There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to paired and solo training. A complaint that is often-times leveled at Chinese internal martial arts is that the practice is almost exclusively weighted towards solo training practice . This type of training frequently results in people being unprepared for their bodies to react to an attack as it commonly moves in solo practice. A complaint that is often-times leveled at Aikido (disputed as to whether this art would be considered a Japanese internal martial art) is that the practice is almost (it not totally) weighted to paired practice. This type of training frequently results in the body reactively moving to an attack in a manner that is essentially devoid of internal power or connection. Both of these sets of criticisms are legitimate criticisms. High level practitioners in these arts spend a significant amount of time with both solo training and paired training. Maybe, just maybe they are on to something…..
We need to take the time to do solo training. We simply do not spend enough time in this area. I constantly implore my students to find some small aspect of solo training that they can focus on during the course of a day. This can then be “field tested” in class that evening. The solo training is necessary in order for us to begin to experience a body that is internally connected. We then need to learn how to move while maintaining this connection. We need to learn how this body structure can neutralize incoming force and emit substantial power. This is difficult work. We do not normally move in this manner. Our bodies are designed to move in this manner, but that does not mean that we will naturally gravitate to moving in this manner. This type of movement is the most efficient and effective manner of maritally moving, but it takes a awful lot of time to retrain our proprioceptive senses, the manner in which we react to force, the way in which our muscle operate and which muscle groups we use for a particular task. Slow and steady should be the manner in which we approach this training. We will discover that as we get one small aspect working properly, we become aware of a host of problems in our bodies that we now need to address. It is important to have a GREAT attitude towards training and not get discouraged. Becoming aware of problems is the first step towards finding solutions. The real joy is in facing the ability to make positive changes in your life on a daily basis! Embrace that reality and enjoy the path, no matter how steep, rocky, or difficult it might be at times.
Paired practice is the “acid test” for our solo work. It is remarkable to see how easy it is for our body to react in ways other than how we want it to….. The importance of good training partners who know how to encourage our progress can never be understated and should never be unappreciated. We need to practice at a speed and intensity level that keeps us teetering on the verge of success and failure. That means that slow and dumb attacking force is necessary to allow our bodies to transition from movements done through solo practice to movements done while experiencing an attacking force. The nage seems to always want to quicken up and resort to non-internal types of movements, while the uke seems to either act too “dumb” or too “smart”. We have to be remarkably honest with ourselves to stop ourselves when we are not doing something in a way that we should be doing it. I frequently implore students to NOT hit the “reset” button and freeze where the screw-up is so that the person can gain awareness of what is wrong and why. This enables the person to fix the problem in the middle of the problem. Reverse engineering is a good thing!
I do not believe that there are any “hard” rule of thumb for the amount of solo vs. paired practice. I think that the formula needs to change based upon what we are working on in ourselves. I do believe that most people in Aikido do not do nearly enough solo practice to be able to benefit as greatly as they could from their paired training. As I am typing this blog, I am working on my posture and connectivity. There are always opportunities to hide our solo work in our daily lives. I do believe that most people in Aikido treat their paired practice as an opportunity to work on their techniques and do not want anything from their ukes, other than simply attacking them. What a great waste of an opportunity. The paired practice is as much about the interpersonal connectedness training that is vital, as it is about the technique (which should reflect that!). If people do not realize this, then let me let them in on a “secret”: A conflict is an interpersonal relationship. The better you manage it (waza or no waza), the better off you are.
Use your training time wisely!
Marc Abrams Sensei