I love coming to the dojo on Saturdays. There’s something about stepping into the dojo when classes are already in full swing, the sound of people shouting kiais, the reverberation as people practice their ukemi. I especially love Saturdays this time of year–when the sun has already climbed high into the sky, fighting a valiant (if ultimately futile) battle to get through the plastic skylights in the dojo. Because the dojo is in an industrial park, Saturday’s are especially pleasant–most of the machine shops are closed, and the entire industrial park has a more subdued feeling about it. Mostly, though, I think I like Saturdays because I’m usually completely unnecessary.
When we first opened the dojo, I taught every class, every day. I felt it was my duty; to thank the students who worked so hard to build the dojo, and to ensure that everyone who joined the dojo got their money’s worth. As time went on, it was clear to everyone (and, eventually, to me) that teaching every day was a sure-fire way to burn out. So several of my senior students stepped up to help me out. One request my family made was that I have at least some of my Saturday morning free; as a result, I only teach the very last class of the morning. Truth is, I could probably offload this class to someone else and have an entire weekend free. There are two problems with this: first, there are some folks who only train on Saturday, so I’d never see them. Second: I love training on Saturdays.
This Saturday was the first time I’ve been on the mat since my third child, Jakob, was born. There were about 6 people on the mat. That’s now considered a small class, although I always remember the days at the YMCA when six people on the mat was considered HUGE. As it had been a while, I decided to work on tsuki kotegaeshi, an aikido standard if there ever was one. This time, I asked students to first practice the technique without resistance. Then, I asked them to try again, this time to find as many ways to resist as possible. Finally, we tried again. This time, with the idea of how to prevent the uke from taking advantage of the ways they had found to resist earlier.
My thinking was that it’s one thing to resist a technique on the street. There, the nage isn’t obliged to do a specific technique–the only goal is to take balance. On the mat, though, it’s not uncommon for people to resist. Sometimes it’s a cheat–the uke never really intended to attack. Sometimes it’s a legitimate critique of the nage’s lead. By first working without resistance, I hoped to give everyone a sense of the technique’s flow. By working on how to resist, I wanted those who don’t normally resist to try to find out how an uke might want to stop a technique, so they could recognize their own weak points. Finally, I wanted everyone to understand how, with proper timing and movement, even the most belligerent uke would lose balance. This is, I think, what Sensei does. He has so many ukes who try so hard to resist, and yet cannot. I’m convinced it’s because he is so good at leading, and is so experienced with how uke’s might try to resist, that he’s ready for anything.
The class was, I think, moderately successful. We could have stood to use another hour to really get into things, but everyone looked like they were picking up something of interest to help them improve their technique. An hour class continually seems to be limiting to me. I either need to become more concise, or extend class times somehow…