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Old 11-25-2004, 05:02 AM   #1
Dario Rosati
Dojo: Zanshin - Milan
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Scared Sempai

Hi all,

just a tip to handle a strange situation.

It seems that one of the sempai in my dojo is so unwillingly scared during practice (of hurting himself, I presume) that even if he's better than we kohai as nage, he absolutely sucks as uke... and training with him is extremely frustrating, even people two rank lower have better commitment and attitude in uke role.
He often stops in midlle of tecniques "scared by his own shadow" as we say here... or becomes as rigid in movements as a titanium bar because "sorry, I saw something coming behind my back, stop and restart", or goes forward completely alone in the tecniques (falls or taps even before we begin doing something with his wrist/arm/keikogi).
This often leads to me (and others) begging him to change role and forcing him to be nage all the time, hoping that sensei calls uke change asap...

I've read in other threads that "pushing the limits" or using atemi may be a viable solution, but trust me, this will surely lead to severely hurt him and make the things even worst, from his perpective...

Do you think speaking of this with sensei may help him change attitude? Or may/shall we avoid him on the mat?
Many of us tried with irony ("Hey! You look scared to death by a 6th kyu, mom will not be proud!" or "Hey, did a ghost touch you, because I didn't!") but to no avail, it seems this is a natural and inconscious behavior for him.

I've thought that this should be normal with a kohai (I, as first, sometimes get unwillingly "harder" when training with yudansha guys), but not a sempai!
Or is this a more common situation than I thought?

Thanks!

--
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Old 11-25-2004, 12:29 PM   #2
SeiserL
 
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Re: Scared Sempai

IMHO, this is more common than people what to admit. Physically training does not necessarily take care of the mental/psychological fears. This may be an opportunity to you to practice compassion and learn to enter, blend, and throw some one very gently.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 11-25-2004, 01:34 PM   #3
Tom Kaluzynski
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Re: Scared Sempai

I would advise compassion. Although it may be frutstrating to you, you never know why someone is so fearful. To this person, taking ukemi, letting go is scary. We all have our weak spots, no matter how senior, or how junior, so try compassion. You just don't know how he feels. For one person, taking ukemi, or aikido is easy. To another, it's the scariest thing in the world.
It can be frustrating, though. That's what is so good about aikido, the encounter is always a challenge, and there are so many levels, not just skill in the challenge.
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Old 11-25-2004, 01:45 PM   #4
rachel
Dojo: Aikikai Foundation Hombu Dojo, Aikido of Hilo
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Re: Scared Sempai

I think that you (as a fellow dojo member), should be patient and do your best to help this person learn to fall with less inhibition. I agree also, with what others have said, this a great opportunity to practice gentle Aikido and compasion. There is no reason to think that isn't appropriate, just because he is sempai. You can both learn from this situation.
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Old 11-25-2004, 03:38 PM   #5
Jordan Steele
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Re: Scared Sempai

In my experience he is probably not actually a good nage either. It is impossible to be a good nage without being a good uke. This situation sounds like a major pain. He will most likely not change as it sounds like he has weak spirit. Just try and avoid training with him and when you have to, don't give up your full uke abilites to someone hat won't return the effort.
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Old 11-25-2004, 03:55 PM   #6
Miguelspride67
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Re: Scared Sempai

You should all practice Proyections and big falls with him. tht will calm him.
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Old 11-25-2004, 04:43 PM   #7
Dario Rosati
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Re: Scared Sempai

Thanks all, we'll try to focus on timing/taisabaki and proper distances/posture when practicing with him, rather than speed, kuzushi and ukemi... maybe this will soften the problem on both sides.
After all, I suppose this is one of many discoveries awaiting for me (we) during the loooong path to "yudanshaship" and beyond... this is probably a distortion caused by low ranked people training often and hard, vs high ranked people training seldom... different purposes, feelings and objectives in daily practice lead to different aikido application, (almost) no matter the rank, it seems...

Infact, it's becoming apparent to me that, no matter the rank, the dojo is clearly splittable in two sides... those who think skipping a lesson or a seminar is a great pity and strive to become better every ten minutes they train, even risking some pain here and there, and those that simply enjoy the sparsed lessons they take, almost never attend seminars, and never putting themselves on the stake, maybe risking an harder fall or an aching arm... but both enjoy what we're doing.

Is it so everywhere? I think I can guess the answer...

Bye!

--
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Old 11-25-2004, 06:41 PM   #8
Rupert Atkinson
 
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Re: Scared Sempai

Errr, sounds to me like he is not your sempai at all, except in name. Yes, such is commoner than you might think. The source of the problem is the grading system - how did he get where he is? To solve it, someone needs to make him aware of his own problems.
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Old 11-25-2004, 07:45 PM   #9
maikerus
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Re: Scared Sempai

Quote:
Tom Kaluzynski wrote:
I would advise compassion. Although it may be frutstrating to you, you never know why someone is so fearful.
Tom...good response.

I came across this thread yesterday before there were any responses and didn't know what to think.

I could see the frustration.
I could see wanting to help, somehow. To do something.
I could see wanting to avoid the person.
I could see telling them to push through it and not to be a wimp.

I didn't think of the fact that their fears were something I probably wouldn't be able to understand even if they were willing to share them.

Compassion. Good point. Thanks for helping me see what should have been blindingly obvious. Sometimes you can't *do* anything...sometimes you just have to be.

Thanks,

--Michael

Hiriki no yosei 3 - The kihon that makes your head ache instead of your legs
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Old 11-25-2004, 07:55 PM   #10
raul rodrigo
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Re: Scared Sempai

Quote:
Jordan Steele wrote:
In my experience he is probably not actually a good nage either. It is impossible to be a good nage without being a good uke. This situation sounds like a major pain. He will most likely not change as it sounds like he has weak spirit. Just try and avoid training with him and when you have to, don't give up your full uke abilites to someone hat won't return the effort.

To avoid training with someone because of his bad ukemi would be, to my mind, self-centered and a hindrance to your own practice. Perhaps such a person is a pain to practice with, but then again, maybe so were we when we were mudansha. If others avoided us then, we wouldn't have improved. "Weak spirit" can be corrected. Who are we so say that someone is beyond our help or not worth our compassion?
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Old 11-25-2004, 07:59 PM   #11
raul rodrigo
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Re: Scared Sempai

To my mind, there are only two valid reasons to avoid training with someone. One, his practice is unsafe and could break an elbow or whatnot. Second, bad breath or body odor. I've done suwariwaza kokyu ho with guys whose exhalation alone would get the job done.
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Old 11-25-2004, 08:06 PM   #12
PeterR
 
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Re: Scared Sempai

I'll be the first to admit being terrified of some ukemi even though I'm not that bad performing technique. Over time my ukemi skills are improving. I think its very common that the rate of skill improvement of different aspects of Aikido are different.

Sempai is not sensei, and sensei is not master of the art. We all have something to work on.

Peter Rehse Shodokan Aikido
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Old 11-25-2004, 10:44 PM   #13
bleepbeep
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Re: Scared Sempai

consider it a learning experience.a work in progress and in process. how to still do the technique with him as uke, and also to allay his apprehensions. it may take some time, but nothing really good ever comes easy.
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Old 11-26-2004, 02:36 PM   #14
Jordan Steele
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Re: Scared Sempai

My point is that I would not give up my body 100% and give my nage everything I've got if he/she doesn't at least try to put themselves on the edge. I specifically look for people to train with that are going to work hard not only for me but for themselves.
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Old 11-26-2004, 02:55 PM   #15
GaiaM
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Re: Scared Sempai

Quote:
My point is that I would not give up my body 100% and give my nage everything I've got if he/she doesn't at least try to put themselves on the edge. I specifically look for people to train with that are going to work hard not only for me but for themselves.
I practice giving 100% to each person I train with for my own learning and theirs. To do otherwise does not benefit anyone or the general feel/energy of the dojo. My sensei (whom I respect immensley) often takes ukemi for students and I believe this is one of the best ways to learn. A student's own technique improves when they feel good, connected, ukemi in response, whether from sensei or sempai or kohai.

It is important to remember that everyone has a different background and this person might have very good reasons (physical and/or emotional) that make it difficult to take ukemi. Please be compassionate (I agree, great word choice) and don't avoid him on the mat. See it as a learning opportunity for yourself and a chance to benefit a fellow student as well. Of couse, make sure you also train with people who have great ukemi, because they will also help you to advance.

Gaia

___________
Gaia Marrs
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Old 12-01-2004, 05:59 PM   #16
Amassus
 
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Re: Scared Sempai

My sensei calls Aikido, the Art of Compassion. By this he means that you can choose the level of compassion by which you deal with a situation.
You may choose to be very compassionate towards your drunk uncle when he swings a punch and blend with his attack resulting with him being gently lowered to the ground and held.
You may show less compassion towards a thug in the street that is trying to rob you. You take him down in a more severe manner.
You may show little compassion towards a knife weilding maniac that is intent on your death. You do what you must to deal with the situation safely. This could mean serious injury to your assailant.

Taking a step back and looking at the original post. This thinking still applies. The 'awkward' uke must be dealt with a high level of compassion. Remember tenkan, look from his position before letting your frustration cloud your judgement of the guy.

Bascially I used a long winded way of saying I agree with Tom's comment above.

"flows like water, reflects like a mirror, and responds like an echo." Chaung-tse
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Old 12-04-2004, 11:05 PM   #17
giriasis
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Re: Scared Sempai

Learning ukemi, for me, has been significantly more challenging than learning the waza and being nage. I've been in the position of the "bad uke" in that I wasn't just fearful of ukemi, but petrified to the point that I just couldn't do them. Period. I put 100% into my training but whenever that mental block sprang up I would just stop and ask to roll. I could see the frustration in my nage's, yes, even juniors', eyes because I had to train less intensely with them. It was very embarrasing because all you want to do is to be able to take that fall but some how you just CAN'T. In that moment of time, it wasn't a matter of will just a matter of fact. (So it's NOT a matter of WON'T.) As a result, many who wanted to train hard (and usually my junior) would avoid choosing to train with me or choose to train with me to take a break. Either way such an idea hurt.

Now, after about 5.5 years, I hardly mental block on taking ukemi these days and I still strive to learn the harder falls like from iriminage and jujinage. It has been a struggle for me to learn to roll without mental blocking, then to roll quickly, then roll with a break, and then breakfall. Over the years, I have progressed up that long hard steady path of being able to train hard and take the falls. For example, only this past year have I been truly comfortable with koshinage breakfalls. Having a compassionate sensei AND training partners has helped me get past these hurdles. Otherwise I don't think I would have stuck with it.

I think what you have to remember is that not everyone "gets" taking ukemi as naturally as some appear to do. Some people don't have the trust in their bodies to do the work, some are not fit enough, and some are just physically limited. We each have are own personal challenges in aikido and perhaps taking ukemi is his.

Last edited by giriasis : 12-04-2004 at 11:14 PM.

Anne Marie Giri
Women in Aikido: a place where us gals can come together and chat about aikido.
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Old 12-05-2004, 05:41 AM   #18
aikidocapecod
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Re: Scared Sempai

There could be any number of reasons for the fear. And though that may not seem valid to some, to others it may be valid.
This person may have others, outside of Aikido relying on him for daily support. If he were to be injured in such a way that being the provider may be put in jeapordy, many would suffer perhaps.
Possibly this person has been hurt before. And the memory of pain is not one easily overcome. The brain has a way of remembering these things.
Or perhaps your assesment is correct. Perhaps this person is just afraid of getting hurt.
Andwhen it is your turn to practice with this person, it is your duty to see this person does not get hurt.
Just my opinion
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Old 12-05-2004, 05:48 AM   #19
ruthmc
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Re: Scared Sempai

I agree with Anne Marie. Some people really do have a hard time with learning ukemi - I am another one!

These days I teach basic ukemi to the beginners at my dojo. I'm a good teacher because I understand the process, the fears, the frustrations, and the physical difficulties. I break it down into chunks so that my students don't have too much to take in at once. We do exercises designed to help strengthen and co-ordinate the muscles and body parts required for ukemi.

But I think that the real reason I am a good teacher is because I encourage my students and have quiet confidence in them and their abilities. I believe that each student is doing his or her best and I treat them accordingly. This is a great gift to give to someone and it really helps them to improve.

In the 'bad old days' when I was a beginner, I was ridiculed, humiliated, made to feel incompetent and weak, and avoided by others who felt that I wasn't worth training with. I will not tolerate any of my students having to go through this as I know what it does - it makes your ukemi about 100 times worse than it should be.

Understanding and respect are the keys, compassion is the way.

Ruth
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Old 12-05-2004, 09:10 AM   #20
aikidoc
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Re: Scared Sempai

Perhaps there are some other issues here: health problems, prior serious injury post traumatic stress; former abuse as a child, etc. As pointed out, not every adapts to taking ukemi easily.
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Old 12-05-2004, 02:52 PM   #21
Tom Kaluzynski
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Re: Scared Sempai

Thanks Michael, I am glad that you "got" my comment. The personal experience I had was with my training partner going into some sort of breakdown while training, shaking, screaming etc. Come to find out, the guy had been in Vietnam and had some horrendous experiences which in the training situation (tanto dori) came out and it was really intense. Before this, I was judgmental and like one poster said, had the attitude, hey I give 100% so you should too, etc. Young guy stuff.
I still get annoyed with training partners, and definitely get issues etc. but I try to also practice compassion in the sense that I don't know what they have been through, and though the example I give is extreme, you just never know what someone's experience has been.It really does help to think that, somehow.
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Old 12-06-2004, 10:40 AM   #22
Dazzler
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Re: Scared Sempai

Quote:
Jordan Steele wrote:
In my experience he is probably not actually a good nage either. It is impossible to be a good nage without being a good uke. This situation sounds like a major pain. He will most likely not change as it sounds like he has weak spirit. Just try and avoid training with him and when you have to, don't give up your full uke abilites to someone hat won't return the effort.
still think the guy has a weak spirit?

When are we all ...including me...learn not to make snap judgements about people based upon a few words on a website?

When training you can learn from everyone...the super achievers and the most awkward partners.

From the mr.puniverse to the bodybuilding hulks.

Who's to say whose the strongest mentally? the greek god who never had a problem in his life, been to the right school and daddy pays the bills....or the emotionally traumatised eternal victim who despite everything still makes an effort to confront their fears no matter how hard they find it.

Whos shown the most spirit simply walking onto the mat?

Before criticising someone as having a weak spirit take a look in the mirror.

D
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Old 11-02-2006, 10:07 AM   #23
racingsnake
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Re: Scared Sempai

From the brief description, it sounds like part of the problem could simply be a general one of 'zanshin' and all-round awareness of what's happening on the tatami. I have certainly had moments of hesitation on a crowded mat, one one occasion being reassured by an excellent sempai... 'don't worry about whether there's someone behind you; if there is, I won't throw you there'. It could be that he doesn't feel that same level of reassurance...

So perhaps try simplifying the situation - arrange some training sessions with fewer people on the mat, and build that trust in one's training partners which can be slow to develop and quick to erode.

HTH
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Old 11-02-2006, 12:09 PM   #24
James Davis
 
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Re: Scared Sempai

Quote:
Ruth McWilliam wrote:
In the 'bad old days' when I was a beginner, I was ridiculed, humiliated, made to feel incompetent and weak, and avoided by others who felt that I wasn't worth training with. I will not tolerate any of my students having to go through this as I know what it does - it makes your ukemi about 100 times worse than it should be.

Understanding and respect are the keys, compassion is the way.

Ruth
Hi, Ruth.

Understanding, respect and safety are all very important. My experienced students tend to resent the nights that I want everyone to concentrate on ukemi; I guess it's not exciting enough for them. When my senior students look bored, I'll call them up and throw them a few times to show the importance of good ukemi. The closest I come to "ridiculing" anyone is if one of my senior students minorly botches a roll. In this instance, I'll sometimes say "See? Everybody needs to train for ukemi waza!", and I always say it with a smile.

My newbies aren't high flying aikidoka yet, but their day will come. I try to accomodate students that feel adventurous, but my focus is on everybody leaving the dojo feeling empowered, injury free,...

...and respected by their fellow students.

I'm glad to hear that you run a nice, positive class.

"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 11-02-2006, 04:37 PM   #25
da2el.ni4na
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Re: Scared Sempai

Whenever someone gave their reason for starting aikido as to become stronger (or something similar), my teacher would invariably ask, what does it mean to be strong? In my mind, this also invoked the question, what does it mean to be weak? I think it is crucial to periodically revisit one's conceptions.

I admit I have not thoroughly read all the posts here, but I saw "100%" several times. Have most people considered that a person described in the original post might be giving 100% already? or that what distresses him would be nothing to you? Do we consider our standards when we encounter a person who doesn't measure up to our standards e.g. of normalcy? And what do we do, how do we handle it, when it is glaringly apparent that we are facing such a person? Leave them alone more? Feel an urge to fix them? Wish someone else would fix them? Feel impatient at ourselves for our lack of acceptance? Formulate a strategy for achieving comfort for ourselves?

I wonder what kind of communication has been made in the given situation? Do you know whether that man perceives your discomfort? Does it matter to you whether he perceives it? Does the teacher, presumably at the least the one person in the dojo who should be expected to take some responsibility for having some degree of relationship with his students, "do" anything about this man's behavior? Although it may feel normal and mature to simply take the situation as it is and deal with it yourself, would it be so foreign or unpalatable to share your (likely commonly held) experiences of this man with him? And in case it is not obvious, I don't mean to say you should simply start scowling and pouting, but behave according to your own ideals which are hopefully at least mature, reflective, patient, etc. - all those things people say aikido practice is about. Specifically, I don't think you will be able to resolve the situation as you see it if you try to do it in a self-contained way, where each person respects other people's autonomy so much that you think it's a no-no to influence others at all.
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