Insight from a little white belt…

I’m a little whity (belt-wise of course) and this is after all an Aikido for Beginners page so here’s a little insight from a beginner 🙂
I’ve trained in different dojos because I’ve changed countries since I began practicing but I started with the Institue of Aikido, with Sensei Thackeray. I’m quite used to my new dojo now, even though I still do a couple of things “weird”, and now it’s when I come back on an Instutite of Aikido mat that I look weirder I guess. The strange thing is though, going back to the Institute style always feels like going back “home”. I don’t know if it’s the same for other people who’ve changed dojos but I have a theory on that so I’ll test it here and other more experienced and wiser people can correct me if I’m wrong :p
So this is what I feel. Both my dojos are pretty similar in style but the way we practice at the Institute, especially with my Sensei I guess, is more … can’t find a better word than “formalised”. There is strong emphasis on techniques and when these are shown, they’re quite square, in a positive sense of the word. Lemme explain that before I get a brick on the head with a loud “SQUARE??? How dare you???” hehe Maybe because they’ve been taught so many times in the same way they’ve reached a sort of systematisation and they’re quite easy to cut into separate bits that you can then glue together (see video of Dunken doing Irimi Nage, he first decomposes the movement). Of course when you first step on the mat and see it you just go “…” or maybe “wowwhat”? And when you see it done from a speeded up attack it’s all flowy and you have a hard time seeing the smaller bits that make up the whole thing, but everything is taught in that way. You cut it up and then glue it together, do it a zillion times and then you get the technique. The thing is, whatever technique it is, and from whatever form, you can always recognise the original “bits”, the basics I guess. And when I go back on an Institute mat, I can sort of “read” those, they’re so easily recognizable. That’s what I think explains the homy feeling about it, not just the fact that it’s the first school in which I’ve learnt.
I’m not really sure what’s different at my new dojo… They do slow things down to show them and even cut them up in separate bits sometimes (especially for weapons) but it’s less “readable” for some reason. It might be because they move to kino nagare practice faster or because they don’t spend as much time repeating the movements over and over again before moving on to a new technique (it’s Paris, we people are stressed out and need to move on hehe), or maybe it’s because the teaching is less systematised.
A funny thing is that, with this emphasis on techniques at the Institute one would think that the spirit of Aikido would sort of slip away, but I see much more “aura” around Sensei Thackeray and Foster than around my Senseis here who are really big on awase stuff and moving together. It’s somehow more satisfying on a spiritual level (spiritual as in spirit of Aikido) at the Institute. And that I’ve no clue why. Oh, btw, so long as they remain within the spirit of Aikido, other dojos are not doing it wrong, they just do it differently…
So yeah the way I see the training at the Institute is: cut in pieces, glue together, repeat countless times, and at the same time, during each of these phases, practice within the spirit of Aikido, along its main principles. Without the spirit, you get dummies repeating the same gestures (might as well get a robot :p).
Aaaaah now the big question is: but what is the spirit of Aikido and what are the main principles??? Hell I’m still a little white belt, you didn’t expect me to pretend I was a wise monkey did you? :p

One Response to Insight from a little white belt…

  1. Great post! Now that I’ve moved to the other side of the world I’ve been lucky enough train with Aikidoka from many different backgrounds and cultures, all with their own individual approaches to Aiki and training. I’ve practiced with solid, tough/hard guys and floaty-flowing guys and everything in-between. The bottom line for me is whether the fundamentals of Aikido are present. By that, I don’t mean is the Basic Technique correct (who’s to say what is correct anyway?), what I now find myself noticing is the core of what is going on. Does the posture have integrity? Is there a general feeling of Zanshin (martial “awarenes” for want of a better description..)and what do they “feel” like? I agree that, because we’ve both been taught the “functional” version of aikido, by instructors who were adamant tht everything has to work from the viewpoint of the physics of the “thing” (ie working with the angles and functions of the joints and balance rather than against them if you like) I too feel a warm and cozy glow whenever I’m on a mat where Kihon or basic technique is being taught by decomposing the moves into their intergral parts, then gradually putting them all together until eventually you get to the “splat-fest”. “What is the spirit of Aikido”? Now there’s a question. Perhaps it’s being able to keep an open enough mind to be able to learn from everything and everyone? Answers on a postcard please….

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