In the early days of aikido, when the cup is well and truly empty, it’s pretty easy to make progress just by turning up and soaking up information like a sponge. The learning pedagogy follows the learning pyramid down a few levels and by green belt you’re confident and by brown belt a little cocky. By shodan there is usually a confrontation with self as you probably don’t measure up to your own preconception of “black belt” awesomeness, and by the time you exit sandan there’s a faint sense of disquiet creeping into your soul as you have run out of things to do.
It is here that the other aspects of aikido take on a greater role. Rather than a perfunctory practice that seems culturally appropriate, such as mindfulness meditation and breathing or finding the stillness of yoningake, students might be asking, “Where to now?”.
In a previous blog we looked at pedagogy and it is timely perhaps to revisit that. We can ask ourselves, “What are the mindfulness practices we see in other spheres of education?” whether in vocational training or preparation of athletes. There are significant areas of overlap with traditional study of aikido in honing skills and bringing a maturity to our learning. They also start to bring us to the lower levels of the learning pyramid.
Unfortunately, many students don’t progress beyond practising technique, which is really just the beginning levels of aikido. It is a weird journey and a long one to reach out for the extra planes of aikido. After 30 years of wondering I feel that Dan Sensei and Andrew Sensei are discovering new ground and looking forward to getting together for the Autumn workshop this weekend
words: Jim Nicholls
image: Dan James
The Anzac Day centenary saw an afternoon of gradings at Aikido Republic as well as the opportunity to have a brief workshop with Sunter Sensei (Aikido in Sydney) on the research and development that he and James Sensei have been conducting over the last couple of years.
A few phrases are now becoming familiar at these workshops:
It’s all about posture: No matter how often it is said I still find myself unconsciously dropping my head or shoulder and requiring external feedback to correct that (or some other) unconscious habit. When one has the correction and repeats the movement in the better frame then the improvement to technique is obvious.
Hold with curiosity: It is more than just holding with commitment and more like holding so that the partner feels the hold through to their centre and therefore must work from their centre to create a response. That response is neither challenged nor simply followed (except by agreement between the partners) but curiosity implies the feeling of the nage taking the centre of the uke by moving their own centre into a set of extended spirals.
Do less: When trying out these old/new approaches uke often finds him/herself on the mat and nage often feels they haven’t done enough. There is often mutual laughter – especially in a Sunter workshop! A contradictory thing is happening – nage feels that not enough technique has been applied but uke is surprised by the incredible lightness which leads them to the floor. So the tendency is to want more application. Sunter san will come past and say do less – or as one of my own students keeps telling himself: stop thinking!
Each repetition must be an improvement: Our responsibility as uke is to help nage improve through full engagement and curiosity in the process. This should not be through lots of spoken feedback but through many repetitions with uke providing just the right amount of intensity and pace for nage. The sensei has given the instruction and the task is to see what the training pair can make of it. Don’t worry, soon enough the roles will be reversed and this mutuality is what you will be looking for to continue your own improvement.
Oh, we have some aiki happening: Aikido is not the demonstration of technique and certainly not demonstration of superiority. It is the moment when uke fell down without knowing why and nage feels they didn’t do enough. There will be mutual laughter!
Our main purpose in Brisbane was to observe Susan Tweddell’s successful shodan grading. It was pleasing to see Susan embodying several of these aspects in her demonstration. It was equally pleasing to see Susan’s many colleagues and supporters there to witness the culmination of years of effort. Well done Susan.
In the same session Michael Hitchcock and Meaghan Douglas performed very well at 4th Kyu and 2nd Kyu levels respectively.
Thanks to the Aikido Republic team for putting on a very good event.
Jim Nicholls, Alstonville Aikido
Aikido in Sydney is hosting the 2014 Spring Workshop for the Great Ocean Aikido Community.
This inaugural Great Ocean Aikido Workshop will feature Steve Seymour (6-dan Aikido) and Mike Allen (7-dan Kenpo) as well as Great Ocean founders Jim Nicholls and Andrew Sunter. (We are still hoping Dan James and John Ward will be able to put in an appearance)
Location: Aikido in Sydney KōMyō Dojo
Bridge Road School
127 Parramatta Road, Camperdown
Cost: $90 full weekend, $50 single day
Date: Saturday 4 to Monday 6 October 2014.
The program may change due to some uncertainty about who will actually present some sessions, but essentially it will follow the pattern below.
Saturday 11 am to 4 pm:
• Syllabus and principles of Great Ocean Aikido with Andrew Sunter
• Introduction to Target Focus Training with Mike Allen
Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
• Internal Strength with Steve Seymour
• Insights into Aikido from TFT and Yang Mian with Mike Allen
• Training in Great Ocean Aikido with a GO Co-founder
Monday 10 am to 2 pm
• Consolidation and integration sessions