At a time or another, every martial artist had the opportunity to explain something to a partner during practice. This article will move from this simple and common gesture and try to offer Budo students some essential insight about the traditional teaching methods Aikido is based upon
by SIMONE CHIERCHINI
Traditionally in Martial Arts the teacher is the unquestioned head of the school. Teaching passes directly from him to the pupils through personal instruction, without third-party assistance. This teaching is based on a method that makes use of the minimum possible amount of concepts and words. The student has to get used to the method of learning more through the eyes than the ears. Western culture, however, is different — we all are used to a rational way of learning and thinking.
In Martial Arts practice emphasis is centered not on theory rationalisation, but on the re-awakening of what comes before the rational. Martial Arts focus on the rediscovery of free and spontaneous forces that may sometimes spring out in our daily gestures. These natural forces are the only ones that can help, for example, in case of a sudden attack. They allow to find an instant correct answer to one of the many challenges we face in our daily life. Such pre-rational method is based on the diligent and silent observation of every gesture of the teacher, both onto the tatami and in daily life. The student repeats what he has learned exactly.
At a certain variable point in the student’s training, what once was just repetition becomes an integral part of his/her being. At this stage students become ready to start putting in practice what they have learned — both at a physical and at a spiritual level.
It should be evident, therefore, that in a Martial Art school it is the teacher and only the teacher who is responsible for the teaching structure and content. That is why he is the teacher: he is responsible for creating and managing what we could call a sort of transfer. Constant and diligent Martial Art training creates that transfer between teacher and student.
This is why no one should forget who is in charge of correcting students during the class. This is a basic point and must be kept in mind especially by mid-level students who are already training a few years. Since their experience is limited and their formation non-complete, they tend to over-correct their training partners even when they do not request help. This may be even though they grasped only one aspect of a technique which may have a thousand facets.
When living Budo life the first rule is humility. Former beginners (e.g. 3rd Kyu) should understand that if a 6th Dan teacher was to train with them and correct them in the same fussy way they sometimes correct beginners, they would not enjoy practice and progress. Everyone should quietly allow their partners to make mistakes. Instead we should try to focus on our own, which surely must be many.
Budo students should be aware that the teacher is observing and supervising, and that the correct and appropriate amount of guidance is being given — at the right time, directly to the student and not through an assistant. Good teachers never stop looking after theier students and observe everyone’s daily progress.
If for some reason a senior student is taking the class in place of their teacher, their duty is to stay as close as possible to the sensei’s way of teaching. They could, for example, repeat what was done in the previous class, giving everyone the opportunity to refresh and fine tune it. What it is unacceptable in a Martial Art dojo is that in such an occasion senior students turn the class in a personal “show”. This is selfish and a waste of time. It has nothing to do with the sensei’s actual teaching, and fellow students are there to learn that.
A dojo runs smoothly only when there is complete respect for everyone’s role.
First published in 1992 on the Aikido Dojo Katharsis Milano Newsletter