Friday, November 27, 2009

Breath, Relax, then Move

11/27/09 f [0s, 7v] I Today is the day after thanksgiving and we had 7 guys here anyhow! One of the guys came in from home. Two new people but I felt the more experienced guys could work with them if we did some slightly more complicated technique. They really did quite well, good class.

NOTE: I have found that when someone stiffens up or tries to use too much muscle in a technique, having them take a deep breath and relax as they exhale really makes a difference. And they can feel the difference themselves and how much “easier” the technique becomes. I have started each technique telling them to do the breath/relax just as they begin the move. This is really all I would like them to leave with. I could be one of the “tools” staff can use in counseling as well.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

11/26/09 w [4s, 6v] I Small class, 3 of the vets were relatively new but we had three who have been practicing five weeks. Worked from cross hand grasp [Gyaku Hanmi] and did ikkyo and nikkyo to the front [omote]. Several of the guys are going to be around the Friday after Thanksgiving and said they would really like to have class, if I could make it. Difficult as it may be to get up at 6:30 am the day after thanksgiving, how could I refuse. I think one of the better students will be leaving next week, but he is thinking about starting practice at our dojo. It still makes me feel good when that happens.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Learning from the not-so-good

11/23/09 m [2s, 6v] B Small class, three new people. There are several of the younger vets who don’t seem to show up but occasionally. I’m not sure how to deal with this. I think I should take this up with the staff. If they aren’t aware of it, it could indicate issues they may want to address.
I think I am getting the intro down much better, more concise yet clearer. Particularly doing ireme tenkan. The new people were doing the move much better, much sooner. Maybe it is just a good group. Having enough people with a couple of weeks experience to pair up with the new people really helps. There are supposed to be more new people Wednesday.
I talked with one of the staff about doing more formal evaluation of the program, both what it might be giving to the vets, and what it might be giving to the staff. He suggested I bring in the goals I set back in the beginning to the staff meeting Wednesday after class. We can go over them, see how realistic they are and determine how we can structure an evaluation process based on the revised set. Then I can meet with the staff one Wednesday a month and do an evaluation.

NOTE; I've been thinking about what to do when you are in a class or seminar with a sensei who's way of doing an aikido technique or their style of teaching is not what you think is good. You may not believe it, but I am as biased about Aikido sensei as anybody.
I had a class with a different sensei a while ago. He fell into both of the above categories of what I don't like. What I decided to try, is to practice what he taught, but analyze what I did and didn't like, and how I thought it could be done or taught better. In doing that, I came to realize a couple of faults/weaknesses in my own technique and teaching. Not that it should necessarily be what or how that Sensei taught, but something I should look at as a way to improve my technique, or a better way to teach.
This sensei’s methods of teaching was by the numbers. I found it too slow and disconcerting, no grace or flow. But working with the vets, or even with a newbie at the dojo, teaching a basic move, and going progressively to more complicated aspects and variations, while emphasizing the continuous flow, relaxed strength, balance, etc. isn’t by the numbers, but it could enable them to better see the bases of all techniques, give a context to techniques and help people understand the logical structure of aikido. It should also allow them to make significant progress fairly early on and thus keep their interest up.
I hope this makes some sense. I see it as a way to bring the basic principles to a negative situation. And as far as I'm concerned, that is what Aikido is all about.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

11/21/09 NOTE: I have just read “Aikido - Martial Arts - Fighting” on George Ledyard Sensei’s, blog, George Ledyard's All Things Aikido, and it has me thinking about my own experiences as a US Army warrior and as an Aikido warrior. My basic training and experience in the 101st Airborne as an Army warrior was focused on violence, aggression and conquering an “enemy”. I transferred to Special Forces as I had heard that their mission was to train and equipt indigenous people as guerrilla fighters defending themselves against a foreign attackers. [As a kid, I always wanted to be the Lone Ranger. I mean really!] And this was, in fact, what we did for many years, even in the early stages of our involvement in Viet Nam, under the mistaken belief that North Viet Nam was the “foreign attacker”.

In my last tour in Nam, I found myself caught up and participating in violence, aggression, and viciousness against the very people we had originally been serving. So I got out. The problem was that I found myself still caught up in the self image of this warrior of violence, aggression, and viciousness, and it was not a person I particularly liked. In fact I found this person I had become so repulsive, so antithetical to who I really wanted to be, the image of my self in my own mind, I often thought about eliminating that person completely. Fortunately, I stumbled into Aikido, and very soon came to the realization that one could be what Ledyard Sensei calls a “peaceful warrior”, that this seeming oxymoron could, in fact, be entirely real.

This realization enabled me to bring what I was beginning to see as the philosophical, spiritual bases of Aikido into other “war zones” such as alternative education, social services, social change, etc. and even the day-to-day struggles and stresses of life. I am not always successful. All too often my Irish temper yields to the warrior of aggression [like when I’m driving]. But there are times, thankfully the more important times, when the Aikido warrior takes over. There are times when I feel good about who I am, and that the fight can be a good one.

If I can in any way convey this to the vets I am working with, maybe I will be taking another small step toward my own image of who I want to be. It would be nice to contribute to bringing peace to the entire world, or even one little part, but I can only do that as I learn to be a peaceful warrior myself.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Back to the chairs

11/20/09 f [4s, 12v] A After warm-ups, we went to chair techniques. Doing ikyo and nikyo, ai hanmi and gyaku hanmi, while sitting helped people grasp the concepts of relaxing and bringing uke to nage’s center. The first instinct is to try to pull uke, but it proved to be very difficult. When people relaxed and just let the weight of their arm “drop”, they could execute the move reasonably well. I think we will do chair technique fairly regularly, every other week or so. With the exception of two guys recovering from broken wrists, it enables everyone to participate. Doing a standing technique and then repeating and varying it from a chair does two things; it shows the chair bound they are not powerless and it shows everyone that focusing on the 5 points of technique can enable infinite variations to basic technique.
Some people are beginning to move generally much better, less speed and using the upper body, and more relaxed flow and centering.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

11/18/09 w [4s, 12v] A Again, no new people and moderate size class. We were able to go from basic irimi tenkan through 4 sequentially more complex variations. The guys say they like doing this as it helps them understand how the more advanced variations work and gives a context for the basic variations. Working with the same group several times in a row; really helps firm up their use of the 5 points.
I got a chance to work on some new standing pins and chair techniques over the weekend with another shodan while on a short vacation. I need to do more of this, but don’t have much opportunity. I will have to find someone simpatico near by. Doing this by myself is OK, but someone to bounce ideas off would help.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

11/10/09 m [1s, 11v] A No new people and moderate sized class so we did grasp both wrists [Ryote Dori] to joint lock [nikyo]. Worked on maintaining center/center line while lowering the body to get under uke’s arm. Some difficulty in “lowering” body as opposed to hunching over. People found that when did this correctly, [relax, center] they were able to maintain their balance and keep uke from twisting out.
As I outlined in the previous note, I have begun demonstrating how to take ukemi safely, and with some level of self-control. When people were able to relax into the movement they found they could respond much easier.

Monday, November 9, 2009

NOTE: It is unfortunate that, because we can only workout on a rug, I can’t have people doing a full ukemi, i.e. rolls, take downs, etc. Doing technique as Nage gives the experience of dealing with aggression/stress as it comes at you. However, well taught ukemi [ falling down as an art] gives the experience of retaining some level of control and balance once one is in a spiral of experience; keeping oneself as safe as possible, going with the flow, keeping a clear mind not panicking and maintaining the possibility of reversing a technique/situation, and regaining full control. Few dojos stress good ukemi, beyond a way of falling down. I realize that this is one of the most powerful and effective aspects of Aikido that Sensei Martin stresses in his teaching. It is an excellent example of the covert teaching of life knowledge that the founder wanted.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Recommended reading

NOTE: The best general description of Aikido and its general principles I have found, is the "AIKIDO PRIMER", compiled by Eric Sotnak [ ]. You can find it at . This is an excellent introduction, and well worth reading.

Friday, November 6, 2009

11/6/09 f [4s 22 v] I After warm ups had them doing irimi tenkan, moving very slowly and working on a smooth, flowing technique. I demonstrated how relaxed movement from the hips/center, keeping the center over the “anchored” foot and not “hunching”, enabled nage to keep their balance while bringing uke off balance. This all seemed to help several guys improve over all. Continued this to a shoulder pin. Finished with a wrist lock variation.
Two guys visited Northampton dojo Wednesday and are going back tonight to start practice. Awwwright!!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

11/5/09 w [3s, 23v] B Back to a large class, 14 new people. I don’t know if I am getting my presentation down better, or this is a very good group, but, in spite of doing the introduction and a slightly slower warm-up, we were able to move along a bit quicker than usual, with a higher level of interest. A lot less casual, not pertinent chatter and more people working on technique, even when I’m not working directly with them.
NOTE: I wonder about my teaching technique. Do I talk too much? Over intellectualize? My understanding is that O Sensei’s teaching “method” was to line up all the students, have them attack him one at a time, go through the line once, maybe twice, [not necessarily doing the technique exactly th same with each] and then move on to the next technique. No discussion and little, if any, explanation, leaving the students to figure out on their own what he had done. This has changed somewhat, especially with American Senseis, but the general teaching method is still very much non verbal, with the student encouraged to feel their own way into the technique Sensei demonstrates.
I admit that this “kinesthetic” learning process is extremely effective, especially with adolescents. But with the Vets, I find myself talking a lot, explaining, clarifying, etc. I mean, I tend to do this a bit with beginners at the dojo, but I wonder if I am doing it so much more with the Vets because everyone is a beginner, because I want to get certain basics across and I only have six weeks, 18 classes at the most?
Maybe this is the best teaching method, either because of the situation, or because this is my personal style of teaching. I’m going to have to experiment a bit to see if toning down my talk helps at all. Of course, given the constantly changing makeup of the group, measuring any change could prove difficult.

Monday, November 2, 2009

11/2/09 m [1s, 9v] A A small class, but with guys who are really into it. We were able to go from a basic irimi tenkan to a fairly advanced technique ending in a nikkyo ura standing pin. Some of the guys are still a little confused as to what foot/hand goes where and forget about relaxing their shoulders, but working with them one-on-one, they get it, and there are frequent A-HA moments. One of them said those moments, rare as they might be, are what keep him looking forward to this class.
It is a great example of the golf analogy; even the worlds worst duffer hits a great shot once in a while and that rare great shot is what keeps him coming back, and back, and back. In Aikido, once in a great while I do a technique just right, and that keeps me coming back, and back, and back. Its not masochism, it just feels sooo good when it happens.
NOTE: I was talking with Sensei Dallas yesterday. He has a dojo in Mississippi and is attempting to bring his art to so-called disadvantaged folks. He is interested in doing classes for vets. His questions got me to thinking how I have gotten my program off the ground and producing the limited successes we have gained. The situation I ended up with was certainly nothing like I imagined when I first approached the Volunteer Coordinator. I think what worked for me, was not focusing on some imagined end result, but accepting the situation as it was and viewing even the “negatives”as an opportunity to bring the best Aikido I knew to the situation.
My decision was to focus on what I consider the most basic aspects, i.e., the 5 points of technique, in the belief that students would experience, and hopefully internalize something positive and constructive they could bring to their lives. This enabled me to relax, stay flexible and move with the energy/flow of which ever group I had, on which ever day it was, and enjoy just bringing something to these guys that they could enjoy.
When I look back on things so far, I realize I have used some of the basic principles of Aikido in teaching Aikido. As a result, the classes for these guys have been one of the best Aikido learning experiences I”ve ever had.