One of the habits that I have copied from Imaizumi Sensei is his detailed notes of who attended class and what was covered in class that night. The attendance pages indicate that this week I will reach some relatively meaningless number of 1000 classes taught. As I have neared this number, it has forced me to take an honest assessment of my emerging career as an Aikido instructor.
My school has been a personal experiment in trying to develop a teaching paradigm different from the one that I learn in. I am trying to see if I can teach in a more effective and efficient manner than the one in which I have learned in. I decided to structure my curriculum around the principles of Aikido, rather than the waza of Aikido. The balance between teaching students the requisite waza for shinsas and teaching the underlying principles of movement and energy has been difficult at best for me. It is like trying to create an external structure and fill the insides of the structure at the same time. George Ledyard Sensei taught a seminar at my school recently and complimented the students on their ability to focus in on the internal aspects of this art at such early points in their training. This compliment was a meaningful sign of success for me. I balance this with their struggles at times to learn the waza necessary for them to take their tests. I watched a student prepare to take his first test and was struck by his stopping at certain points in the execution of his technique to check his posture, check for unnecessary body tensions,…. I was pleased by this focus, which I emphasize in class and at the same time, concerned about his not having just gone through the technique from start-to-finish in order to look “good” on his test.
I genuinely struggle with my going through some major changes in my Aikido over the last couple of years. I want to provide the students with a sense of consistency that I do not find in myself. Each time I make some step forward, I have to learn everything anew again in order for my waza to reflect this changes without conscious thought about what I am doing while I am doing it. I wonder if I am not unnecessarily confusing my students when what they see in my Aikido seems to change over time. I try and compensate for this by going back to big, clean waza and I tell the students that this preliminary structure is critical to learn for future development in their Aikido. I truly believe that and wonder if even that aspect of my Aikido looks different to them.
All and all, I am and heartened by what I see in my adult classes. Even in these difficult times, the student body grows both in numbers, but more importantly grows as a caring community. Many of my students are experienced martial artists who are looking to take their martial arts training to the next level. I am honored that they view my school as a venue in which to accomplish that.
The area of greatest concern for me has been my children’s classes. One would think that as a psychologist with a post-doctoral fellowship completed in child clinical psychology, that this would be my area of greatest accomplishment. I look at this area with a sense of my having not created as good of a program as I think that I should have. My major realization is that I need to create two separate classes. One for elementary school children and one for middle school children. The needs and abilities of these two groups are so different from one another that I cannot do justice to either one while having both age groups in the class at the same time. Surprisingly, the children’s classes have been the hardest hit from the economic difficulties in the New York metropolitan area. At first, I simply blamed myself for my failures until my good friend and former teacher (Takahashi Sensei (8th dan, Shodokan Karate- karate teacher of my youngest son) talked to me about the same difficulties that he was experiencing. That being said, I place a lot of pressure on myself to create a better program for both age groups for the this upcoming school year. The children who have been there for a while are making significant gains and their parents seem pleased with the changes that they have seen in their children. I have even received positive feedback from parents whose children lost interest in the Aikido, because of the positive changes that they saw in their children’s lives. I guess that I am on the right track, but defintely need to do much better.
George Ledyard Sensei’s last blog resonates strongly with me. I know that Aikido has been a very powerful transformational tool for me to become a better person. I feel a profoundly deep sense of personal responsibility to pass on the teachings of Imaizumi Sensei (as I understand them to be) because of the powerfully positive impact that he has had on my life. The 1000 class milestone has been an opportunity for me to stop, reflect and ultimately work harder at trying to become the best teacher that I can be because I believe so strongly in how Aikido can be a personal tool for each of us to use to make our world a better place to live in.
I hope that the next 1000 classes are better for than the first for my students. I thank all of you for subjecting yourself to this new teacher in Aikido and sincerely hope that you see worth in the teachings that I have offered to date.
Marc Abrams … [visit site to read more