121) Principle Based Aikido Instruction: September 2014

I am happy to see a growing number of Aikido instructors who are stepping back and taking a good, hard look at the the teaching paradigm that they were exposed to in their training.  They are coming to the conclusion that this teaching paradigm has failed to successfully pass on the real strengths of our art to the next generation.  This teaching paradigm was a conscious choice made by the founder’s son to create a waza/technique based training paradigm that would be easier to teach to a growing student base.  I have yet to hear any direct student claim that the founder’s son had the internal power abilities and capacities that O’Sensei had.  The founder’s son displayed a lot of integrity in teaching what he knew, not what he did not know.  The senior instructors who did learn directly from the founder, did not teach the same things at their dojos, that they taught at the headquarters.  That says it all to me….

The Aiki Expo (2002) was a seminal and seismic event in the Aikido world.  This event forced us to confront the fatal, myopic direction that our art has taken.  We have become so engrossed with replicating “pretty” techniques that we lost the awareness that it was what was inside of the techniques that made Aikido such a remarkable art.  A small core of instructors began exploring “lost” aspects of our art and many (including myself) have searched to uncover the underlying principles of our art that can be reflected in our waza.  The opening of my dojo was an opportunity to try and develop a principle based teaching paradigm which placed a greatly lessened emphasis on the number of techniques that students learn.  Whereas the students are still required to know a certain body of techniques for a test, they understand that I am looking to see a certain degree of understanding and utilization of some core principles reflected through their waza.

My teaching paradigm reflects the emphasis of my teacher.  You can NEVER practice Kihon Waza enough!  I take this to even more basic levels.  Their is a continual focus on posture and body connectivity through stillness to movement.  Dual, opposing spirals through the body, proper movement, etc….. are focused in far greater detail as students progress through the ranks.  I do not allow students to practice at speeds that they lose awareness of aspects of where they are in their training.  I am now at a point where the first group of students are achieving their Shodan ranks.  I am very, very proud of how this teaching paradigm is producing a generation of students who are demonstrating some of the aspects of our art that has been missing.  It makes me very hopeful for the future and leads me to work harder to better developing those internal skill sets within myself, while betting my ability to teach these core aspects in our art.

Many people have legitimate criticism about most Aikido as having lost it’s martial heart, I am becoming more certain that this criticism applies less and less to the Aikido that is taught and practiced at my school.  I have had enough doubters and people from other arts and Aikido teachers who have stopped by and have had their questions answered to know that this school is on the right path.  I am further gladdened to share this path with a growing number of other Aikido instructors.  It is not about saving the art that matters.  It is about trying to come as close to O’ Sensei’s Aikido in what we do and more importantly, passing that down to the next generation.

I was walking back from a hike with Imaizumi Sensei when he told me that he was given a gift of instruction by those who taught him.  He said that the gift loses all value if it is not taken to heart and passed down to the next generation.  That comment still guides me every day.  My dojo doors are always open to those who want to experience this direction.  I genuinely enjoy sharing this path with my fellow travelers!

Marc Abrams Sensei

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