Friday, February 08, 2008


You can't hide your personality in aikido. Whoever you are, it all shows up on the mat.

I was ruminating on this last night after class as I was partnered with a particularly, shall we say, "headstrong" fellow. He's a nice enough guy, but he's a bit difficult to have a conversation with. Very opinionated on even the weather.

We partnered up last night and it was really difficult. He's stiff and muscles through every technique. I've long past the point where guys like that discourage me, however. I know what I'm trying to do and how I want to go about learning it.

During the first year of my practice, I would get very discouraged by such things. I would think, "Oh, great, my aikido doesn't really work unless the guy cooperates..." But I have since learned that is a very wrong way to look at it.

It isn't really aikido when one is using brute force to execute a technique, even if that works with less experienced uke. A higher level yudansha can reverse such muscling technique in an instant.

No, to perform an aikido technique properly, one has to be relaxed, centered and have the ki flowing well. However, this is very hard to do in the beginning stages. So one's partner should try to follow a properly executed technique. There are two good reasons for this. 1.) It allows nage to really practice properly. 2.) It also allows uke to be more responsive. This, in fact, makes uke more of a threat as he can adapt to changing conditions and keep his balance to a much greater degree. This aspect is often overlooked.

An uke that hunkers down with the attitude, "Go ahead, try and move me now." Is responding to the simulated situation in an incorrect way. Would anyone really ever attack like that? Of course not. He'd get demolished with a strike to the head or something.

Aikido is about handling and redirecting real attacks, not about wining a judo point or anything else. My point being, it is to uke's "benefit" as well as nage's if uke remains responsive and gives a line of attack.

And I realized I shouldn't be discouraged if a "non-compliant" uke "messes up" my technique. Someday, I'll be at a high level and I'll be able to move these guys, without muscling, whether they want me to or not. Until then, I'll appreciate my partner allowing me to practice and doing the same for him.

I am beginning to learn how to handle these guys, too. I don't let them dictate to me how I practice my aikido. Just because they resist, I won't get tense! I am learning to just slow up and relax and let my center get involved. Sometimes it actually works! ;)


Anonymous said...

Hi AikiPenguin,

I've recently taken up aikido (I started last fall), and I've enjoyed reading your blog, ever since I found it a few weeks ago.

I'm glad you're writing about an issue (bad partners) that no one seems to mention.

For the most part, everyone I've trained with has been great: patient and encouraging, even when I've got the technique wrong.

Every now and then, though, I've had a bad partner (one guy in particular was so bad in terms of mocking my form that it was all I could do to maintain a calm exterior and not wring his neck!).

What advice would you give a newbie for those situations?

AikiPenguin said...

Hi anonymous,

Thank you very much for reading my blog and for leaving your comment.

First of all, let me say that my post was not at all dealing with intentional behavior. The guy I wrote about or anyone else in that category is probably doing the best he can.

Yes, I said he was stubborn and headstrong, but I don't believe he's intentionally trying to be difficult. In his mind, he's doing the right thing, he just hasn't gotten the idea yet.

The kind of situation you describe is much rarer and much worse. Even if his ukemi is good, it's his behavior sounds very negative and counter productive.

I have to say, almost no one at my dojo falls into this category. Aikido generally doesn't attract such people. It's nature tends to weed out most of the really bad apples.

The situation you describe is unfortunate as it tends to ruin the "joyful" atmosphere that is supposed to be present on the aikido mat.

In the long run, I bet the situation will work itself out by either your partner quitting aikido, or softening up and becoming more aiki (which is the hoped for outcome). In fact, that's what aikido is really all about, isn't it?

In the short term, you can try talking to him. Consider his words an attack. How would you handle it? Can we blend with the attack and redirect it in harmony?

Maybe some thing like, "I'm trying to get this technique as best I can. You seem not to like what I'm doing. How would you suggest I improve it, sempai?" See if you can turn it into a positive situation. One has to forget his own ego. I know this is easier said than done.

Of course, if that doesn't work and it really interferes with your practice, you can always mention it to your instructor. Odds are he's aware of it.

One of the few drawbacks to practicing in a big dojo like the NY aikikai is that there are so many teachers and students, there isn't always that close, personal relationship that can develop in smaller dojos.

Assuming your dojo is more "normal" sized, your instructor is probably in a good position to take this guy aside and have a few words. That may do the trick.

Please keep Aikipenguin updated with the situation. Also feel free to send me an email, though I am certainly no expert.

Good luck.

AikiPenguin said...

BTW, I still consider myself very much the newbie, too. ;)

Anonymous said...

"Aikido generally doesn't attract such people. It's nature tends to weed out most of the really bad apples."

You're right about that: out of some 40-odd classes so far, there were only 2 times when I felt that way.

"Maybe some thing like, "I'm trying to get this technique as best I can. You seem not to like what I'm doing. How would you suggest I improve it, sempai?" See if you can turn it into a positive situation."

That's a good idea; those kinds of guys think they "know" it (they were both whitebelts, BTW), so appealing to their ego would probably work.

With any luck, I won't have more situations like that, but I'll try it if I do.

Anyway, hope you keep the posts coming.