Saturday, August 22, 2015

First Class

I just taught my first full class.  I'd like to take a moment and reflect...

First, I have to say that I've had no desire to lead a class 'till now.  I prefer to train.  But, the subject has come up before, and, about a month ago I came away from a Monday class feeling really yucky about my technique -- Shihonage, in particular.   I found myself walking across the parking lot after class, slightly dejected, thinking "maybe the only way I'll ever learn this stuff is if I teach it."

Oh, the irony.

As it happens, an opportunity presented itself to take over the Saturday classes, at least for a while.  I decided that, since my kids are now of an age where they sleep 'till noon anyway, I could make that commitment even if my wife is out of town, so I volunteered.  I'm happy to say I had encouragement from Gaston Sensei, and support from others as well.

I think today was a success.  There were six of us training: Eric and George representing the higher ranks, and the two Davids representing the lower ranks.  Dr. Tom was there, too, but injured his foot in the bathroom after the warmups when the sink apparently fell off the wall.  (He's OK -- a cut on the heel).

The official class rotation called for Kote Gaeshi today.  While the other teachers don't really follow that rotation, I figured that, being the new guy, I would.   As it happens, Gaston Sensei spent some time on it on Thursday, as well, so I had a timely refresher course.

So we worked on Munetori (Lapel-Grab) Gote-Gaeshi from a tenkan blend.  I broke it down several times after watching what Eric and George were doing, pointing out the extension of the blend, the preferred butterfly-grip hand position, and George's tendency to keep the technique very low (I differentiated that with how it was taught sometimes at my first dojo, where it turned into a big almost Kokkyu type throw that focused less on the wrist).

I then asked George to show the technique using the Jo, and we worked on that for a while.  (I though of this as soon as George entered the room, as I realized I always wanted him to show more weapons work, and -- now I had the class!).

Then we did it from a static lapel grab, with a direct entry, without a Tenkan.  Classic Gaston Sensei stuff.  I changed things up a bit here and let George and Eric work together for a while.  They seemed to really be getting into working with a higher rank.

I asked George to show Sankyo from the Jo, and he threw me a curve.  I expected him to turn to the Soto version -- blending around to the outside (almost a Nikkyo).  But instead he went Uchi (inside) and showed it with a throw for the finish.   So we did that for a while.  Later, he revealed that he thinks he might have made that up on the spot.  Ha!

Then we did Sankyo in our classic style -- from Shomenuchi, with a Tenkan blend.  We focused on a down-blend, and keeping it in close (rather than making the mistakes that I, personally, always make).  :-)

Finally, I showed a variation on Shomenuchi Sankyo from a past life, which is the Tachi-waza version of the Jo technique I was expecting George to show.  This is an off-line blend with a back-foot tenshin (foot movement) that redirects the attack so that Sankyo can be reached from the outside (soto), without going under (inside, uchi) Uke's arm first.  I think people liked that one, and I have to admit it felt really good to do it again.

On that last technique in particular, it became evident to me how much teaching can help you learn (as I expected).   I originally did not point out the foot movement, and people were having trouble.  Eric pointed out to me that this was different, so I was able to elaborate.  Also, I noticed that the hand movement closely resembles the technique in our Jo-kata where we do an overhead block and a strike.

One final note...  I've been specifically asking people I work with lately to PLEASE tell me when my technique is not working.  I noticed about a year ago (I've had my Shodan for almost two years now) that people had mostly stopped correcting me.  As an upper rank in our dojo, you mostly work with lower ranks.  This means that Sempai seldom train with other Sempai, and Kohai seldom with Kohai.  While I understand the reasoning, I believe it comes at a cost.  It's just as valuable for lower ranking students to work with each other as anything else, and it's clearly valuable for ANYone -- including the upper-echelon -- to work with more experienced students.   When I'm leading class, I intend to mix this up a bit, at least for part of the class, every chance I get.

Thank you again, to all those who encouraged me to step up.  Thank you to those who showed up as well -- particularly to George, who was kind enough to let me put him on the spot.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Our Loss

We just learned that one of our fellow Aikido died.  Joe Coty died doing what he loved, while in a class at the shooting range where he was an instructor.  Unfortunately, on this day, he suffered a fatal heart attack.    Joe had been through a lot recently, as he cared for and suffered with his wife battling, and finally succumbing to, cancer.   Joe was scheduled to test for 3rd Kyu in the fall of 2015.   He will be missed.  We have a running joke at the Dojo... I will think of Joe next time Sensei says "OK, everybody grab a Jo(e)."

Joe and I weren't very close, in the normal sense.  But it's hard not to feel a sense of closeness when you spend time on the mat together with someone.  You sweat together, put hands on each other, and cause each other pain and frustration.  Sometimes, without meaning to, you even injure each other. It's this very closeness that makes it hard for beginners to become regulars.  Joe didn't let any of that stop him.

I hope that, when I'm 68, I have the same passion for life, and for Aikido, that Joe did.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Push Hands

The attrition rate of new Aikido students is very, very high.

I've been doing Aikido since 1998, and in that time I've seen a lot of students quit Aikido before they've ever really started -- say, in the first 3-6 months.

My wife was one of them.  We've talked about it.  To her, the problem is clear.  It has very little to do with the art of Aikido.  It has to do with all the physical, mental, and emotional crap you bring to the mat with you, and how you swim in all that baggage as you interact in unfamiliar ways with unfamiliar people.

Those of us who've been around for a while have probably forgotten how scary it is to choose a partner and work with them; to grab their wrist, or have them grab yours, to cause pain in another human being, or allow pain to be inflicted upon yourself (both even with boundaries).  And so on.

Remember the thoughts that went (or still go?) through your head as a beginner?

  • Should I choose a partner?
  • Why did they choose me?
  • Why didn't they choose me?
  • Is he better than me?
  • Oh, I suck -- can I work with a beginner instead?
  • Oh, I suck -- can I work with a black belt instead?
  • Why is my partner DOING  that?!
  • Should I correct them?
  • Is Sensei watching me?
  • Why isn't Sensei paying attention to me?
  • This person SMELLS!
  • This person SWEATS!
  • This person is so BIG!
  • This person is to TINY!
  • Why is my partner correcting me? I've been doing this longer than they have!
  • Why is my Uke being so stubborn?!
  • Ha! They can't throw me if I do... this.
  • Ouch! -- not so hard!  I hate working with this person.
  • Oh, I LOVE working with this person!
  • . . . and on and on and on...
I think we lose most of our Aikido students in the first 3-6 months because of all the interpersonal garbage that we ALL bring to the mat with us.   And because learning to fall can suck -- but that's a different story.

Recently, my Tai Chi teacher was adding various "push-hands" drills to our (Tai Chi) practice.  If you're curious what that looks like, just google it, or check out this example (which happens to be a wonderful guitar teacher I'm met before...

The one in the video is actually considerably more complex that the simple ones I've done so far, but they show that there's a gentle interaction between the partners, a complete lack of tension, and certainly no pain being inflicted on one another.

It seems to me that these kinds of drills would be a good thing for all beginning Aikido students to start with, if only to get over the simple human fear of having another human in your space.