I love aikido very much, so I am very passionate in the way I think about how to do different things. One of those things I have been pondering about lately is what the best way would be to practice with somebody less experienced than ourselves. I still spend time thinking about how to improve the way we introduce completely new people to aikido. This was a big part of what I was doing, some years ago, but now I am not required to teach any more. That however, does not stop my thinking about how to take care of the beginners in the best way possible.
This is not only important for the teacher of the class. It is a major subject for the training partners of the beginners (and less experienced than ourselves). How should we act to help the new person come in to our society in the most smooth way possible. Even after some time of practice, there is a time of insecurity and infancy in aikido, where we are very open and vulnerable for negative comments and bad experiences. We still do not have the confidence to move on, if we meet a problem and we experience not being able to do what we are asked to do.
It is a little bit like cooking, I think. If we want to cook something, we bring out the ingredients and the tools we need for that particular dish. We do not stable all content of all the lockers on the table, and drag everything we have in the fridge out of there, if we only want to boil some eggs. We consider what we need for this dish, and leave the rest of our utilities and food where it is.
For a beginner in aikido there are a lot of new things. All of them are confusing, very detailed and subtle. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of new information. So I would think it would be strategically wise to introduce only as little new things as possible at the time. If we are planning to do a certain kata it would be useful to provide some solutions for the problems which we know that the new guys will face during that particular form.
We know from experience which problems will occur, and they are mostly the same ones for everyone. If we think through what ingredients we will need for this cooking, it will probably be enough room for what we need. However, the table of the beginner is not big enough for all the rest of the stuff we have in our kitchen. There is only so much space on that table, and it should be reserved for the parts we are going to use that particular day.
Well, that was the part I would consider if I was teaching. Now here comes the important part for all of us who are not teaching, but merely participating in the class. All of us also have our kitchens, with all of our tools and all of our stuff in the fridge, which we are very, very proud of having. If we, as a training partner throw all of our stuff on to the poor beginner’s kitchen table, it will become so full, that all the stuff he/she will need to do the current form starts falling off the edges and becomes difficult to find. And they have to start crawling under the table to search for the stuff they need and so on.
The table is barely big enough for the stuff needed for that particular form. Later, maybe even a different day, the teacher brings out other tools and other ingredients, to cook something else. So as a partner I feel that it is important to make room for the tools and ingredients the teacher has put on the table, because it does not have room for all of our fancy stuff at that moment. The table of the beginner will grow, and can contain more and more stuff, but in the beginning it is very small, and gets easily very chaotic.
So, I really know nothing about cooking, so I will leave that metaphor for now. But I think it is a very important subject to be able to leave some “mistakes” for later. The teacher has hopefully planned this and focus on one particular theme for now, presenting solutions for half the problem now, and then the other half the following week. I also heard the Gracies talking about painting. You add one layer of paint, and when it dries, you add another layer, and so on. If you splash all the paint on at once, it will run down the wall anyway, because the wall can’t absorb as much in one go. This goes both for the teacher and all the partners running eagerly around with their brushes to put on some of their paint.
I usually look at the expression of my partners. The eyes often show wether or not they have received too much information for what they can take. They admire us tremendously, of course, we get their respect. However, they feel stupid and worthless, if they can’t do correctly what we describe so precisely and detailed. People who feel stupid usually tries to avoid that experience, and very often by not coming back. “It was very cool, and the teacher and all the people there were very advanced, yes. But it was not for me.”
I strongly believe that too much information is just as bad as nothing at all. Nothing is probably impossible even if we tired. Just by being on the tatami and rolling around there is a new world for new people in aikido. Very much like child learning how to walk. They will stumble a lot, and fall. But they get back up and take a few more steps, and it gets easier all the time. As long as nobody starts complaining everytime they do something wrong. Then the will to go on will slowly fade, and they will seek their thrills elsewhere. So take care of every partner you have, more advanced, at similar level and less advanced. They are the most precious beings in the Universe. Without our partners we are nothing.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!