeting and feeling Dan's skills, I can see how this isn't just hyperbole. Dan's ability to physically demo and explain what he's doing is impressive but he is also very clear that the focus needs to be on the teaching material and not focus on personalities.

I completely agree with Dan about it "not being about individual personalities" in one sense and disagree in another. He tries to be very clear about the material and how to train it. I know the training works because I see people slowly progressing with this stuff to varying degrees. In that sense, he's absolutely right in that the training isn't about him. Other people can replicate it to varying degrees. I won't lie and say the training is easy or that you can develop this quickly. It takes a huge amount of solo training and a seriously long-term time investment….and even then there's no guarantee of anything. The reason I've gone to multiple seminars with Dan isn't just because of Dan's abilities, my inherent interest in the material, or seeing his teaching model delivering results. I also kept going because I kept seeing a consistency in his message, a consistency in trying his best to share this stuff (and regularly over-delivering), and a consistency of character. Life is too short to voluntarily spend my free time with people I don't respect and like. In the time that I've known him, Dan has conducted himself with utmost integrity.

Sorry for the long-winded explanation of how I ended up at an Intensive with Dan, but I think it helps frame why I'd think it was worth going to. As to the Intensive itself, everyone had previous exposure to the material and a majority have been working the material for a while. There were people of varying backgrounds even though I think a majority were from aikido. Because most of us were already familiar with Dan's terminology and have been practicing it for a bit, we got a chance to get into more detailed and in-depth work on some of the fundamentals to a degree that isn't possible when there are a lot of new people. Dan asked us right in the beginning about if there were specific things people wanted to work on. We focused on some of the things people requested and depending on the problems Dan were seeing, he'd modify the training on the fly to help address what was going on. The training itself isn't physically demanding in the "lifting weights and doing cardio" kind of way, but it is extremely mentally tiring. There's a level of self monitoring and mental focus required that can leave you exhausted.

There were people who regularly train with Dan at his personal home dojo where there to help. Dan explicitly had them not train with each other, but work with the seminar participants to help us get the material. Dan talked about what it means to be a good training partner in previous seminars and how to be a good uke to help someone else get better. This underlying attitude is real and there was a sense that people at the Intensive were all interested in not only getting better and but helping each other get better. For me personally it was satisfying to see that I'm making progress at the material. Some of the exercises which I could previously do, I'm getting better at. Some things I couldn't do or even understand a year ago are actually starting to make sense now.

It wasn't all serious training all the time though….Dan can be a very funny guy and has no problems making fun of himself. He has a wealth of budo knowledge and funny anecdotes to share. The people I've met at Dan's seminars have also consistently been nice people who have been a pleasure to train with. Since so many of the participants come from varied backgrounds it makes for some pretty interesting conversations for those of us who love to nerd out on martial arts.

The same core ideas Dan presented from my very first seminar are still there, but it's interesting to see how Dan's delivery and explanations are evolving over time. He's constantly trying to tweak/improve his presentation to try to get new people to understand the material faster. If there's a chinese term that helps better explain what he already learned in Japanese martial arts then he'll use it. He's very upfront and credits different sources when possible when explaining stuff (whether it was from his teacher, whether it was from trading notes with a master level chinese teacher, or if it was figured out in his home dojo researching this with some of his students, etc). I think his argument that this material has existed in several different cultures across time even though the outward manifestations might appear different make a lot of sense. He can cite sources and sayings from different cultures that at first glance are hard to understand but start to make sense once you decode it from an IP/Aiki perspective. The fact Dan has been getting to talk to and touch hands with many different people of different backgrounds is giving him the opportunity to see connections between different traditions that would have never happened if you just associated with people with only one kind of training background.

As good as Dan is as a teacher, I won't b.s. you and say the material is easy to learn. Dan can get people to exhibit some basics of what he's talking about pretty quickly, but to actually develop these skills is a long term investment. When I first met Dan, I wondered how long before I could use it under pressure….now my priorities have changed. The training seems to be helping rehab some nagging physical imbalances in my body and I personally find there's an inherent benefit in just doing the training. I find some of the solo training has a meditative quality. It would still be awesome to be able to use this stuff under pressure in a live environment, but I'm finding more and more that the training itself has it's own rewards.

Is Dan a skilled martial artist?

Can Dan can do some unusual stuff most people can't?

Can Dan explain what he's doing?

Can Dan use this under pressure?

Is this Aiki/IP stuff the same as fighting skill?
absolutely not!
* Dan is very clear that being good at Aiki/IP doesn't automatically impart fighting skill and vice-versa. Dan just happens to be good at both
* The training isn't some magical solution to make you invincible

Is what Dan is doing "Aiki"?
I have no vested in interest or preference for what the answer is, but I think so
* Based on the Dan's physical demos, explanations, and documented quotes that Dan cites, I think he provides a more than strong case to support his position that what he's showing is "aiki"
* Ultimately I think a lot of these online discussions are become meaningless without a physical demonstration of ability or hands-on experience
* In the end I don't really care if what Dan is doing is "aiki" or not. I'm interested in learning/doing what Dan is sharing and for me the label is of secondary importance

Can Dan teach what he's doing? (For me this is the million dollar question)
* I wouldn't bother keep training with him if I didn't think I could learn what he's doing

Is it possible to replicate or even surpass what Dan demos at the level he's demonstrating?
it depends on the individual
* For the vast majority of us (me included), the answer is going to turn out to be no
* You have to remember that Dan trains this stuff like a maniac and he's the sum of his unique experiences
* I will say I do think Dan is sincerely trying to share the method to make it possible…it's just most of us will not put in the required time, effort, and thought to get there
* ultimately for myself I don't really care since I'm benefiting from the training and will continue to train because I enjoy it for it's own sake

if you are given the material, will you put in the time to become it? (The other million question)
After 2.5 yrs into this training I'm still trying to answer that question…give me a couple yrs (or more likely a lifetime) and I might have an answer for you

If you are seriously interested in the question of "what is aiki?" I think you owe it to yourself to at least try to meet Dan to make up your own mind about this. What and how he's training might not be what you're interested in but at least you've made up your own mind based on your own personal experience.
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Old 09-07-2014, 07:37 AM   #2
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 97
Re: review of Dan Harden's Aug 2014 Intensive

It has been 2 weeks since I attended the Aug 22-24 Intensive at Dan's home dojo. I have taken so long to post about my experience at the workshop simply because I needed to process what I experienced. I have read the OP's review. I echo his insight, observations and praise for Dan and his home dojo students.

This intensive was only my second workshop with Dan so was still feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information conveyed over the four days. I don't have a lot to add to the OP's comments. He did a great job of outlining the workshop experience and Dan's methodology. I am sometimes hesitant to post review for fear of coming off as a "newly indoctrinated groupie" who has "drunk the kool-aid" and has suspended any critical analysis of what is being presented at these workshops. That is why I wanted to take some time with my thoughts to analysis the experience and to make sure that what I say I truly believe and not simply to pump sunshine up Dan's ass.

The skills Dan has developed are real and I believe very important. I have been kicking around the martial arts for over 3 decades and I have never experienced someone with an "aiki" skill set as developed as Dan's. What is more impressive to me is that through his methodology he is able to pass these skills onto his students. Every one of his home dojo students, that I had the opportunity to train with, had skills (albeit at varying levels and none as developed as Dan's). This speaks to the effectiveness of Dan's methodology and his commitment to continuously refinement of that methodology to enable better transmission.

I do want to take a moment to explicitly thank Dan for hosting the workshop. I learned a great deal and walked away with some good "nuggets" of understanding that will allow be to being training my body to do what I am beginning to intellectually understand. I also need to that Dan's students who gave of their time (and skill) to assist this FNG (Freaking New Guy). Glen, Ken, Evan, Jill, Paul, Hugh, Pat, Tom, Don, Terri, Bill and Brian (hope I didn't forget anyone) all spent time with me working on the basics. I'm sure they would rather have concentrated on further honing their skills rather than watching and feeling my ineptitude. I thank each of them for their patience and constructive feedback. Lastly, no workshop is a success without a group of committed students willing to do the work. It was a great pleasure to finally meet Chris, Lee, Joon, Andy and Ed. I also need to thank Zoe for putting up with us all over the course of the workshop.

I look forward to the next workshop. For now it is time to "eat bitter" and put the time in doing the solo training.

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