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Old 01-16-2013, 12:50 PM   #1
ChrisHein
 
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Perhaps the tide is changing.

When I first started Aikido (in the late 90's) the prevalent idea in the world of martial arts, was that martial arts came from Japan or China- oh, there were some martial arts from Korea, but mostly Japan or China. All martial arts required you to wear a special costume, and observe special unusual customs (taking off shoes, bowing, saying strange words). This was to be expected if you wanted to learn a martial art.

As time when on, things like MMA, other cultural martial arts (South American, European, and North American), and "reality based self defense" became more widely know, and popular. This changed the way people felt about learning a martial art- or learning to "take care of yourself".

When I started our Aikido school was very large, it was the largest martial art school in Fresno (pop. 500,000), and had a thriving student base. I left this school, moved and trained in other martial arts (MMA, South American, North American and European martial arts). When I returned to become Dojo Cho of the same Aikido school I started in, the school was much smaller. There were hardly and Udansha left, and practice was much more "humble". I attacked the school with my usual excitement, and we now have a very full schedule, there are more "skirts" on the mat, attendance is way up, and things are going well. I've had to work pretty hard, but I love Aikido.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that I would like to share some of the other martial arts I've done. So I started a "self defense class". It doesn't teach to any one system, but offers an general view of many aspects of martial arts training: striking, ground grappling, stand up grappling, multiple attackers, weapon use, weapon taking etc.. We wear normal "street cloths", we don't bow into class, I don't have them say "onegaishimasu" or anything else to each other before or after they work together- it's really laid back. This class has been a huge success from the start, it's all ways full. People are always laughing and having the best time during class, and after people hang around more and talk with each other more then I see after regular keiko.

These are all people who have been doing Aikido for some time. Most of them have several years of Aikido training. But they all seem more comfortable and eager to learn in a more relaxed "modern" martial arts environment. It's really strange to me, but it reminds me of how the Dojo used to feel after Aikido class back in the late 90's early 00's. When I advertise Aikido, I don't get much response from the community, but advertising the "self-defense" class has already had a better response.

It really makes me wonder how I should be structuring my class schedule...

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Old 01-17-2013, 07:53 AM   #2
lbb
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Chris, thanks for this lovely portrait of a dojo with lots of life in it. It's giving me lots of food for thought. My dojo is hoping to grow in 2013, and I've been thinking a lot about what that means. Bringing in new people, bringing back people who have drifted away, elevating the practice of those who are already here? Hopefully all of the above, but the specifics...?

The other night as I was driving home I had the thought: sustained growth will only come by being ourselves. Not sure yet what that means, though.
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Old 01-17-2013, 03:26 PM   #3
Travers Hughes
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Nice post Chris. Times and trends (fads) sure are changing. Do you think the phenomenon of "instant gratification" has anything to do with it? Maybe I'm just getting old, but it seems that both in martial arts and work circles, a lot of people seem to be reducing goal timeframes - no such thing as long term goals any more. "If results can't be achieved quickly, its not worth it" seems to be the general attitude.
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Old 01-17-2013, 03:37 PM   #4
ChrisHein
 
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

It is true, people like to get things fast. People also like to feel comfortable fast. I think both of these things are aided by teaching a less formal type of martial arts.

I really love Aikido, it's given me a lot in my life. I want to give that back to other people. How I can best give this to them is my real question. Perhaps more non-traditional classes are the way to go. And yet, there is something I feel I gained from the more ceremonial aspects of Aikido training, something I don't want to lose.

Understanding how to do this is my current goal.

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Old 01-17-2013, 03:48 PM   #5
Dave R
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Quote:
Chris Hein wrote: View Post
When I advertise Aikido, I don't get much response from the community, but advertising the "self-defense" class has already had a better response.
I think you make an interesting point, Chris. Not every potential aikidoka wants to wear a gi, bow or learn a foreign language. We never bothered with workout costumes when I studied CMA and, if I'm honest, I've never been comfortable in my hakama. It's just not a good look for me. I suspect that the millennial generation (who make up the core of our potential newbies now) are even less impressed with the costume than I am. I'm not sure that aikido without gis is the answer to dwindling class sizes but it's something to think about.

A friend once recounted a story about coming out of a karate class at the YMCA and hearing some guy yell, "Look at the (pansy) in his pajamas!" My friend turned around ready to return the insult but thought better of it when he saw the guy was about twice his size. The gi and all the culture that come with learning the art are simply not held in esteem by many people.

Coincidentally, I was at a seminar this last weekend where everyone wore sweats. It brought a welcome informality to the experience and helped bring focus to the material at hand. This in contrast to what I've come to expect when I enter a dojo. There always seems to be just a little bit of ego introduced when budo people gear up; which is odd when you consider that gis are essentially just underwear.

Best,
Dave
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Old 01-17-2013, 04:30 PM   #6
Janet Rosen
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

When I lead my small "low impact aikido" class, I am the only one in a gi. I feel it makes my role as class leader more apparent - though I admit the day when it was really cold and I was migraining a bit and stayed in my street clothes, it was just fine...we do quick informal standing bows only at start and end of class and don't line up for demos. I'll mention the Japanese name for an attack and a technique but don't really use much Japanese otherwise.
Mind you it is a small class - no more than 3 or 4 of us on the busiest night - but I could see it working just fine w/ a somewhat larger group.
The main thing I keep in mind is that these students are not likely to train in other classes or go to seminars, so it is not that important they know the etiquette that is standard both in our own dojo's regular classes + elsewhere - I do demo or mention it from time to time. I'd think this is more of a concern in a regular aikido class where students ARE likely to get out to visit other dojos or go to seminars. Thoughts?

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 01-17-2013, 05:13 PM   #7
ChrisHein
 
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

If you are studying Aikido, I do think it is important to understand Aikido "culture". It is very nice to go into a new Dojo, in a distant city, and still basically understand what is expected of you, and what the teacher is talking about. The Aikido "culture" binds us together, and helps us share.

I think apart of the problem is cultural also. When I started Aikido, it was more understood by the general public that when you do martial arts, you're going to wear different cloths and going to observe different customs. Now, I think lot's younger people who are new to the martial arts think of things like MMA or even Yoga. They think of wearing athletic clothing things that are "normal" and comfortable. This new modern cultural model of how we "train", puts a barrier between the new student and us.

I recently watched a movie called "Gone", it was released in 2012. It deals with a young woman who has been kidnaped and escaped. In the beginning of the movie, it shows how differently she lives her life- post kidnapping. She's very alert, carries weapons, and keeps her head about her. At one point in the movie, she leaves her house, and I thought "oh boy, she's going to her martial arts class". I couldn't wait to see the Dojo she went to, and all the people dressed gi's and throwing each other, I was in for a surprise. She did go to her martial arts class, but it was a very modern looking gym. Everyone was dressed in normal athletic clothes, they were wrestling, and boxing with each other. Then it really hit me "these times they are-a-change'n". When I was a kid, there is no doubt that she would have gone to a traditional martial arts school, but now, people envision a different kind of place and atmosphere for training.

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Old 01-17-2013, 05:22 PM   #8
odudog
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Your regular Aikido students not hanging around after class and being friendly with each other is more a function on them and not on you. That is something they will have to figure out for themselves. I find it strange though.

As far as the self defense class, people already understand what it is and what they most likely will be doing just from the title. The word Aikido to them just doesn't register. As far as they know, it could be some type of yoga.. We will always have this problem with our preferred art.
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Old 01-17-2013, 06:32 PM   #9
James Sawers
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

When I first started Aikido I was very frustrated by the use of Japanese and the dependence on it to understand and do the techniques. I thought that in the future, if I ever opened my own dojo, I would call it American Aikido, and everything would be in English. Prior to doing traditional Aikido, I used to do what was called Budo Aikido, basically a blended art, but it was all in English. So I know it can be done. I still have the frustration with processing the Japanese terms all these years later, but If I were to open a traditional Aikido dojo, I think I would be doing my students a disservice if I did not teach them the traditional Japanese terms and culture, even if it may differ somewhat with different places and organizations. They would still have a general knowledge of how to comport themselves at other Aikido dojos.

As for the gi, I first thought that sweats were better, too. But, experience has taught me that gis are very serviceable and hakamas, well, you get used to them. Personally, I do not understand those that wear their gis outside the dojo. When I finish my practice, I am usually a sweaty mess and can't wait till I change into my civies. If you wear a gi outside of the dojo, you should not be surprised at comments, good or bad.

Those who are seeking a true martial arts experience, will I think, seek out a traditional dojo. Those who want/need a self-defence course will seek that out. I have done that myself. In fact, they are probably better off taking a long weekend self-defence seminar if that is their only motivation.

MMA has done a good job of distilling what works and doesn't work inside a ring. But, some seek something more....A traditional dojo with its dojo culture and "weird" clothing can provide that. That "do" that some of us are looking for and should not be dismissed too quickly in response to trends and fads.

Just thoughts..........

Last edited by James Sawers : 01-17-2013 at 06:34 PM.

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Old 01-17-2013, 09:22 PM   #10
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Just a thought Chris

I've noticed dojos seem to run and reflect the energy from the front. So if you dig the 'other budo' then thats going to come out and catch on. Is this then a response to not just the new exciting material and the accompanying cultural shift to peer based learning but also your own enthusiasm (and presumably skills) for it ?

best,
dan

best,
dan

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Old 01-20-2013, 06:28 AM   #11
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Hi Chris:

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.
The following are just my thoughts and not judgment about what anyone else is doing.

I taught and trained in Self-defense for 16 years along side of Aikido. It was important to me for a long time. I really needed to feel safe and develop skills and strategies.
Then it become not the way for me anymore. The philosophy of Aikido is what makes the difference for me.

Self-defense seems to be focusing on the problem whereas Aikido seems to me to be focusing on the solution. Our dojo will continue to teach Aikido as we see perceive it. I feel the trend may change back to more peaceful arts. When that happens we will accept that, too.

Last edited by Mary Eastland : 01-20-2013 at 06:28 AM. Reason: wrong smiley

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Old 01-20-2013, 07:22 AM   #12
Krystal Locke
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Quote:
Mary Eastland wrote: View Post
Hi Chris:

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.
The following are just my thoughts and not judgment about what anyone else is doing.

I taught and trained in Self-defense for 16 years along side of Aikido. It was important to me for a long time. I really needed to feel safe and develop skills and strategies.
Then it become not the way for me anymore. The philosophy of Aikido is what makes the difference for me.

Self-defense seems to be focusing on the problem whereas Aikido seems to me to be focusing on the solution. Our dojo will continue to teach Aikido as we see perceive it. I feel the trend may change back to more peaceful arts. When that happens we will accept that, too.
How do you see self-defense focusing on the problem and aikido focusing on the solution? How does your aikido practice prevent other folks' violence? How is aikido being a martial art not self-defense, and therefore equally focusing on the problem? What do you see as the problem, and as the solution?
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Old 01-20-2013, 12:55 PM   #13
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

I intuitively knew that at a certain time it was time to stop training in self defense because it was triggering responses in me that were very uncomfortable. Part of training in SD is listening to the stories of students. I choose not to do that anymore.

Aikido is the solution for me because I believe that developing peacefulness while being safe and strong is a proactive solution.

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Old 01-20-2013, 01:33 PM   #14
Brian Beach
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

"When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail" I was guilty of this mindset when training in a more self defense orientated art. Not that I was hammering a lot, but rather seeing a lot of nails.
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Old 01-20-2013, 03:42 PM   #15
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Good stuff Chris. I think today we are dealing with a more critical "customer" who is more informed. There is also alot more "experts" out there to choose from.

I think maybe somethings have changed and aikido as we know it in the past may have a smaller subset of folks whereas 20 years ago, you'd get alot more trying it out for a year or two and then leaving.

I'd wonder if based on these assumptions if attrition is going down. If you have a more critical consumer, well then it would also stand to reason that they are preselecting and therefore, you should see less attrition because you are getting a more serious student.

Also, though, I think that people might today be less concerned with the eastern trappings and more about "no kidding, what do your have for me".

Thanks for you thoughts and observations!

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Old 01-20-2013, 05:28 PM   #16
miso
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

The decade before this was a war decade. In war decades, aikido isn't going to be the first choice. It's going to be one of the last.

Then there's youtube, as well.
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:35 PM   #17
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Hello Chris,

I think that if you are professional, and make a living from teaching aikido, you have to diversify in order to survive economically. The only dojo I am aware of (in Japan, of course) that does not do this is the Aikikai Hombu, which has a huge population base (Tokyo and its immediate environs, blessed with a very efficient transportation network) and which also is unable to diversify for ideological reasons.

Apart from the Hombu there very few dojos where the instructor is professional. I think there is also another factor here, which has to do with the intellectual and cultural climate of postwar Japan. If people want to practice aikido or judo or kendo, they will go to the appropriate dojo and get on with it. I have met very few Japanese who wander around to various dojos to check on how effective the training is. (In fact the only person who did this was a young Japanese 3rd dan who moved from Tokyo to Hiroshima: I am happy that he chose our dojo out of all the others, which, in fact, is the only one run by foreign instructors.)

I also teach at a dojo in Hiroshima City, where there is a large children's class. There is actually a waiting list, owing to lack of space. The main instructors are an 'aikido' family, where all the members are yudansha (from 6th dan downwards: I have been friends since I first came to Japan and watched the family members grow up).

I can see that the kids come to the dojo (their parents sometimes train in the adult class) because there is a very important element of social training, which, I suspect, is considered increasingly unavailable in the Japanese school system. Some of the kids are older, but entered the dojo when they were six, which is the minimum age.

I wonder how common this is in the US.

P A Goldsbury
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Old 01-20-2013, 06:20 PM   #18
ChrisHein
 
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

I have a good kids class. I only have two parents who train in the adult class as well. In the US, it seems that children's traditional martial arts classes still do very well. When I tell someone that I am a professional martial arts teacher they often assume that I teach children, and that this is what martial arts teachers do. There is sometimes a bit of a shock when I tell them that my main emphasis is adult learning.

However that might not have so much to do with martial arts specifically, and more to do with the idea that in general physical education is for children. A friend of mine (32) went to a large gymnastics school to enquire about their schedule and rates. They asked him "what age", when he told them that it was for him, apparently they were quite surprised and told him that they didn't have classes for anyone his age.

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Old 01-20-2013, 07:31 PM   #19
Janet Rosen
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

The financial backbone of several northern California aikido dojos I've been associated with or visited is definitely the childrens' classes, including "non-professional" community dojos who rely on the kids' classes class fees to cover rent/overhead.

Janet Rosen
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Old 01-21-2013, 02:48 AM   #20
Eva Antonia
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Dear all,

I read this thread with as much interest as surprise - here in "old Europe" I never got the impression that people fine aikido (or karate, judo, taekwondo...) old fashioned and look for something more efficient and "quick & dirty", neither had I ever the impression that people were fed up with gis & hakamas. It's more the opposite - people are very keen on having a hakama, and not only because that's a sign of rank; it looks cool, and elegant, and somehow classy, and no one ever would (except for joking) confuse a hakama with a skirt or an aikidoka with a transvestite...

This said - if someone shows up without gi/ hakama in any dojo I know there wouldn't be a problem that he trains in normal street clothes, but somehow it is not that people are yearning for. Same with Japanese terminology - everyone learns it, some easily, some with difficulties, some not really well, but no one questions the necessity. I think it's great - you may go to Russia or to Algeria and train with Chinese or Zimbabweans, but there is a lingua franca, ushiro ryo te dori is everywhere the same.

Moreover, I think if you train in a martial art and want to do more than just the grips, you'd better take the whole package. Aikido without Japanese clothes, Japanese words, kamiza, bowing and all the paraphernalia would be like Nescafé instead of filter coffee or a Beethoven piano sonata played with an electronic keyboard...something would be missing.

And there is the choice - students can do
- traditional aikido
- other traditional martial arts
- self defense
- modern martial arts
- or they could cross-train and combine.
But I'd loathe to think that aikido in its traditional form would be "outdated" and needed to be reformed in order to become more attractive.

There is a very beautiful verse of the "Faust", saying
"Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heißt,
ist nur der Herren eigner Geist,
in dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln."
(And what you call the spirit of time
is just a mirror of your own state of mind)

All the best,

Eva
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Old 01-21-2013, 04:32 AM   #21
Dazzler
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

For me the source of a successful dojo is the Sensei...or team of Sensei's if a larger dojo.

If they are happy with and see value in 'traditional' attire....then the students they attract will see value in it.

Even if the students prefer not to wear traditional clothes, if they value the instructor then they go along.

I have no problem attracting or keeping students, I have no problems with students not wishing to wear traditional stuff and take the time for traditional ettiquette.

Any issues I do experience are down to technical content not meeting expectations of individuals. Basically Aikido is too hard for some, too soft for others and even with the best will in the world no one can keep everyone happy when they let anyone in the door.

I would add that where I am, in a small city that has MMA, BJJ and such currently popular MA's competing with TMA's, the attention to ettiquette, to attire etc helps to differentiate us from the combat sports people or the 'reality based training' guys in sweats. I feel it actually works in our favour,- we've put ourselves 'out there' with demonstrations and multi-art seminars...and the outfits along with the ability of some of the people in the club....have been very favourably received.

Of course when it comes to the classes -It makes no difference to the technical content. or to the relaxed/serious nature of practice what people wear other than perhaps setting a tone at the start that allows an instructor to create an atmosphere that is right for learning....and at the end to send everyone home in a chilled mood.

Students vote with their feet...in my experience the traditional gear makes no impact numbers wise....either way. What makes the difference is quality.

In my opinion, a poor instructor can only hide behind the paraphenalia for so long...but with so much information, so much discussion, and so much advice on questions that a discerning student should be asking being so freely available....then in a competitive environment an instructor that fails to deliver to the aspirations of students....will see those students leave and not necessarily be replaced.

FWIW

D
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Old 01-21-2013, 01:23 PM   #22
sakumeikan
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Quote:
Daren Sims wrote: View Post
For me the source of a successful dojo is the Sensei...or team of Sensei's if a larger dojo.

If they are happy with and see value in 'traditional' attire....then the students they attract will see value in it.

Even if the students prefer not to wear traditional clothes, if they value the instructor then they go along.

I have no problem attracting or keeping students, I have no problems with students not wishing to wear traditional stuff and take the time for traditional ettiquette.

Any issues I do experience are down to technical content not meeting expectations of individuals. Basically Aikido is too hard for some, too soft for others and even with the best will in the world no one can keep everyone happy when they let anyone in the door.

I would add that where I am, in a small city that has MMA, BJJ and such currently popular MA's competing with TMA's, the attention to ettiquette, to attire etc helps to differentiate us from the combat sports people or the 'reality based training' guys in sweats. I feel it actually works in our favour,- we've put ourselves 'out there' with demonstrations and multi-art seminars...and the outfits along with the ability of some of the people in the club....have been very favourably received.

Of course when it comes to the classes -It makes no difference to the technical content. or to the relaxed/serious nature of practice what people wear other than perhaps setting a tone at the start that allows an instructor to create an atmosphere that is right for learning....and at the end to send everyone home in a chilled mood.

Students vote with their feet...in my experience the traditional gear makes no impact numbers wise....either way. What makes the difference is quality.

In my opinion, a poor instructor can only hide behind the paraphenalia for so long...but with so much information, so much discussion, and so much advice on questions that a discerning student should be asking being so freely available....then in a competitive environment an instructor that fails to deliver to the aspirations of students....will see those students leave and not necessarily be replaced.

FWIW

D
Dear Daren,
Does dear old Kenny Rogers train in tradtional gear or does he occasionally practice in his demob suit[circa 1956]?How is the old codger ? g
Give him a big hug on my behalf.By the way , tell him he owes me a beer{ or do I owe him one??}Cheers, Joe

are
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Old 01-22-2013, 04:29 AM   #23
Dazzler
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

Quote:
Joe Curran wrote: View Post
Dear Daren,
Does dear old Kenny Rogers train in tradtional gear or does he occasionally practice in his demob suit[circa 1956]?How is the old codger ? g
Give him a big hug on my behalf.By the way , tell him he owes me a beer{ or do I owe him one??}Cheers, Joe

are
Oh ...he's a stickler for tradition. Always wears cowboy hat and shiny spurs.

I'd suggest as a scotsman...you may well owe the beer....but getting it out of that well trained Aikido grasp is the real challenge.

Cheers

D
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Old 01-23-2013, 11:04 PM   #24
Aikeway
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

I tend to think that the aikido demonstrations and the aikido video clips posted on the internet are having the opposite affect to that intended. They need to be more realistic with committed realistic attacks with uke resisting and not just falling over so easily or jumping. People just don't think these demonstrations and video clip performances are plausible, and that leads to them thinking aikido is not plausible. If there were more realistic video clips available or demonstrations done which show how effective aikido can be against an unco-operative committed attacker, then there may be greater interest in aikido. Note that I fully understand that in training uke needs to be co-operative otherwise he/she will get injured.
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Old 01-24-2013, 02:28 AM   #25
amoeba
Dojo: Aikido Netzwerk
Location: Düsseldorf, NRW
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 80
Germany
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Re: Perhaps the tide is changing.

I also feel that here in Europe the atmosphere in the "traditional" training is a lot more relaxed than what I heard from some people from the states. At least in most of the clubs I know, we do wear our hakamas and gis, we do bow before training and to each other, but it's still not a very "formal feeling". We have fun during training, laughing and (a little bit of) talking are allowed, we don't care who's sempai or kohai, we don't line up according to rank, we call the teacher by his or her first name.

So maybe the strange pajamas just don't make that much of a difference in that kind of environment?
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