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TAE Journal, Edition 10, Questions and Answers. By Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros

FROM EDITION 10 OF THE TRADITIONAL AIKIDO EUROPE JOURNAL – AUTUMN 2023


Q: I am just beginning to teach Aikido. You have been actively teaching for 30 years now. Do you have any advice for me?

 

A: Yes, although much can be said about this topic I will keep it simple and tell you three things that have served me well and continue to do so.

 

1. Teaching is learning.

 

First of all, be clear for yourself that teaching is another way of learning. Every class you teach you learn something new. It is said that if you think you know something then try teaching it and in my experience this is true. You may think that you are solid with a particular technique then find that in teaching it you cannot put it across, or students ask you questions you cannot satisfactorily answer. This gives you clear feedback on the limits of your knowledge and ability so is wonderful information. So never lose your ‘beginner's mind’ (shoshin). While you may be in the privileged position of guiding your students you are all beginners (albeit some with more and some with less experience) and are all there for the sole purpose of learning from one another - teacher included.


 

2. To lead you must follow.

 

Learn to listen to your students and the group as a whole. While you may begin a class with a standard technique or plan, the points you emphasise and the rhythm of the class plus the directions you take are dictated by the students and their response to what you show.


Consider the energy or the ‘music’ of the group: is it too dispersed? More focus. Is it too fast? Slow things down. Too slow, no energy? Pick up the pace. Too ‘light’? Add weight and deeper contact. Let the group lead and ‘tell you’ what to do. This also makes teaching easy and surprising. You never know what the class is going to come up with!

 

3. Be clear on whose job is what. 

 

Your job is to teach while the students' job is to learn. Don’t interfere in their learning process. Make sure your didactic and pedagogic method is as clear, appropriate and accessible as possible and see it as a work in progress that you are continually refining. Your job is to save the student time but the work of actually learning is theirs alone and if they do not take full responsibility for that then little can be done no matter how good the teacher may be. This implies that you don’t get impatient, angry or irritated with your students since you don’t want anything from them. Respect them and let them do their work.

 

Good luck and enjoy!

 

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself.”  

    

                                                                                                                Galileo Galilei.


Q: In this style (Takemusu Aikido) there is a lot of emphasis on basic static training as a first step while other schools of Aikido put emphasis from the beginning on fluid movement. Isn’t there a danger in the way you teach that students become stiff and never fully develop graceful movement?

 

A: Yes, that danger does exist.

 

Every methodology, in putting emphasis on certain aspects, opens itself up to weaknesses. Static training (kihon katai) particularly where uke applies too much power to their grabs and attacks such that uke cannot effectively work with them, can easily degenerate into struggling and stiffness - on both sides. But in my view, this is a misunderstanding of this basic ‘kihon’ level of training.

 

Saito Sensei would often mention that before running, one needed to learn how to stand and walk. There is a natural progression that one has to move through and addressing structure and stillness / movement is the first step. Kihon static training is about putting the structure in order, learning how to relax into the ground, integrating the body into a unit that is balanced and functioning from the centre. From there we go into movement. This is quite an undertaking so needs to be done slowly and with as much attention and sensitivity as possible. The mind needs to be calm and one’s attention inclusive of all factors involved. 

 

For most of us, the balance and movement project ends quite soon in our childhood as what we need to get the job done is accomplished. From there we begin adding on a lifetime of bad habits and accumulated compensation patterns from injuries and trauma. Most of us come to the dojo embodying all these dysfunctional patterns to a greater or lesser degree. Our life, and what we have been through, is written into our bodies and into the way we move. All this generally gets in the way of functional movement which should be as free and uninhibited as possible in order to maximise our ability to deal with pressure in the martial arena. If I am blocked and tense, how can I deal with an attack? How can I generate power efficiently? From patterns of resistance and defence our abilities and choices will be very limited. 

 

Training is not just about learning techniques but is equally about ‘undoing’ these dysfunctional patterns of holding our bodies and of movement. We both learn techniques and undo the restrictions that bind us - both physically and mentally. This is a journey of self discovery and is what makes the training fascinating.

 

The Principles, that underlie the construction and use of the body are not learned - they are ‘re-membered’ as we release a lifetime of bad habits and allow the body to function as it was designed to. This is the meaning of the often used word ‘natural’ (shizen) in regards to the quality of movement and technical expertise we can often appreciate in an advanced practitioner of the art. For me, just seeing Sensei walk up to the weapons rack every morning in the Iwama Dojo and choosing his weapon was a wonder. His ordinary movements were as marvellous as his technical expertise - if not more.

 

So, if this un-learning is not taking place, then yes - so called static training just continues adding to the tension and lack of movement that is there already. Through the training process we are trying to change by returning to a more natural state whereby we reclaim our intrinsic inheritance as far as body-being is concerned.

 

On the other hand, focusing on movement training without true balance and correct structure is going to be empty and ineffectual while correcting and eliminating bad habits while in complex dynamic technical patterns is going to be very difficult. 

 

Working on the foundations of structural integrity, balance and movement is like working on the foundations of a building. They need to be solid and deep. From that foundation we can begin building the subsequent levels and floors. Quality flowing movement that is grounded, balanced, and connected to our partners is advanced work and requires a solid foundation beneath it. Beginning the training on the ‘first floor’ assuming the foundation is in order is in most cases an erroneous assumption.

 

First stand, then walk and then run.


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