Sees the sheep are gathering
Set the trap, hypnotize
Now you follow
– Leper Messiah, James Hetfield
I was a very young aikidoka (inexperienced in aikido) when my first instructors left the city and the teaching responsibility at the club where I was practising came tumbling down on my head. With no instructor training (except what I got from attending the previous instructor’s classes) I was thrown into it, with beginners, a majority around my own level and a few much more experienced people attending the keiko. It was a very scary experience for a shy person like myself.
After the first struggling steps I started fearing a state I call the instructor’s disease. When we start teaching at an early stage, without having an instructor ourselves, I believe there is a great risk that by correcting others we hide our own flaws. If we are tori we correct uke; if we are uke, we correct tori. Thus, instead of improving, we are covering our own asses by teaching others to accept the mistakes we are making. Also, when we are demonstrating an exercise, it easily become more stiff and based on strength than when we are practising normally. It is a situation that is extremely hard to avoid completely if we are starting teaching at a very inexperienced level without regular help from more experienced people. After a while I think the whole club would be a little bit lost.
Why do this happen? Well, I think that by trying to help others we are actually very often throwing away our own opportunities to improve. If there are difficulties we should maybe rather look for the solution in ourselves, but that is not the role of the instructor, is it? So we end up correcting the partner, and the problem becomes invisible with that partner.
Also, when demonstrating kata we are maybe trying very much to be clear for the people attending the keiko, resulting in moving too stiffly and using too much strength to make the physical form as visible and correct as possible.
Then there is the most scary (and embarrassing to admit) of all reasons why this happens. I think that we are afraid to make a fool of ourselves. We wish to have something to teach, even if our level is low, or maybe we wish to show something that looks good. Maybe we are trying to convince some beginners that it actually works. The ego takes over and the important things go down the drain for the benefit of the flashy looking surface. We hide the mistakes we do, and try to sell our aikido.
So how do we minimize the damage from the instructor’s disease? We should definitely not give up aikido just because the teachers leave!
I started attending aikido seminars both in Norway and in the rest of Europe. Lots of aikido seminars. The excellent teaching at the seminars helped of course a huge deal. However, I think it helped me even more to have such a high number and diversity of training partners. I could not trust the people I was teaching so I needed somebody else, to get a real picture of what I should work on next. In addition I tried to be conscious about the problems I encountered, also when I was in the role of being the instructor. I would rather think about myself first and try to solve the problem, and then later suggest help for the partner’s ukemi (unless there would be any risk of injury of course).
Also, I have changed my view on what is important in teaching aikido quite a lot lately. I do more and teach less now. The things that matter can’t be explained with words anyway, so why waste everybody’s time when we can just practise together instead. Of course I have more options now than then since my aikido has progressed a little bit. Still, there was lots of open doors already back then that I just did not know existed.
I have not thought much of these things for some time now as it has been a while since I had any responsibility for teaching aikido. However, these thoughts have been weighing heavily on my mind the years I was teaching regularly. I have never had any love for teaching, but I put great value in doing it well when it is my duty to do it.
Enjoy your practice! Aikido make people happy!