Some very similar points from very different sources.
One of the most important things about teaching is to have a background in training. Teaching is a form of training, but there are things one must be very clear about. One thing you always watch is whether someone in the class teaches or trains. If you are working with someone newer, do you teach or train? One thing one can do is to summon the instructor over, and let the instructor convey the information. Training is not just working up a sweat and getting a workout. It is a process of relating to the person and yourself, ie connecting, through the art. It is a real art to be able to teach someone new through movement and the body. A lot of instruction can be way too verbal. This is especially difficult when the person you are working with is new and feels that he/she must understand something in order to move. Movement, feeling, awareness are parts of learning that must be introduced from the very onset of your working with someone new(er). If you stop and over verbalize, you may create a pattern in them that they will always stop and analyze and never move or feel. Tojima sensei was probably the most verbal of the teachers in Shingu, but he always related what he said to a process of feeling. The other teachers tended to move so fast that you couldn’t think, which is good, but maybe the concept being practiced might not be clear. The challenge is to get the concept, which maybe a form as well as possibly flow, center, or energy, through the body.The sad fact is that most people would rather do a form, whether that form is rigid, seemingly flowing, or moving, or static, than to feel and be aware. Real training is to feel what is going on, not to cover it up with flash or knowledge or glitz. And real training has nothing to do with something that is dangerous or effective. Real training is to touch the core of your own being and through that make a real connection to your partner. Training that is too extreme, and that can mean anything from being too mental, verbal, locked into a particular approach or style, too rigid, too soft and flowing, tends to be shallow. A purely mental approach will fail. But so will a purely physical approach. If someone has it, and I mean a level of the balance between mind/body, you can feel it. I remember my early days in Shingu it was obvious to me that Anno, Tojima, and Yanase senseis had something the rest of the people training didn’t. And it was more than technique. In fact Anno sensei’s shihonage was very different from Tojima sensei’s, with Yanase sensei’s being even different from the other two. It was something you could feel on the mat, but also something you could feel outside the dojo. These were people you trusted and respected, not just because they had a high number after their name or were addressed as sensei.So training has a lot to do with forging and actualizing a deeper sense of who we are. We cannot teach that which we are separate from at the level of being. Constantly reflecting, absorbing, transforming are what aikido is about. We constantly run into the ego(the shallow mind-based “I”)and must constantly re-direct it into the larger design of things. It is a process instead of a destination.
Are there things you see in daily practice that prevent students from progressing?
There are people who practice in a way that prevents them from making progress, no matter how many years they practice. They do not care that they are making such basic mistakes as not standing in hanmi or making movements slovenly and negligently, even after becoming black belts. It is acceptable that beginners make mistakes or cannot move properly. However, progress can not be expected if one is doing techniques negligently while thinking one is actually doing them properly. There is the proper stance for each technique. It is essential to get it right. However, many people, for some reason, focus too much on the upper body and then the footwork becomes negligent. Because the partner still falls in aikido, they tend to think they are doing the technique correctly. I detest it when I watch such a performance at examinations.
The techniques should be performed clearly and convincingly so that they work on the person’s partner. Otherwise, practice becomes meaningless. Position and balance should be kept properly. In order to do that, the footwork must be firm. Only then will the technique work within the flow and the balance kept after the
throw, making the overall movement beautiful.
What can teachers do to help the student avoid these mistakes?
Sometimes there also is a problem on the teaching side. There are some teachers who stop the movement of their students and try to teach them small details. The students do not progress if taught this way. It is just fine to leave the discovery process up to the students. So long as the key points are clearly taught, it is not necessary to tell them small details. For example, in case of teaching a blind person how to get from point A to point B, the blind person first needs to be guided to be able to go to point B on their own. On the way, the person may bump into something or may fall down. Moreover, the person also may not be able to walk at the desired pace. In this way, the person gets to be able to follow the passage to the final destination in their own time. The small details can be learned later. If stopped frequently and told, “It is dangerous here, so be careful,” each and every time, the person won’t be able to learn the way to the
destination. Similarly, if stopped and taught small details from the beginning, the practice cannot be fun.
Is there anything else you would like to say about a student’s practice attitude?
One more thing I would like to emphasize is to have a positive attitude toward practice. One does not advance having a doubt about aikido. Progressing by solving questions is one method for sure; however that approach is for people who have already learned a considerable amount of aikido. It is a waste of time if one is thinking, “Will this ikkyo work for real?” while practicing. I believe aikido practice should be done positively and seriously. I do not mean austerely because it is important to enjoy practice. I hope people will practice aikido passionately with joy. Aikido is very profound. I wish people would not be satisfied with their present levels or state – even if they are advanced to some extent – but that they aim for an even higher and happier practice.