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Old 07-05-2006, 02:57 PM   #1
milesc
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Question Newbies should struggle?

I have read/heard more than once now that instructors seem to favor having students struggle through techniques at the early levels of aikido.

Being new to aikido, I'd like to know why? If I were to teach someone to bake a cake I wouldn't bake 4 cakes in front of them, 2 chocolate and 2 yellow then say "Bake me a cake, yellow or chocolate your choice".
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:00 PM   #2
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Some use this method, some not.
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:07 PM   #3
John Boswell
 
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

To learn from mistakes, Miles.

You can show someone how to do something... but do you just keep showing them over and over and expect them to learn? At some point, Aikido has to be something you DO. You're instructor will show you a couple times and then ask you to try it. You are not expected to do it right the first time. Helll.... Ikkyo is known by many as "The 30 year Technique" because after 30years, you should be able to understand it.

Besides, if you struggle with something, it forces you to ask yourself "why?" You go to do Shihonage and the person keeps standing up on you. Are you not extending? are you letting your hands get behind you and they pull YOU off? The struggle is part of the journey.

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Old 07-05-2006, 03:08 PM   #4
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

@Demetrio

Fair enough, I've just seen it stated here, in articles on the web and in the dojo i train in. So there must be a logic or method that fuels the statement and I'm curious about it. I just finished reading Ross Robert's article on The 20 Year Technique and it seems to somewhat ask/answer the same question so I know that there are opposing views.

That being said, I'd still like to know what the goal is from instructors who feel this training approach is appropriate. Does it weed out the unworthy? Does it enable more students in a room since there is less one on one teaching?
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:16 PM   #5
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

@John Boswell

I can understand learning from mistakes. Heck the best exercise for learning to put your guard up is to get hit in the face a few times.

How can you learn that you are making mistakes if you don't know how to begin? Every martial art starts with a basis in precise technical manuvers and steps. If a newbie does't know where to begin then how can they "continue the journey"?
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:17 PM   #6
James Davis
 
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles Calunod wrote:

That being said, I'd still like to know what the goal is from instructors who feel this training approach is appropriate. Does it weed out the unworthy? Does it enable more students in a room since there is less one on one teaching?
I don't think it's done to weed anyone out; O' sensei said that aikido was for everyone, right?

I questioned this method at first too. Many times I thought, "It's so simple! Why the heck didn't he just tell me?!"

For what it's worth, I believe that figuring it out for myself makes learning something much more fulfilling.

"The only difference between Congress and drunken sailors is that drunken sailors spend their own money." -Tom Feeney, representative from Florida
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:19 PM   #7
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

I don't think this method should be used at early levels (while the basics are not ingrained), after that, go for it.
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Old 07-05-2006, 03:24 PM   #8
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

@ James Davies

Quote:
For what it's worth, I believe that figuring it out for myself makes learning something much more fulfilling.
That's pretty much the statement I hear from everyone who makes it past the "hazing". I don't discount it either as that level of fulfillment in accomplishment is huge. Yet I personally get that same feeling as I train everyday, as I learn new things about techniques and concepts I have practiced for years. Even more so when I discover something about a technique that should have been completely apparent when I learned it!

Yet none of that fulfillment would ever have occured if I hadn't had "hand holding" to teach me the basics. Fluidity and making the art my own, in my opinion, can only come after being taught and making the basics second nature.

Showing someone how to do something once or twice then putting them on the floor with another novice partner just doesn't seem to be a good use of time to me. Add that to the idea that "only Sensei teaches" and you end up with 2 people standing and staring at one another for 5 minutes.

(edited to finish my thought and correct spelling)

Last edited by milesc : 07-05-2006 at 03:27 PM.
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Old 07-05-2006, 07:04 PM   #9
dps
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Its not hazing.
"When someone tells you something it is his when you experience it it is yours".

From ' Sword of No Blade' by Joan Baxter.
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Old 07-05-2006, 08:51 PM   #10
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Its not hazing.
Ok, then what is it? Having two novices stare at one another can hardly be considered teaching. Having a novice stand around and not know what to do next is not much better.

If you can identify with the situation and mentality enough to discount it as not hazing then what is the intent through this teaching method?

I don't want to come off as aggressive but posting a 1 line dissenting opinion followed by a quote doesn't leave much other room for discourse. Unless of course you mean to say that novices should be taking ukemi but if neither knows how to be nage then again, it is still unsuccessful.

Last edited by milesc : 07-05-2006 at 08:54 PM.
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Old 07-05-2006, 09:02 PM   #11
Nick P.
 
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Your cake analogy is a good one, but take it a step further;
It's a class on how to bake a cake.
The teacher starts by showing the class how to break an egg into a bowl.
No we all try. Some use too much force, some not enough, half of us get egg and shell into or onto the side of the bowl, the rest of us dont even break the egg or loose them down our pants.
The resulting cakes are obviously a mixed bag of results.

The next class, the teacher begins again by showing everyone how to break an egg into a bowl. And so on.

Making the egg-breaking second nature is up to the student, by doing it time and time again. The journey is not liking the feeling of being the only person who does not get it, but still showing up class after class. Even if the teacher comes and breaks your egg each and every class, eventually everyone arrives at the ability to break it properly. Just do your best. No waiting for precise technique, no absolutes, just do it the best you can.

"Every martial art starts with a basis in precise technical manuvers and steps."

1-Enter
2-Blend
3-Throw or pin

Not only is that precise, it's simple. Why can't I do it? Is it because my teacher let me flounder, or is it because I have not yet mastered it as I inevitably will?

"Yet none of that fulfillment would ever have occured if I hadn't had "hand holding" to teach me the basics."

None? None at all? Ever?

The analogy I have recently begun to like is the one of a stock-car racer. It's easy, right? Turn left, don't hit the walls, don't hit the other cars, go fast. Even if the budding drivers go out with seasoned pro's riding shotgun, eventually the newbie has to go it alone, because it is alone they fully understand what THEY are doing, not by being told or shown by anyone else.

Yes, others can help and prod and sheppard, but the student is ultimately in charge of their own training.

"Having two novices stare at one another can hardly be considered teaching."

It is; the students need to get it in their heads that they should sit down and watch, or get started and trust their teacher will do what is best for them.

Miles, if you don't want other's opinions on the matter, I suggest you start a thread entitled
"Newbies should not struggle; all nay-sayers abstain from posting."

Not "Newbies should struggle? I'd like to know why?"

Last edited by Nick P. : 07-05-2006 at 09:04 PM.

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Old 07-05-2006, 09:17 PM   #12
dps
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles Calunod wrote:
Ok, then what is it? Having two novices stare at one another can hardly be considered teaching. Having a novice stand around and not know what to do next is not much better.

If you can identify with the situation and mentality enough to discount it as not hazing then what is the intent through this teaching method?
I identify with the situation. I felt the same as you until I realized this,
Why are you standing around and staring. Is that what sensei just demonstrated. Didn't someone ( your sensei ) show you something? Aren't the other people in the room doing what sensei did.
You are learning to watch, pay attention, and imitate. Don't just stand there, do something. If it is wrong someone will tell you what do do. If nobody tells you what you are doing wrong ( hard to believe ) then speak up and ask sensei.

Can anybody else identify with the situation?

P.S. I thought my quote was pithy.

Last edited by dps : 07-05-2006 at 09:20 PM.
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Old 07-05-2006, 09:20 PM   #13
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles, if you don't want other's opinions on the matter, I suggest you start a thread entitled
"Newbies should not struggle; all nay-sayers abstain from posting."
Actually aside from the snipe, your post gives more insight to the mentality.

In response to your snipe - If you do not ask the question and push the boundary then what use is an open forum? The question is legitimate and perhaps unpalatable to some who feel this is the right way to teach. I happen to disagree but instead of saying "this is wrong" I ask for insight from those who believe in it. I may not agree with them but the point is the discussion, if you feel I haven't been open to other opinion simply because I have rebutted single line responses, I again disagree with you.
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Old 07-05-2006, 09:48 PM   #14
akiy
 
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Hi Miles,

I'm personally a bit confused as to exactly what you saw that prompted your questions, since I find words such as "having student struggle" and "hazing" to be too vague as well as already loaded.

Can you please clarify, as impartially as possible, what you observed with your own eyes?

Perhaps, then, some of us would have a more concrete understanding of your position and then be able to address the issues directly.

-- Jun

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Old 07-05-2006, 10:10 PM   #15
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
I'm personally a bit confused as to exactly what you saw that prompted your questions, since I find words such as "having student struggle" and "hazing" to be too vague as well as already loaded.
@Jun

The statement of "having the student struggle" is a direct quote from this message board. I have heard the exact same words spoken in the Aikido dojo I train in. The concept of showing techniques a couple of times and then expecting students to execute is again in the dojo I train in but that sentiment seems to also be held by others who have replied.

I know at least 1 teacher from my dojo frequents this board, it was his postings that actually made want to see and join this particular dojo. Hence, I really don't want to get too specific in the cases I'm talking about because I am more interested in the logic and/or intent than my own particular situation. My school is teaching me in its own way and I agreed to that method when I signed up.

I don't think that agreeing to learn from someone should prevent me from learning more about about their methodologies though. Aikido is new to me but martial arts is not. This entire post is intended to learn more about a recurring theme that I read on this message board, hear in my dojo and read in other articles.

If it is too candid a question or statement, that criticism is welcome as well but I do not think I have been inflammatory. If I have come across that way, I apologize.

edited for horrific grammer as well as possible
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Old 07-05-2006, 10:13 PM   #16
wmreed
 
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles Calunod wrote:
@John Boswell

I can understand learning from mistakes. Heck the best exercise for learning to put your guard up is to get hit in the face a few times.

How can you learn that you are making mistakes if you don't know how to begin? Every martial art starts with a basis in precise technical maneuvers and steps. If a newbie doesn't know where to begin then how can they "continue the journey"?
I, like Jun, am curious as to what you're talking about here. I've never been to an aikido class in which the instructor said, "Try to figure out aikido" without demonstrating something, which is how I'm reading your statement here.

You started the forum discussion by saying that senseis have students"struggle through techniques at the early levels of aikido." For the record, in my case, they continue to challenge me -- even after (perhaps especially after) receiving my shodan.

My initial impression was that your sensei showed a technique, then asked you to try and duplicate it, without much specific guidance. That's a legitimate teaching style.

However, your following posts state that you "don't know where to begin." So, please describe what's going on in more detail please. Something isn't right.

William M. Reed
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Old 07-05-2006, 10:20 PM   #17
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
My initial impression was that your sensei showed a technique, then asked you to try and duplicate it, without much specific guidance. That's a legitimate teaching style.
Please expound. It is legitimate just because someone does it or was taught that way? What values are you trying to instill with this teaching method? What is the intent in giving less guidance? Keep in mind I'm not talking about life long learning or color belts who don't know techniques they have tested for. I'm talking about novices and newcomers to the art of Aikido.
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Old 07-05-2006, 10:22 PM   #18
DonMagee
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

I think this stems from the feeling a lot of people have that the Japanese learn though this method. They believe you should just experience the technique and then from that feeling replicate it on your partner. You read a lot about people just getting nowhere for years then suddenly 'getting it'. This is most likely because most teachers teach similar to how they were taught and do not put much thought into how to improve their training methods. They do what their teachers did under the name of tradition. They are also afraid that changing the way they teach will be a slap in the face to their instructor.

I've been told many times 'This is how I learned to do it, just keep at it and you will get it" in my life. I believe this is wrong and a waste of time. However this is how a lot of martial arts seem to be taught. I believe we have learned how to better educate the mind and body in the last 50+ years and it would be a good idea to apply this to martial arts.

- Don
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" - Albert Einstein
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Old 07-05-2006, 10:37 PM   #19
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

@ David

Thanks for clarifying your statement. Allow me to do the same.

My question isn't "what should I do", I'm more interested in what drives a teacher to teach this way? There is obviously some lesson that is intended and I'd like to know what others think it is since I see the concept repeated throughout this discussions on this art. I do have my own opinion on what the intent is and I think it can achieved in other methods but as I mentioned in an earlier post, for me this is all about learning more about *this* art and its directions.

I suspect people have misunderstood my question as "I'm having a hard time as a newbie" when I'm really trying to understand the principles behind the teaching methods.
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Old 07-05-2006, 10:45 PM   #20
wmreed
 
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles Calunod wrote:
Please expound. It is legitimate just because someone does it or was taught that way? What values are you trying to instill with this teaching method? What is the intent in giving less guidance? Keep in mind I'm not talking about life long learning or color belts who don't know techniques they have tested for. I'm talking about novices and newcomers to the art of Aikido.
Now this is a question I can answer. Thanks for being more specific.

I have found that aikido is not a "thing to be memorized" like the multiplication tables. It is instead, more like a story problem, with more than one means by which you can solve it.

In my elementary classroom, the children are encouraged to think, to experiment, and to discover how math works. Does it take longer than saying "If there's an 'and' you almost always add." Yes, it takes longer, but only for that particular problem. In the long run, they learn more about how numbers work, and can then apply that knowledge in more than one situation.

I hope that the correlation to learning aikido is clear. Do you need some basics? Of course! Just as you need to know how to count in order to do story problems, you need to have some basic instruction.

But in aikido it might be: "Watch this." And you watch what you're shown, then try to do it. If you can't, ask your partner for suggestions. If they cannot help, ask sensei for suggestions. But make your questions specific.

If my 5th grade student said, "What's the answer to problem #1?" I'd never give the simple reply. I'd say, "How do you think you should start?" and usually followed by the question, "Why do you think that?"

If my aikido student says, "It's not working," I ask them why they think that is. I may show them again, I may let them take ukemi from me. But there's no way they can learn aikido from being told what to do. They MUST experiment and find it. And it's worth repeating a statement made earlier in the thread, "You are learning to watch, pay attention, and imitate."

And to be honest, I will give them more direction than you claim to be getting. That doesn't mean I'm more correct as a teacher, just that I have a different style.

I'm still curious as to what your sensei IS doing before you're expected to try it out.

William M. Reed
Columbus, OH USA
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Old 07-05-2006, 11:12 PM   #21
dps
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles Calunod wrote:
I... when I'm really trying to understand the principles behind the teaching methods.
You are like a newborn baby. Babies learn by sight and imitation.
People rely on their sense of sight more than any other sense. In other words you learn by seeing, more than by listening. Someone demonstrating something can convey more information than speaking.
Hang a coat on a hanger and put it on a door knob. Not tell another person to pretend that he or she does not know how to put on a coat. Proceed to instruct that person to take the coat off the hanger and put the coat on correctly. Time how long it takes.

Do the same experiment only this time show the person how to put the coat on. Time how long it takes.

Don't get caught up in trying to understand verbally or intellectually what is going on. Practice and focus on what is being taught and you will understand with time.

Last edited by dps : 07-05-2006 at 11:17 PM.
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Old 07-05-2006, 11:30 PM   #22
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

@William

Thank you. That's a great add to this discussion and answer to my question.

As said above, I think readers are misinterpreting my question as "What should I do because I'm having a hard time?". I know what I agreed to and my instructors are good people.

That doesn't preclude me from having an opinion on their teaching method though. I aspire to one day teach myself; I have never learned more than when explaining a technique to someone who doesn't know it.

Perhaps the definition of "the basics" adds confusion to the situation. To some basics might be just taking ukemi. To other basics might be showing a technique. Others may see basics as whole techniques. Each level of detail has a significant impact on how a newcomer may percieve Aikido training.
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Old 07-06-2006, 01:58 AM   #23
Young-In Park
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Quote:
Miles Calunod wrote:
I suspect people have misunderstood my question as "I'm having a hard time as a newbie" when I'm really trying to understand the principles behind the teaching methods.
There's nothing to understand. Many aikido teachers I've seen equate demonstrating a technique to teaching a technique. While they may view themselves as a teacher, for all intent and purposes, they are simply directing the practice for intermediate and advanced students.

Of course, novice students are left to fend for themselves. They are expected to pay attention and imitate the "teacher" demonstrating a technique.

For example, I've seen "teachers" tell a novice aikido student (usually their first time on the mat) "do it like this" before demonstrating some sort of roll. When the novice student crashes, they offer up the pithy encouragement, "keep practicing and you'll get it some day."

I've heard of other teachers throwing novice students as hard as they could so they could "learn" how to roll.

There are multiple threads started by beginners asking others how to fall properly. In one woman's blog/essay titled "My Ukemi Journey," she said, "I basically learned how to roll on my own."

With regards to techniques, I've seen a teacher demonstrate kumitachi (paired weapons practice) to a roomful of beginners who were on the mat for the first time and never held a bokken in their life before. Another teacher would demonstrate techniques with a multitude of dazzling spins and turns to beginners. One novice student was so frustrated that he walked off the mat and sat down on a bench in the back of the dojo.

Novice students in any discipline should be expected to struggle with technical information presented in a logical manner. But hoping novice aikido students survive the "hazing" period is like throwing a bunch of monkeys in a room full of typewriters and expecting them to type out the next great novel.
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Old 07-06-2006, 03:30 AM   #24
milesc
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

@David Skaggs
Quote:
Don't get caught up in trying to understand verbally or intellectually what is going on. Practice and focus on what is being taught and you will understand with time.
Sorry I have to completely disagree with this statement. I challenge the idea that *any* martial art would allow you to skip verbally or intellectually understanding a technique before you can learn and assimilate that same technique. You cannot practice what you cannot comprehend and you can focus on nothing but incorrect motion if you are left to your own devices and interpretations.

It would be a bad, bad idea to show two novices in a striking art how to do a punch and a kick then put them in a sparring match against each other. Yet in Aikido this is a good idea? Show two novices some basic joint manipulation and a throw and let them go at it? Granted you could *ask* them to control themselves in both situations but bad techniques are just that, bad techniques and the resulting effects are often wild and uncontrollable.

Analogy is suspect but to continue with your example David, imagine how much faster the subjects putting coats on would be if you not only spoke about the process, showed the process then broke down the steps in the process and went through them step by step.

@Young In Park
I wonder how many novices and beginners feel like that? I think much of the struggle is already present in simply acclimating yourself to a new way of moving and timing. There is no need to add to the frustrations of learning something new by having a teacher be vague. What surprises me about this entire teaching method is that it is present in so young an art. Many long time practictioners of Aikido appear extole the virtues of anyone at any age being able to pick it up and learn. Yet quite possibly those same people still think the best way to teach is simple demonstration and letting novices figure things out for themselves, to "learn by feel" as it were. This is a generalization and a bad one at that but it is the impression that teaching with light guidance runs the risk of. That does not seem like an art that is accessible nor inviting.

My own experiences in Aikido at this point are all good. Why? Simply put, it is not my house. When in someone else's house you follow their rules. So the teaching methods are not for me to question when in class. My instructors and peers only have the best of intentions and that is worth more than a teaching style that I consider to be "more correct/useful". As I have found over the years, its the people in the club that make it worthwhile more than anything.

@Willam M. Reed
I wanted to clarify that while I have frustrations in starting new in Aikido, this discussion is more about the teaching method and its intent. Yet you asked for specifics on what has me frustrated with this method so I'll try to comply.

As I am coming from another art, I have many habits, techniques and methods already ingrained into my muscle memory and reflex. Part of my newbie training is nothing more than unlearning these skills to learn Aikido-styled ones in their place. Yet in the situation where teachers teach by demonstration and then leave a student to their own devices while watching from the side I am caught in a catch-22. I could use what comes naturally to me but that would in my mind be improper.

I came to learn Aikido, not to use my former art. I would not want to be disrespectful in that way. Yet if I am not distinctly shown the preferred method for a school, how am I to participate? In the end I took the lesser of two evils and tried to get my partner to throw me the whole time, at least I would get to practice my extremely rusty tumbling skills. That approach works until you get paired up with another white belt who knows nothing at all either.
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Old 07-06-2006, 04:24 AM   #25
Mark Freeman
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Re: Newbies should struggle?

Interesting thread.

I am a little disturbed to learn about some of the teaching methods that have been voiced so far. I have no idea how widespread they are as I only train with one teacher and his methods are not like this.
Whenever possible I will pair up new students with experienced students, so that the new student gets the experience of the technique, and how it should be done, the experienced student gets the benefit of working with someone who is not yet 'aiki compliant', so they need to use sensitivity and awareness of just what the new student is capable of. If two new student do find themselves practicing together I will make sure that they are aware that they are only expected to get the general idea of the shape of the exercise. They do not have to make it work properly, they have the rest of their lives for that.

The idea that a new student should be thrown hard, I find disturbing, as there is no need to do this and may well set the student's learning back through the induction of fear/pain/possible injury. IMHO students should only be thrown by a teacher to their own level of ability at ukemi. With the case of some students this is neccessarily slowly and softly. My guess is that a teacher who does this is only doing what was done to him, and so the cycle goes on. I agree with Don Magee's post #18. There are better ways of doing many of the things that have done in the past, why not use them?

Teaching weapons to a class of novices, is like introducing calculus or algebra to the infants who are only aware that numbers exist and that they can be added up and subtracted. Confusion reigns! Surely it is better to allow students to develop basic skills in movement, timing, distance, self control, ukemi ( this can be quite a time period ) before introducing the life/death weaponry?

There is a case for the novice to accept the teachers methods whatever they are, and just try their best to do what they are told to do. If they genuinely want what the teacher has to offer than this is what they should do. This can be confusing and frustrating at first, but should also be fun and enjoyable to balance out the difficult times.

Most of us don't arrive at the dojo with the 'non-resistance' that is needed to perform aikido properly, it is hard won over years of practice. The level of our own teachers understanding and application of this, and their ability to teach this aspect, will of course affect our own. New students are only new students for so long, it doesn't take long to go through the 'green' stage and quite quickly settle down into the learnig environement of their dojo.
If for any reason they are not happy with it, they can speak to their teacher, or chose to go somewhere else. The student is free to come and go as they please. The teacher is only a teacher at the behest of the students.

regards,
Mark

Success is having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.
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