martial arts

Aikido Do-Nots

In training aikido nearly everyday for over two years I just thought I'd like to summarise some things I noticed. It's pretty typical stuff for novices but if you carry these things on to black belt you run the risk of looking silly at best, to making your partner think you're trying to start a fight at worst. Of course I know also that I'm not perfect, and I by no means am pointing down at anyone from a high horse. Things like pulling can be subtle and hard to notice by yourself, and we've all caught ourselves not quite in hanmi when we should have been at some stage. So yeah, let's just remind ourselves, shall we?

Basics of Holding

Just hold the arm normally. Some people have this weird tendency of holding exactly on the wrist joint and then squeezing. I don't know what you think you're doing but please stop. In extreme cases the holder seems to loose sight of the bigger picture entirely and focus solely on statically clinging to your arm like a limpet.  

Related to this is when people literally hang off you/lean on you. No. If you do that, you're giving up your balance entirely. It's too early for that. I mean if you're ready to fall over by yourself nage doesn't actually need to throw you, just get out of your way as you topple like lumber. The importance of learning good ukemi from early on is really evident here. 

Distance: Again, even as uke, you should have some sense of self-preservation. Standing too close to nage, all bunched up really doesn't do much for you in that regard. It's hard to connect from the centre that way and hard to react. Remember the objective isn't to latch on to the person for dear life. You're meant to be the attacker. Don't put yourself in a vulnerable position. 

Pulling and pushing: Happens as tori and uke. Rather than go for the opponent's centre, again become obsessed with the arm and try to move that. Really unpleasant. Pushing is the same. Sometimes the pull you on top of them. Do you want me to fall on you? Okay. I don't see how that's a win for you though. This is a really tricky one though. Most people who push and pull right up to advanced level aren't actually aware of it. Sometimes it's really obvious, sometimes only one side can feel it. Seemingly I pull when taking ukemi from shihonage sometimes and only on one side. Still working on that. Pushing only on the arm and not taking the centre is also really common on ikkyo etc. Something to watch out for.



Ah yes. The classic face ukemi. I dunno. Do you want your face rearranged like a Picasso painting? Rather than come forward from the centre, sometimes you have people willing to sacrifice their face. Totally unnecessary if you bring your whole body forward and you're more stable and a better position to react. 

Not in hanmi: Common especially if the uke follows around from an irimi-tenkan, the arrive to stand squarely in front. Totally exposed. Well within kicking distance. Think about it. Again, even as uke please have some sense of self-preservation.

Take ukemi before nage has even done anything. This especially drives me crazy in crowded dojo: when you're taking care to not hit people on either side of you and suddenly your uke just randomly repels themselves away from you in dramatic roll/backfall. If you want to do that please go do it in a field by yourself. Otherwise, please at least try to stay connected. It's not always that easy I know, but please try. Of course if nage is pulling or going ahead it can be really difficult. That's why it's interesting though: with the two sides giving their best and being sensitive to the other side you can make really interesting discoveries. First though it's important to be able to protect yourself with good ukemi and it's also great if you can build you a trust relationship to give each other feedback. Then everyone improves.

That's about it for now. People who don't do aikido will have been entirely lost but thanks for following along anyway.

All images are property of Robin Hoshino and not to be used with out permission


What's in Takasaki city, Gunma prefecture? Nothing. Oh, well, a brand new big massive sports arena, and apparently someone with just enough sway within the Aikikai organisation to convince them to hold the biggest International Aikido Conference that happens once every four years there.  

It's conveniently located less than a ten minute walk from the main station, as are all the budget business hotels. As a result, after a week I know the Takasaki train station more intimately than any station after more than a year of living in Kyoto city. So for a week my entire world was that which was within a kilometre of that station. It was a simple daily pattern comprised of a handful of basic elements roughly of equal importance: aikido, eating, laundry, bath, sleep. 

Initially when I heard about the seminar I wasn't overly excited. It sounded like a massive pain to have to travel to and stay at some nowhere place at great expense, in order to spend everyday doing what I already do everyday, except more. A brief trip to and from Ireland where I had a less than satisfactory training experience gave me a fresh sense of perspective, realising that such an opportunity to train with world-class teachers for a whole week in one place within the country I live was a real privilege and so, I bit the bullet and went.

Well, I'm terribly glad I did. First and foremost, each day four different teachers had an hour slot. So I had four case studies per day of how to teach a class. The comparisons were very interesting, especially considering the there were hundreds of people on the mat each day, different levels who may or may not be familiar with any given teacher. Generally the Hombu teachers opted for clean basics: working on movement and techniques that generally anyone should be familiar with. With so many students of different backgrounds, while for us it was familiar, it was quickly apparent that not everyone has the best grasp of the basics and have come with different ideas and aikido histories so it was challenging to figure out how to have optimum training with everyone, one person at a time.

At the risk of sounding biased, from a teaching perspective I thought Okamoto-sensei's class was one of the most well-designed. She focused on the concept of shifting weight and movement, something that can be applied to many techniques and something for people of all levels to work on. While I thought this was easy to follow, (to be fair she had been practising this kind of class at home in Kyoto for weeks beforehand so I was very familiar with what she was trying to get across), it was clear that a lot of people weren't getting it, fixating instead on the form and trying to do "techniques" in a cart-before-the-horse sort of way. Also, it was a very good demonstration in creating rhythm in a class. It was snappy with very little verbal explanation and fun. This was especially welcome after the previous afternoon's class which was tedious lecture from Asai-sensei of the German Aikido Federation. For me this was the ultimate example of how to NOT teach anything ever: complaining endlessly that students these days don't watch properly and aren't hardcore, taking ukemi on concrete and whatnot like his generation is unsurprisingly not interesting or motivating. It also doesn't really take into account that the world has changed immeasurably in the last fifty years which was very irritating. A class, especially where people have given time and money to be there for is not an opportunity for soapboxing and nostalgia. There was absolutely nothing to take away as a student which was a huge opportunity wasted, but that's his choice. I can't remember if he showed any techniques at all. He also went over time, which I also think is unprofessional and left everyone with very little time to pack up and change before the facility closed.

We saw other approaches as well; foreign teachers sometimes seemed to have a cultish following in their own country where as when one looked at their actual Aikido, well, it's different, sometimes a bit too free-form for my liking. In any case, it's interesting to see that there is all sorts out there, though privately I felt snug and reassured knowing I would be returning to the warm cocoon of Aikido Kyoto when this was over. Which in turn made me kind of feel like a stuck-up kid from a fancy private school at an inter-school sports meet.

In training with so many people, it was interesting to work out how to move as the teacher instructed while also being aware of my training partner and how they were moving and reacting to try get them to move how I wanted without being forceful, to have the best possible training with each person, constantly negotiating through movement. Okamoto-sensei sometimes says to us: if you have something to say, say it through your Aikido. Particularly after sitting a few lecture-type classes I could really appreciate this idea. 

Living in the isolated bubble of Takasaki for a week was also good training of living in the moment and not getting caught up in the past or the future. Just focusing on the task and the partner in front of me. It was also a fantastic opportunity to meet of Okamoto-sensei's international contacts. The teacher she visits in Australia, Christian Tissier-sensei and his students of course and other friends like Janet-sensei from Greece. I seem to be good at finding very niche interests where that it's relatively easy to get to know the whole international community in that area (like specialty coffee). Even with people from the other side of the world that you're meeting for the first time, you find you'll have a mutual connection somewhere. It's rather heartening I feel, to make those kind of connections. For me one of the interesting things about Aikido is it's about how something can happen out of a connection with another person. That energy that's created from basically nothing is really fascinating to me so naturally I like to broaden my network of like-minded people also. You never know when and how but magic stuff can come from connections so it's always worth having them.

Even with people I didn't actually talk with, once I had enjoyable training with a person, quite often that person would seek me out again another day. Until near the end of the week I didn't train with Aikido Kyoto members at all but being away from our routines at home but there also there was a sort of sense of unified spirit what made the experience worthwhile. 

Here's a little comic I did of the basic daily schedule: