Good Rules for New Students
by Robert Wolfe
There is a lot to learn as a new student of aikijutsu. Happily, we have decades of experience integrating new members of the dojo, and can offer some excellent advice to help you get started.
1. Advanced students working with a beginner know to let uke (the person on the receiving end of the technique) set the pace of practice. Nage (the person applying the technique) will match his technique to the intensity of uke’s attack. Uke will come out of the technique with about the same energy as was embodied in his or her “attack,” so it behooves uke to attack at a level of intensity he or she is confident their ukemi can handle. Uke always has the option to decline participation in practicing any technique he or she believes exceeds their current capabilities. The instructor will suggest a modification or alternate technique.
2. When uke “taps-out,” it means “That’s Enough!” Release the pressure of the technique immediately but gently — an instant and complete release can also cause injury. When practiced as kata, some techniques will require a series of taps. In high-intensity, more free-style practice, everyone must err on the side of caution. Assume anything that might, maybe be a tap, is in fact a tap, and respond appropriately.
3. Practice ONLY what is demonstrated by the instructor, exactly as demonstrated. Below the level of black-belt, DO NOT “experiment” or attempt to instruct your fellow students.
4. Practice should not be painful — if your partner is hurting you, one of you is doing something wrong. Call immediately for assistance and correction from the instructor or one of the black-belts.
5. As uke, provide a proper, determined attack. Maintain the intention to strike your partner, right up to the moment you must execute ukemi. Slow the attack as required for safety — so long as uke maintains his or her intention to attack, the techniques will “work” and provide challenging practice, no matter how slowly they are executed. (And practicing slowly certainly doesn’t inconvenience a more senior practice partner — it just gives him or her more time within individual repetitions to work on the fine points.)
6. At this stage of your training, it is much more important to worry about reproducing the demonstrated shape of the technique correctly, than it is to worry about whether or not your partner is thrown. The original purpose of aikijutsu techniques — and the modern, applied versions for personal protection — is to control an opponent, with the option to destroy a joint if necessary, not to execute a throw. In our training, we allow a window for ukemi and execute techniques as throws, so that everyone stays in one piece.
7. If at all possible, avoid pairing up with another white-belt. When we switch partners, run to grab the most senior person you can — you’ll be safer, and you’ll learn more.
8. Relax! “Softness” and “Harmonizing” aren’t New Agey, philosophical attributes of aiki-based arts. These are critical components of combatively effective techniques. You will be given very specific direction on what to relax, and how, to optimize your techniques.
9. The Gokyo Seiteigata, the five sets of six techniques and supplemental topics, form the basis for promotion examinations, but far more importantly comprise templates that are a proven vehicle to convey proper body mechanics and lay the foundation for internal strength (kokyu-ryoku). In these kata, collaborate with your partner to create the most ideal representation of the techniques the two of you are capable of, rather than focusing on achieving a combatively effective technique. Credible power and effectiveness will be achieved much quickly with the development of proper, body skills.
10. Have fun! As you implement the above rules, you will find that practice becomes increasingly enjoyable, to the point that aikijutsu training is consistently a high point of your week, and a considerable influence on a fulfilling life.