08 Teaching and Learning methods for Aikido

posted 26 Jun 2010, 04:02 by Unknown user

Teaching culture is inherited from our lineage of instructors and actually embodies many facets of what we know about modern learning and motor skills. I draw the following from University education sources, conferences on education as well as from the elite sports community, though haven’t included detailed references.



We are told ‘this is a 20 year technique’ and it’s true it takes a long time to learn something. Our bodies and minds go through the following process:

Unconscious Incompetence – don’t know we are doing it wrong

Conscious Incompetence – know we are doing it wrong

Conscious Competence – can do it correctly if we think about it

Unconscious Competence – can do it correctly without thinking about it


At the end of this process, it is repeated again usually at every level of examination.


‘Muscle memory’ suggests it takes 10,000 repetitions to learn something and for something like Karate’s reverse punch this can be done quickly, however for aikido and its many movements this takes much longer.


Repetition however is boring and thus we have a syllabus with many, many techniques in it. These techniques however are mostly the disguised repetition of fundamental principles that contained in the waza.


Thus in teaching classes it is important to be aware of the importance of repetition, it is through this mechanism that students learn aikido. Try to keep teaching goals for a class modest – if a student learns only a few things then that is enough. Reminding students of their incompetence by trying to cover too much can lead to a loss of confidence and frustration in the art.


Error free learning

Learning technique without error builds a neural pathway, confidence in the technique, good rhythm and eventually very strong aikido. Over correction, resistance and never allowing a student to finish a technique leads to unconfident and often over muscular aikido. A story from Tiger Woods father is that every night Tiger Woods would hit 500 golf balls, because it was dark he couldn’t see where they landed but developed a very strong repeatable swing, without self-doubt.


Maruyama sensei teaches that aikido is kata, that is both nage and uke go through prescribed movements to complete a technique. This is fundamentally, what we are required to teach. There is a place for resistance training, wrestling, blocking technique, kaishi waza (reversals) and ki testing but these should not be the principle teaching methods used.


Formal Teaching (Mehrabian, UCLA, 1997)

In lecture style teaching, information is transferred in a number of ways. These have been measured and are somewhat surprising.

Vocal (38%) - your voice

Verbal (9%) - words you use

Visual (55%) - what they see

Overwhelmingly what people see is the most important thing, thus the demonstration of aikido technique is so important



Peer-based learning (i.e. with a partner) Mazur, AIP 2006

In this study, it was found that students learnt much more when learning together with another student.


It seems that being ‘told’ something is less important than actually trying it out with a partner though prescribed practice and experimentation (within limits) with different body types


Different methods of communication

Many sources speak of how people think and interpret the world in different ways. People tend to be combinations

Visual (seeing),

Auditory (listening)

Kinesthetic (feeling)

Visual people respond to watching, verbal based to listening and kinetic to feeling a technique as uke. We as instructors also have these traits and thus are potentially only reaching 1/3 of our students if we ignore the other methods in the way we teach.


For example we had a student who always looked down and to the side in class (NLP tells us this is a kinesthetic learner), formal teaching (watching and listening) was actually not teaching this student, thus one-on-one time feeling the technique was able to help this student learn better.


Clues to how a student learns can be found in their language. ‘I see, I see….’, ‘I hear what you are saying…’, ‘Can I feel that technique please’ and through NLP (Neuro Linguistic programming) where eyes are looking during thinking tends to indicate learning style.

Eyes looking up indicate Visual,

Eyes to the side Auditory

Eyes down, Kinesthetic

As always, it’s about the student and trying to discover how best to communicate with them.