Updated: Apr 16
FROM EDITION 2 OF THE TRADITIONAL AIKIDO EUROPE JOURNAL – AUTUMN 2019
As part of practicing and teaching, I tend to spend time reflecting on how to learn effectively. As a teacher I am interested in how to best pass on knowledge and make students have experiences that can further their skills. As a practitioner I am interested in how to spend my practice time effectively and deepen my knowledge and understanding. Sometimes a small effort goes a long way, however, there are also potential problems that can make learning more difficult or take students into dead ends in terms of what is learned. One such issue I often think about, is related to the speed and power we are training with.
The topic is quite simple: the martial art we are practicing is functional at full speed and power, however, when learning something new, we are not able to execute movements at full speed and power and thus have to start slow. The problem is that not everything that can be done at slow speeds can be done at full speed or with full power. Because of this it is easy to spend time practicing forms and techniques that will never, irrespective of the amount of time spent, be effective or possible to make functional and fast. Below I would like to share some considerations I take into account for my own training.
The first thing is that I try to remember to not go into training with an attitude that enough time will make things I struggle with go away. It may not. Just repeating a form or technique enough times will not fix an issue if the issue is that this way of doing the form cannot be done fast or with power. I try to notice if I spend too much time without experiencing any progress with a certain issue, and then instead spend time looking for alternative ways of approaching it. Here I pay attention to the mind trap that is me thinking I know how it should be done, which I have to give up in order to move forward. A certain amount of openness to experiment and play with the forms helps with not getting too rigidly stuck.
Secondly, I tend to consider carefully what a teacher is doing. If a teacher shows something slowly, has very elaborate stories about why it works, and never shows it at speed and power, it raises a warning signal. On the other hand, if a teacher shows both slow learning forms and how they translate into more practical use, I can get a good idea about what to focus on during slow practice. Sometimes it is good to ask someone to show things at speed to see how it works. This is not about being challenging or impolite, but should be done with an honest intention of wanting to learn as well as possible. Also, if a teacher points out a specific approach to the training, I try to really dig into that rather than just repeating the forms (thinking that I already know them).
Thirdly, I go fast sometimes even though I do not yet have the skills required. Trying to do something really fast can still give a good idea about the general direction of movements that work at speed and also clearly show which do not. I often alternate between slow and fast training, going fast for a while to pick up on what breaks down and to try to notice the general outline of movements that seems to work at speed, and then go slow to work out more sharpness and clarity about what I am doing. When alternating my training in this way, I also try to stay conscious about what I can learn in each phase. If I only stick to slow training, I may spend time training a dead end. If I only go fast and never work things out it more detail, I run the risk of getting an unfocused sloppy technique.
A fourth thing, I have noticed, is that I get better learning results when I first focus on getting bigger core body movements working and only then look at arms and hands and try to fit them into the bigger body movement. It can be very tempting to (unconsciously) try to solve problems with the hands and arms, however, this is often a trap since many or even most such detailed hand and arm movements can only be done independently of the main body movement at slow speeds and simply is not physically possible at higher speeds. When practicing with weapons or with a partner I also need to extend this line of thinking beyond my own body such that it also includes the weapon or partner. Just being able to execute a technique very fast in isolation does not automatically mean that it will work well on the partner. Instead, I need to make sure that the whole of the movement, i.e., both my own and the partner's body movements, is feasible at full speed.
As mentioned above, I try to reflect on how I approach learning in order to make the most out of the time I can spend training. I hope that you might find some of these thoughts interesting or something to come back to during your own training. As always, have fun while training.