Day 3

Resistance with purpose.

Sometimes, it takes me a few days to finally articulate what I’ve been thinking about. For the past few days, we’ve been working on how to resist, when to resist, and the consequences of resisting. For many students, this is a different way of thinking about how to train. To quote from the movie, Pulp Fiction: “You’re either an Elvis fan, or a Beatles fan.” Or something like that. The same is true for Aikido. You either learn correct movement primarily as the nage or as the uke. Most people, I think fall into the nage camp. This is only natural. Few people think of aikido when they think of how to learn to attack. Instead, most think of how cool it might feel to throw someone across the room. This isn’t bad in itself; however, to understand how to throw requires that we understand how to attack and how to resist.

During class, I finally articulated why I found this understanding to be so critical. It’s so we can resist with purpose. If our goal, as ukes, is to help a fellow aikido student understand the basic movements of the technique, then we should employ very little resistance. The same is true if we want to help someone understand rhythm and timing. If our goal is to challenge someone to really step up their technique, or to test how well they understand a particular concept, then more resistance is required. But there should never be a time when you resist without a definite purpose in mind. It’s exactly like a ki test: to properly test someone’s posture, you have to be sure that your own posture is correct. To properly test someone’s technique, you must have a clear goal or objective in mind when you resist. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to tell if you’re helping someone improve.

That’s assuming, of course, that the uke is resisting in order to help you improve. That’s not always the case, but I firmly think that, when you are the nage, you should assume your uke has the best of intentions–even if there is irrefutable evidence that they don’t. But that’s another subject for another time…

Tonight’s class was sparse, to say the least. It’s an “off” night and it’s a hot day in the middle of summer. Small classes can sometimes be a challenge to me. Not because I don’t know how to teach them, but because I don’t know how much engagement I should have. Some folks say you should dive in and train with your students. Others say you should observe carefully and offer as much instruction as you can. Still other say you should give your students plenty of space–in other words, act like it’s a large class, and leave the students to train on their own for a while. I think all of these methods have value, but it’s sometimes hard to choose which one. Constant feedback has its place, for example, but can rob students of the opportunity to discover or prove concepts on their own. Leaving students to explore without intervention can lead them to frustration if they aren’t getting a particular concept. And training with your students can give you a great chance to give feedback, but can also intimidate some students. When classes are big, I can move between these different types of teaching pretty easily. With small classes, I feel like the transitions are more obvious, which I dislike. Despite my own self-doubts, however, I saw good progress on the mat tonight, and that makes any class worthwhile.

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