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.