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Old 08-28-2012, 11:50 PM   #1
camt
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Judging a school/sensei

Hello,

I'm just about to start an introductory aikido course at my university (aikikai). It frustrates me somewhat to learn that there seems to be different quality levels of Aikido. It seems to range from dancing lessons to hard and deadly. By no means am I looking to become the next Steven Seagal, but I do wish for my aikido to be effective in a self defence situation. Now my question is, as a complete newcomer, how am I to know that my sensei/school is good, or perhaps not so good?

Please no debate about its "martial effectiveness." I'm just looking for advice on getting quality Aikido training, although my options may be limited, short of moving to Japan. Thanks in advance for any response!

Cam
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Old 08-29-2012, 02:05 AM   #2
JJF
 
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

It's like wine tasting. You can read the books, but the only way you get to really understand the nuances in the tasting is by doing it and reflect upon your experiences.

So.. my advice is to choose a place where you like the atmosphere, the teacher and the way people treat each other and their aikido.

Then - after some time - challenge yourself by visiting seminars and other dojo's. It's an eye opener..

Good luck

JJ

- Jørgen Jakob Friis

Inspiration - Aspiration - Perspiration
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Old 08-29-2012, 03:35 AM   #3
sorokod
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Lineage.

Its an imperfect approach but should tell you something. There is a sequence of teachers between the sensei you are looking at, and the founder. Reading up on these teachers should give you an idea on what sort of Aikido you can expect from the sensei.

Oh, and if the sensei can't tell you what his/her lineage is, then keep looking.

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Old 08-29-2012, 03:59 AM   #4
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

I agree with Jörgen - start with evaluating the things you are able evaluate now. In order to learn anything you need to train somewhat regularly, so a place where people are unpleasant and the teacher is smelly and the class times conflict with your schedule, however effective their aikido, is probably not going to get you very far.

After a while you can start visiting other dojo and going to seminars, and forming your own opinions about what kind of aikido you'd really like to learn.

kvaak
Pauliina
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Old 08-29-2012, 06:33 AM   #5
robin_jet_alt
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Quote:
David Soroko wrote: View Post
Lineage.

Its an imperfect approach but should tell you something. There is a sequence of teachers between the sensei you are looking at, and the founder. Reading up on these teachers should give you an idea on what sort of Aikido you can expect from the sensei.

Oh, and if the sensei can't tell you what his/her lineage is, then keep looking.
The lineage thing should tell you a bit if the teacher has only had one teacher. It gets a bit tricky if they have had many teachers and branched out on his own a bit.

For example, if you look at my lineage...

6 years in the lineage of Gesshu Sugawara - http://www.fujiryuaikido.org/federationHistory.html
4 years in the lineage of Masatake Fujita - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfin2...feature=relmfu
1.5 years in the lineage of Shoji Nishio - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY6ihEtD72Q
and my current teacher is like me. He has trained under heaps of different styles.

So, what does my aikido look like? I don't even know myself anymore.
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Old 08-29-2012, 07:19 AM   #6
sorokod
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

As you say, sometimes a teacher will have multiple paths to the source. Strictly speaking, in this case there is no lineage as there is no line.

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Old 08-29-2012, 07:45 AM   #7
Millsy
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Got to agree with Jörgen. First hurdle is finding someplace you want to go to every week and train, and this is a lot about the "community" and "atmosphere" of the dojo. Then you can gain the experience to see what you need to look at.

One of my Sensei's likes to say, "You get the Sensei's you deserve". He doesn't mean "I am great train here", he is saying take the tools he's giving you and if you and if want more use them to find a teacher who can give it to you. Buy the way any teacher who says they are the best are probably worth steering clear of!

We all have lives to balance, for some, martial arts is a large part and they seek out the best teacher and dedicate themselves to train with them. For some its a small part and they find some place they enjoy going once/twice a week with a teacher who knows more them them. And to continuum in between. So it can take time to find the "teacher you deserve" for the level of commitment your life wants you to give, in the meantime train learn and search.
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Old 08-29-2012, 07:46 AM   #8
Basia Halliop
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

If it's any comfort, you'd likely have the same problem in Japan.

I like Jorgen's approach... I mean do a little bit of research on the teachers if it's possible, but since you may not even know the teachers in their lineage anyway, in the end you'll probably just have to get in there and judge for yourself.

And yes, go to seminars.

Last edited by Basia Halliop : 08-29-2012 at 07:49 AM.
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Old 08-29-2012, 08:24 AM   #9
phitruong
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

suggestion, please read this article http://www.aikiweb.com/columns/gledyard/2005_03.html

Ledyard sensei wrote a number of articles here http://www.aikiweb.com/columns/gledyard/ . good reading for beginners.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
http://charlotteaikikai.org
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Old 08-29-2012, 08:27 AM   #10
Gary David
 
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

I would add here as you observe classes check to see how the senior students play together and how they treat the juniors. This can tell you as much as anything else what the personality of the instructor is like and his/her ability to pass along knowledge as well as attitude. Also trust your first impressions....then confirm or revise them on you 2nd or 3rd visits.

Gary
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Old 08-29-2012, 10:06 AM   #11
Janet Rosen
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Other resources about selecting a dojo here on Aikiweb are
http://www.aikiweb.com/training/akiy7.html
http://www.aikiweb.com/training/witt1.html

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 08-29-2012, 10:44 AM   #12
philipsmith
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

You coionuld always ask the members of Aikiweb. Just post the name of the university and teacher and ask people for their opinion
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Old 08-29-2012, 11:10 AM   #13
Larry Feldman
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

It is all about what you have 'local access' to, so check the dojo finder.

Ikeda and Homma are widely known and respected Aikido instructors. I have no experience with either one, but people I know and trust speak very highly of Ikeda Sensei.

The dojo finder lists one other instructor in Boulder, and I know the Ki Society had a presence there, I would go see their highest ranking instructor and make a choice from what is available. The good news is you have soome knowledge and skill and that will help you make an educated decision.

People have a lot of reasons to study Aikido - some are more interested in self defense - others not so much. This may or may not be an indication of how good their Aikdio is - but go look for what you want.
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Old 08-29-2012, 11:26 AM   #14
Cliff Judge
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Here's the thing: if effective self-defence is the short-term priority, look somewhere other than Aikido. It's a long road to get there even in the harder styles.

If you feel like you are interested in Aikido, give your university club a try and see if you like the instructor and the students and what goes on. The worse that can happen is you get some good exercise, learn how to use your body in a new way, make some friends, maybe tweak a wrist or a shoulder here or there. Do you really know where you are going to be living in 4 years? Maybe you will wind up in a city that has multiple Aikido dojos and you can decide what kind of training you want then.
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Old 08-29-2012, 12:06 PM   #15
lbb
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Quote:
Cameron Tarr wrote: View Post
I'm just about to start an introductory aikido course at my university (aikikai). It frustrates me somewhat to learn that there seems to be different quality levels of Aikido.
Yeah, ain't that a kick in the rear? Just imagine what life would be like if other things had different quality levels. Just think of what it would be like if you had to buy a car, or a pair of jeans, or take a college course from one professor or another...and you had to be concerned about different quality levels! Isn't it a good thing that nothing in the world except aikido has this problem?



Quote:
Cameron Tarr wrote: View Post
It seems to range from dancing lessons to hard and deadly. By no means am I looking to become the next Steven Seagal, but I do wish for my aikido to be effective in a self defence situation.
What are you defending yourself against? What self-defense situations are you finding yourself in now? How are you dealing with them now?

It doesn't make any sense to try and pick a tool from the hardware store if you have no idea whether you're painting a fence or digging a hole or sawing a log.

Quote:
Cameron Tarr wrote: View Post
INow my question is, as a complete newcomer, how am I to know that my sensei/school is good, or perhaps not so good?
Well, first, you need to figure out what you want them to be good for. What do you want to get out of this? You signed up for this course; what were you looking for? And before you answer that -- beware the dangers of kitchen-sinking ("I want to be able to defend myself, and get exercise, and learn to focus my mind, and develop spiritually, and improve my health, and have fun, and meet chicks, and..."). Be realistic.

Once you've got that figured out, it can be tricky to tell whether you'll get that in this course, because of your inexperience. Depending on what you're looking for, some things you're perfectly capable of judging for yourself -- just use your common sense. And give it a little time. Whatever you're looking for, you're not going to get at your first class (unless perhaps it's "have fun" or "meet chicks"). Give it time, but also trust your gut. If you're really not enjoying it, leave. It's a college course, not a life commitment. If you don't think it's taking you towards whatever you want, leave -- even though, to be honest, in most cases you wouldn't have the judgment or the time on the mat to know. There is no crystal ball, so if you don't want to do it, or it doesn't feel right, then just don't do it.

But getting what you want is relatively easy. The hard part is wanting it once you get it. The experience of training changes people, just like all life experiences. It's very common for people to start martial arts training and, if they stay with it, find themselves training for different reasons than when they started. I'd say it's more common than not, really. So trying to get it all wired and figured out is like trying to nail down jello. It just won't happen. Go and train if you want, stay if you want, find your own reasons for being there...and if there are none, just walk.
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Old 08-29-2012, 12:55 PM   #16
morph4me
 
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

It's another one of those martial arts paradoxes. Generally, as a beginner, you don't know how good or bad the instructor is until you go to a different instructor and have something to compare to.

"Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men" - Thomas Henry Huxley
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Old 08-29-2012, 01:08 PM   #17
Basia Halliop
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

It might be a while before you can start to judge the technical quality of what you're learning, but you should at least be able to make judgments about whether you find what you're doing interesting or fun in some way, whether the atmosphere and people are positive, whether people are respectful and try to be safe, etc.
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Old 08-29-2012, 01:35 PM   #18
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
Yeah, ain't that a kick in the rear? Just imagine what life would be like if other things had different quality levels. Just think of what it would be like if you had to buy a car, or a pair of jeans, or take a college course from one professor or another...and you had to be concerned about different quality levels! Isn't it a good thing that nothing in the world except aikido has this problem?



What are you defending yourself against? What self-defense situations are you finding yourself in now? How are you dealing with them now?

It doesn't make any sense to try and pick a tool from the hardware store if you have no idea whether you're painting a fence or digging a hole or sawing a log.

Well, first, you need to figure out what you want them to be good for. What do you want to get out of this? You signed up for this course; what were you looking for? And before you answer that -- beware the dangers of kitchen-sinking ("I want to be able to defend myself, and get exercise, and learn to focus my mind, and develop spiritually, and improve my health, and have fun, and meet chicks, and..."). Be realistic.

Once you've got that figured out, it can be tricky to tell whether you'll get that in this course, because of your inexperience. Depending on what you're looking for, some things you're perfectly capable of judging for yourself -- just use your common sense. And give it a little time. Whatever you're looking for, you're not going to get at your first class (unless perhaps it's "have fun" or "meet chicks"). Give it time, but also trust your gut. If you're really not enjoying it, leave. It's a college course, not a life commitment. If you don't think it's taking you towards whatever you want, leave -- even though, to be honest, in most cases you wouldn't have the judgment or the time on the mat to know. There is no crystal ball, so if you don't want to do it, or it doesn't feel right, then just don't do it.

But getting what you want is relatively easy. The hard part is wanting it once you get it. The experience of training changes people, just like all life experiences. It's very common for people to start martial arts training and, if they stay with it, find themselves training for different reasons than when they started. I'd say it's more common than not, really. So trying to get it all wired and figured out is like trying to nail down jello. It just won't happen. Go and train if you want, stay if you want, find your own reasons for being there...and if there are none, just walk.
Ah, this is just so spot on, it really makes me smile. There is only one alternative (or is it complementary?): follow your heart and apply yourself fully.
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Old 08-29-2012, 04:44 PM   #19
James Sawers
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Quote:
I'm just about to start an introductory aikido course at my university (aikikai). It frustrates me somewhat to learn that there seems to be different quality levels of Aikido. It seems to range from dancing lessons to hard and deadly. By no means am I looking to become the next Steven Seagal, but I do wish for my aikido to be effective in a self defence situation. Now my question is, as a complete newcomer, how am I to know that my sensei/school is good, or perhaps not so good?

Please no debate about its "martial effectiveness." I'm just looking for advice on getting quality Aikido training, although my options may be limited, short of moving to Japan. Thanks in advance for any response!
Based on your question about "different quality levels of Aikido", are you talking about the different styles of aikido, the "dancing" to the "hard and deadly", as you call them, and their relative martial effectiveness? If so, then you may get different answers from different people. However, keep in mind that both the so-called dancing and so-called hard styles are just different interpretations of the practice of aikido (the Aikido Elephant, as I call it), usually based on each styles' founder (and that can be based on when, if they did, studied with O'Sensei).

So, bottom line, from my perspective, is that studying any style can be based on your eventual personal preference, but that starting anywhere, with any available style, is okay till you get the experience to judge for yourself.

Last edited by James Sawers : 08-29-2012 at 04:56 PM.
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Old 08-29-2012, 11:43 PM   #20
camt
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Thanks for all the advice. I had planned on just completing the intro course and going from there. I'm just in that excited stage of starting out something new and want the best.

I guess I'm looking for respectable aikido (in the martial sense). We all just want a little respect right?

FYI I have boxing training. I don't need aikido but it looks fun and I love the culture/history. I would love to join this conversation more, but I'm salmon fishing for a few days!
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Old 08-30-2012, 06:01 AM   #21
Walter Martindale
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Quote:
Cameron Tarr wrote: View Post
Thanks for all the advice. I had planned on just completing the intro course and going from there. I'm just in that excited stage of starting out something new and want the best.

I guess I'm looking for respectable aikido (in the martial sense). We all just want a little respect right?

FYI I have boxing training. I don't need aikido but it looks fun and I love the culture/history. I would love to join this conversation more, but I'm salmon fishing for a few days!
Victoria... BC... There are several Canadian Aikido Federation dojo in Victoria. Those dojo were similar in curriculum, as many of the instructors circulated (e.g., UVic and the dojo right near the Gorge share sensei, or the sensei at one trains at the other, or.. I forget the details, but...) All were "under" the late Yukio Kawahara Shihan.

It's been a while since I visited the dojo there. The slight differences in style within the Victoria BC Aikikai dojo are largely related to the sizes and genders of the sensei. A large male sensei will learn and then convey a different Aikido than a small male sensei, who will learn and convey a different Aikido than a female sensei. All these are or can be within the "sphere" of Aikikai.

The greater the variety of people you can learn from and practice with (and you learn from the people with whom you practice as well as the sensei), the more versatile and robust your learning will be.
Cheers,
W
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Old 08-30-2012, 06:05 AM   #22
lbb
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Re: Judging a school/sensei

Quote:
Cameron Tarr wrote: View Post
Thanks for all the advice. I had planned on just completing the intro course and going from there. I'm just in that excited stage of starting out something new and want the best.
Wanting the best seems sensible at first glance, but think about it. If you had just learned to ride a bike and were going to buy one of your own, would it make sense for you to buy the same bike that Bradley Wiggins rides, in the name of getting "the best"? If you had never played tennis before and wanted to learn, would you try to line up lessons with Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic so you could have "the best"? I think that wanting "the best" is a learned behavior that we've been taught by exposure to marketing: it makes a kind of emotional sense, but it's not really all that functional (for us, that is -- for people trying to upsell you, it makes all kinds of sense).

It comes back down to what I was saying earlier: what you really want is the right tool for the job -- not necessarily "the best", but good enough to do the job. Right now you're just trying it out, and many senseis will do perfectly well for those purposes. Approach it with an open mind, use your common sense, don't expect instant gratification or immediate results, see how it goes and then make a decision.
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