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November 2011

117. How Does He Know?

Sensei can sometimes be crafty people; or so it seems.  However, what some view as "crafty-ness" is really just some common sense.  So when Sensei walks up and makes a statement and you wonder how he figured that out it's likely not majic but some common sense born of years on the mat and of dealing with the human condition.

After anyone has spent some time in any activity whether it be golf, Aikido, calligraphy or shooting hoops in the driveway as you play your BMI-impaired neighbor in some "Horse" for a Bud' or two understands the idea, the requirement actually, that in order to excel at anything that takes skill (no, taking a nap doesn't count as a skill-set) you must continually practice the basics AND you must practice those basics correctly.

Many times in a dojo I observe deshi coming in early, working out a bit, and then leaving right at the start of formal class.  Sometimes this is to work as uke with someone preparing for their demo or, they themselves are working towards their promotional demo and are putting in extra time on top of their normal training schedule to get ready for it or they are working on learning new material for themselves.

Good Budo-manners dictates that they come see the Sensei first and explain themselves so that Sensei knows that they have a rational reason to leave before the class starts.  So Sensei always wonders what is happening when this "early arriver" takes off before bow-on should they not come to explain.

Coming in early, working on advanced material and then leaving before the regular class can indicate several possibilities.

  • They have a very legitimate prior commitment concerning work, family, etc. (the Sensei will always understand this)
  • They are taking time away from family to put in extra time and the family/spouse is allowing that on the proviso that the deshi come home early after stopping for some bread and milk on the way :-) ..... (the Sensei will always understand this one also and will be most happy that the deshi is trying to strike that sensitive balance between training and making the money so that baby can buy a new pair of shoes).  :-)
  • They have a hectic schedule and are coming whenever possible until their schedule straightens out or changes (the Sensei understand this one too)
  • They only want to work on advanced material and do not want to work with lower ranking deshi (kohai).  (the Sensei will frown on this one)
  • They only have interest in the advanced material, thinking that they have understood and completely internalized the kihon and basic material and only need study the advanced to progress (the Sensei will frown on this one also)

There may be other reasons but these four come to mind quickest and if you'll notice, only the first three are legitimate in the mind of a Sensei while the last two reflect poorly on the manners, attitudes and/or personal commitment of the "early leaver".  (And, please notice that I'm not mentioning someone who feels ill or puny and feels the need to leave because of wanting to go to class anyway and put in some mat-time after a looong and tired day ... and then getting a little sweaty and suddenly not feeling up-to-speed due to a possible bout of flu or seasonal crud, something which can happen to us all on occasion.)

Many body-work specialists (Feldenkrais comes to mind at this moment since I'm now re-reading some of his most excellent early work in my research of "internal power"... a topic I still feel the need to beat on but more on that later) have stated in very direct terms that the fastest way in which to build increasing levels of ability, coordination, understanding, efficiency and speed is to do repetitive practice of the fundamental movements SLOWLY over a long period of time AND to repeat that type practice essentially .... forever and a very regular basis.

The person who leaves after some advanced practice and then who fails to stay for the beginner/intermediate class are denying themselves the opportunity to improve their advanced knowledge by practicing the basics in this slow and precise manner ... and by so doing are also denying the kohai the benefit of their knowledge (a direct violation of "giri") ... AND are also denying themselves the deeper understanding that comes with thinking about how they do what they do and then putting that into words that a white belt can understand; itself a form of deep and considered practice.

By avoiding this nightly practice in the fundamentals their basics will eventually invert; that is, their basics/fundamentals/kihon will become polluted by the advanced materials which can, in some cases, be done in a sloppy (but still effective) manner given the dynamics and body geometry behind an advanced throw or joint lock or atemi done at high speed (speed leading to errors).  Kihon are intended to be that "pure line" of fundamental understanding and "super-clean" principles that keeps everything beyond that clean, pure, efficient and unchanging at whatever speed or dynamic you find yourself in.

Now, compound this issue of inadequate practice of fundamentals with the attitude inherent in not wanting to work with beginners and you have a serious issue to deal with.

Now, additionally compound this with not coming up to Sensei before leaving class and rushing out the door and you just added some bad manners to the mix.  All-in-all some bad mojo.

A good Budo-ka and a high-level Aikido-ka are made and not born.  And the making is done in the most difficult way possible; year after year of self-discipline, careful observation and thousands of hours of direct teaching transmission from the Sensei, hard work, careful thought, good manners observed, positive attitude flowing both up and down the sempai-kohai line and in the end, lots of ukemi and proper practice of kihon and base-fundamentals and principles.

Dropping or reducing the practice of fundamentals only retards your advancing.

Not working with white belts only retards the process.

Not taking a million ukemi only retards the process.

Not observing manners also only retards the process since it shows a state of mind.

One must consider these things in their daily practice.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

November 2011