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Keeping it Real

posted 23 Nov 2009, 19:09 by Unknown user
Precipitated by class time changes at the Griffith's Nathan dojo  I wanted to share some thoughts about getting the most from our aikido practice and the decisions many of us may be makin. I want to encourage you to make conscious wilful decisions rather than letting event, circumstances and your body decide them for you subconsciously. 

Master Koretoshi Maruyama
Our school is headed by Maruyama sensei and Williams sensei, the school syllabus that we all enjoy comes from their hard work and years of experience it disseminating aikido to thousands of people. Its predicated on 2 x 2hr classes per week to make careful consistent progress (something I hope to return to in the near future, but thats another story). The recommended classes for grading are based on this. With a shortening of training time, its time to see where we can trim up the fat, make best use of our time at the dojo and decide what we really want to do with our aikido? 

How many classes to do a night? One or Two?
Sometime ago to meet the needs of space and numbers class times changed the Nathan dojo activities to a 1 1/2hr class followed by a 1hr class. This meant students could choose to do a single class on the night ( 1 1/2hrs of training) or 2 classes per night (2 1/2 hrs of training  ). For many the pressures of work, home life, feeling tired on the night etc.. it became an easy habit to skip the second class and thus reduce training by 1/2hr per class. Stretch this out over a year and it equates to 25 less classes per year, its bearable and might not even be noticeable by many.

However now with recent restrictions placed on training at the Nathan dojo its possible to imagine that class might not bow in till just before 7p and finish just before 8p giving little over an hours training. Yep you'll still get to tick the box for a class towards your next grading but your training load is down by almost 50%

So as classtimes change I would like to encourage you all to consider staying for the second class - not because you have to but because you want to improve your aikido. Its important I think to make that decision before coming to class because once 8 O'clock rolls around and If your body is tired,  you have had a big day at work etc.. your decision will already be made subconsciously.

I'd also like to encourage you to consider coming to the dojo at the time you used too, you get to sit outside the dojo (its quite pleasant in summer) and relax your mind before you start training, share a story with someone and be ready to charge into the dojo at 6:30. Alternatively you may think yipee! I have an extra 1/2 hr in my day by planning to arrive at 6:30p on the dot, well somedays you are going to run late...and who's going to vacum the mats then (yep we still need to vacum these each class or they get festy), you'll feel harried getting on to the mat and by the time you settle down the new shorter class will be almost over.
Participate Fully
Once on the mat and with shorter training times you need to make the best of the precious time there is for training and so I would like to encourage you to participate fully from the beginning to the end. The warms ups are actually not warmups but broken into 3 sets of exercises developed for specific purposes. The toitsu taiso (co-ordination exercises) iare developed to put 100% mind and body into simple movement to get them working together. The junan taiso (exercises for health) are useful for measuring and improving your co-ordinated flexability inch by inch, mm by mm you can make amazing progress in a year by doing these mindfully (or just waste your time waiting for the real stuff to happen..its up to you). Finally the aiki-taiso, these are the movements that are the foundation of all aikido technique, in just a few minutes of the aiki taiso you cover hundreds of techniques that would take weeks of training to replicate. The aiki taiso are you opportunity to master aikido in just 5 minutes a day so don't waste this opportunity - you'll probably do more throws in the taiso that in the whole rest of the class, whether you do them well or badly is what your body will remember...its up to you.

Of course sometimes during the exercises the mind wanders, we get bored, we watch someone else, we catch a latecomer coming into the dojo or just close our eyes and nod off to the rhythm of the class.. this is the challenge of training managing boredom and competing attentions  by finding something new in what we are doing  and getting our mind back on the job!

Thieves of training time
Some students have well over 4 water breaks in a class, agonise unduly over who to pair up with, creep glacially to the mat to bow in, take the opportunity to discuss technique (or their day) during training time on the mat, look lost when forming groups, cease training early rather than train at a slower sustainable pace in the summer months. All of these behaviours can  rob you of training time but are easily corrected with a little thought.
Uke and Nage
We spend half of each class as uke and half as nage, so if your just interested in being nage you only get half the training time to improve your aikido. Instead try to make use of your time as uke and double your training time... its really that simple. Quite apart from the practical reason of needing throw toys we spend our time between the roles of uke and nage for a reason. Nishioka sensei (from Shinto Muso Ryu) teaches that to receive technique in Japanese ancient arts is the traditional role of the teacher and thus is actually the most important role, to learn and understand it is vital. Time and again I have seen a trend of good ukes developing into the best of aikidoka over time. Ukes role carries the greatest responsibility and is much more than just taking a fall - or worse making a predetermined fall for your partner but genuinely learning to receive a technique without injury. Through the practice of kata, like aikido technique,  ukes job is to provide honest sincere energy to help take nage to the limit of their technique without fighting them. To do anything less teaches exactly the opposite

Whilst exploring Kontai level techniques in the dojo a number of students have asked what is the correct ukemi for this level? The correct ukemi at this level is the same as at lower levels, however at this level a resistant uke or one that predicts and falls over will be unable to cope with kontai technique - thus we must practice genuine ukemi from the very beginning to prepare ourselves for higher level practice. For myself and many other ukemi is the only overt skill used outside the dojo to protect ourselves in dangerous situations. 

Teaching and the throw count
For those in teaching roles whether classes or supervising small groups its tempting (and admittedly often important) to stand back and supervise the class but inevitability our throw count and receiving practice suffers. This is likely to be exacerbated in shorter class where it might be possible to demonstrate just a few techniques and do no others in the night. One way to combat this problem is to take the approach of Ariga and many other sensei's who make a point of throwing each person in their class with the technique they are teaching an/or receive ukemi from each student. This can be applied at class or group level. In paired situations rather that talking something out just keep taking ukemi for someone - don't let them rob you of your training time unduly. If you keep attacking them they'll soon stop talking and avoid the attack by doing. This kind of practice also enhances your effectiveness as a teacher, in this way you can discover where each student is at as well as communicating in a kinesthetic way what you are teaching at the time (often taking less time than explaining something.. and time is something in short supply in 1 hr classes