Friday’s class at the dojo was different. I generally plan Aikido classes to some degree. If not technique by technique at least the general focus. Sometimes a particular concept I want to work through, sometimes a set of techniques I think would be good to practice at the time. Quite often the plan results form something that came up in an earlier class, or something that I’ve shelved for a while.
The plans help with a number of things, mostly tying stuff together and having progressions within the class that make sense. They also help to link the technical practice with the SD stuff. Overall I believe having decent lesson plans improves the quality of the classes. However, occasionally I do throw them out, as with last Friday.
I had a particular move that came up in Tuesday class, that I wanted to build on a bit. Not too much, the plan was to have it in the warm-up, then go to working other things (choke defences was the plan) and tie it back in at the end. The move is using arm extension & leverage to lock the other guy’s neck sideways while trapping an arm. It’s quite uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of this. We did it as a follow up from a basic movement exercise. Then people asked me about a different way to do it, stepping out instead of in and if it was possible, which it was. Discussed comfort levels with different distances and then practised that way.
I hadn’t planned to do follow ups, but someone asked if ikkyo could be done from that position. At this point I decided to try something a little different. Threw out the lesson plan, had people practice a little bit more, and then had everyone work on follow-ups from the initial position. If it works it’s a position of considerable advantage, which has plenty of options. Here’s the thing though, I did not demonstrate any of the follow ups, instead people got to play and to come up with their own.
And a lot of the stuff they came up with is really good. My only function really was to help improve the occasional body mechanic, discuss questions they had or some issues that came up (like uke’s possible reactions) and sometimes go “Hey, did you see you can also do X from there?”.
Did this for a while, then had everyone pick their favourite. And then demonstrate it. Had a little discussion for each one, one or two suggestions for improvement and then had everyone practice them.
I was very happy with the result. One student came up with a technique that is generally considered quite advanced, and did it well. A cool thing was that the favourites differed both in nature and in level of force considerably, from arm-locks all the way up to basically wrecking the attacker. Nice spectrum. I really enjoyed the class, and I believe everybody else did too. It highlights for me three important concepts:
When people are faced with a problem and given freedom to come up with a solution themselves, we internalise the solutions better. This works better if the focus is on adaptability, less well when we need to teach a specific solution, such as passing down a preserved system.
The myth of the “incompetent student” annoys me to no end. The incredibly prevalent idea in the martial arts that the students are as a baseline incompetent and incapable of coming up with anything decent if given the freedom to do so, but must instead be spoon fed prescribed solutions by the exalted teacher is horseshit. Teaching helps, the teachers know more, but treating students as intelligent capable people makes them more likely to actually act that way. Living up/down to expectations and all that.
In a similar vein, one of my teachers used to say “the martial arts are not taught, they are stolen”. It did not make sense to me at the time, and now that it does I don’t fully agree with it, but it’s partially true. What it means is that we must be actively engaged in our learning, “stealing” skills from those around us instead of waiting to be spoon-fed. The basic skill we were working off of in the class is based on something I was shown in the lunch break at a seminar, which I then worked on and integrated into our usual training. The students in the class were “stealing” ideas from me and making them their own, which is very cool.
The class was somewhat focused on technical practice, what we didn’t get around to in the time was putting those skills in a more realistic context, that will be something for a later lesson plan. We did briefly discuss force levels and justification at the end, otherwise not a lot of SD this time. A very nice side effect of this type of lesson is that the techniques & tactics the the students come up with are good starting points for future lesson plans. We’re doing this type of class again for sure.