Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Teaching

I make it no secret that I have more to learn than I have to teach. But I realised a few months back that in order for me to progress I had to start teaching. Don't ask me how that revelation came about, cliché or not, it's something that I really believe in, because it didn't come from anyone else but my inner heart. Somehow, I felt it.

So mysterious orders aside, I do like teaching what little I know. It has made my Aikido better I dare say. Not that I would recommend everyone go onto the mat and start yapping about their new profound knowledge of Aikido. But seriously, once I start thinking about progression in class from principle to waza and from waza to waza, things start to click.

Even as I try to demonstrate elements of waza, when you start to show others the 'correct' way, you inevitably become more conscious of how the technique is performed and what similarities it shares with other stuff. In a way, its really about looking at practice from a different perspective and to me, that's always a good thing.

An example of how to do tenkan, would be to look at your opponent's viewpoint. It really becomes something else, when you use that feeling of looking at his viewpoint. Instead of manipulating your hand or position to be beside him. It feels different to uke as well. Anyway, when you putt, a friend told me you shouldn't only look at it from the ball's perspective. But also the hole's perspective. It's true. Angles from the balls appear one way, but from behind the hole, it becomes something else. Combining the two almost always leads to a better putt.

I was also thinking that sometimes as students we make things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves. Even I'm guilty of that. I was looking at how I got into trouble in some of sensei's class. With simple mistakes that I've pointed out to others in fact. What is it about taking classes that makes you foolish, forgetful or less careful? What makes you move awkwardly or forget the principles that often guide your class?

I'm not sure of the right answer for that. But I found that when I try to 'copy' what my teacher does, it usually ends up wrong. Instead, gather insight from what is demonstrated, and feel how it should work with you. Everyone walks differently, move differently, operate differently. No one can emulate perfectly how another moves. That is why, there will always be some who get it and some who don't. Those who got it, found it with the guide of teacher, but they found it on their own nevertheless. Those who don't are those hoping that the teacher will teach it to them one day.

Peter Goldsbury in his amazing essays on Osensei's transmittance of Aikido to his students, espoused that Osensei never really taught his students, or cared that they've learned anything at all. Mayhaps, it is true that most teachers of that era, bestow this gift of knowledge fleetingly and sporadically. After all, Budo is knowledge of life and death. Knowing another's secret techniques, eliminates any advantage he might have against that you. But I think, Osensei really taught or tried to teach, principles and ideas. He tried to cultivate spirit by example. He was less interested to show his techniques, but show them he did. Albeit in the fashion of an eccentric. His one objective was to have Aikido change the world. Not by overpowering others by virtue of its strength, but to change others by cultivating our spirit as better men. A hard ideal to follow, but one I believe is shared by Ghandi although he did it in a different form.

Even as Osensei taught his skills to his students, his waza changed as he matured. Sometimes he will call his students and show them his techniques have changed. Looking at that point, nothing should be construed as absolutely correct. Everything changes and is imperfect. So if we fixed our minds, we inexorably become relics or statues. With aliveness in our minds and body, we change and suit ourselves. With knowledge of Aiki, suiting ourselves in harmony with others becomes easier so much so that people who are not trained that way, and who are fixed in their ways, becomes something like meteors dragged into the gravity well of a planet.

I write this to remind myself, that when shown a technique to practice in class, I will strive to grasp the principles behind it, the ideas behind it and to use it as best my body is able and as suited to my uke. I will not limit the training to copying their physical movements, instead to capture the feeling and duplicate that as best as I possibly can. Through time and practice, this method of training I believe will cultivate understanding. And from understanding alone, can we make Aikido our own.

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