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Dan Exam. Essay

 

4th Dan  examinationessay

Masahiro Irie

Aikido Igarashi Dojo

What is the Gokui (Essence) of Aikido

I am glad that I can be with Igarashi sensei and practice Aikido with him every day. I believe that Igarashi sensei’s skill can only be performed by himself. No matter how hard I try, I can’t equal to his level. I think that each person must develop his own set of skills. Even if we learn from the same teacher, we develop different style and we all learn Aikido in different ways. It is important not to lose self-esteem .

The first thing what I must do is to keep repeating Igarashi sensei‘s techniques and then I have to adapt a form that suits me. Even if I get many explanations from sensei, I don't really understand the set of techniques I can comprehend it in my own way. It is important that I could convince myself to gain self-confidence in my techniques and to be eager to practice more and more.

In order to improve my skills I must concentrate on the accuracy of each technique. How can I improve the perfection of my skills? Perhaps if I practice hard for a year, I might improve my skills by only 1% or 2 %. I think that it is better to enhance the Aikido skills by 1% every year than to stay even on the same level. Although it might be a very long process, it is necessary to understand that the Aikido skills advancement process must continue for decades. Not only Aikido techniques but also the essence of Aiki must be understood, even at the cost that our skills can stop growing for a period of time.  Everyone wants to believe that what he or she has done is right. People think that things they see are as they want them to be. When we see Aikido technique we see them through the mirror of our understanding. If you are in the position of a teacher, to some extent you have to find the confirmation of your Aikido technique within yourself, but I think that you should not forget the question if your technique is really accurate. We can test the accuracy of our techniques when we practice with a strong partner. Is it possible to make a particular technique  precisely and in the way to convince other people?  Nextstep is to execute the Aikido technique effectively with people who haven’t practiced Aikido and haven’t learnt how to perform ukemi. I think that the real Aikido ability can be assessed by critical and experienced observer.

Aikido  is the first thing that I have been learning for many years. I was able to develop my Aikido skills to this level, because I was instructed by Igarashi sensei, Machiko sensei, and many others in the dojo. I really appreciate all received help. I am more and more aware of my limited skills, but I hope to continue to further develop my Aikido with help from other Aikidokas.

 

 

4th Dan essay

Arran Fisher
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Calgary Aikikai, Canada

Teaching Aikido to Beginners

Teaching anything to a beginner can be difficult. Teaching something as complex, challenging and unusual (to those in the West, at least) as Aikido presents a host of obstacles for the instructor. One of the things that makes this process so difficult is that, unlike languages or mathematics, Aikido is not just a system of rules and standards that need to be repeated and learned. Aikido is a fluid and personal art form that must be internalized by the student in order to be brought to fruition. The teacher can start the journey and help with direction, but it is up to the student to find eventually their own way down the path. In this aspect, it is more like learning a musical instrument than learning a sport.
As a musician myself, I approach Aikido from a similar standpoint as I do music. The most important element that affects a student’s success with an instrument, or in Aikido, is whether or not they continue to practice. That seems fairly simple, but it changes the question from one of how to teach Aikido techniques to how to encourage a student to keep returning to practice. What happens on the mat is unimportant if the student isn’t there.
People do the things they either need to do or they enjoy doing. Aikido is beneficial for all its practical applications (self-defence, fitness, etc.), but these are not strictly necessary in modern life and, if these were the only reasons for training, there are possibly better ways of obtaining these benefits. So that leaves enjoyment as the main reason students return to the dojo. One of the most enjoyable experiences in life is learning a new skill and another is the aesthetic enjoyment of an art form. Happily, Aikido can offer both of these enjoyments simultaneously, and this is the challenge of the Aikido instructor. But how is this done?
A student needs to feel true accomplishment – to see the results of their efforts. For this to happen, the training must be challenging both physically and mentally, but not insurmountable. For example, when teaching a sequence for the jo, the instructor needs to assess how well a student can retain a series of movements and teach the nojo in small enough pieces that the student can remember. But then, the learning can become boring if it doesn’t progress quickly enough. Some students frustrate easily and others become engaged and excited when they can’t figure something out. So the instructor needs to pay close attention to how the students are responding to the teaching, sometimes slowing things down and other times speeding up to engage the student. Every student is different, so the instructor must find a balance in the flow of the class to try to keep everyone engaged. Sometimes this means splitting the class into groups that can work together at the same pace.
A major component in teaching beginners is to teach the basic, kihon, techniques repeatedly. This is the only way that a student can internalize the movements in Aikido. At first, the basic movements will feel awkward and the student might feel discouraged that they’re not “getting it”. It’s important to mix up the more abstract and difficult techniques (such as iriminage or koshinage) with easier taisabaki and other immediately graspable techniques (such as kokyonage and ikkyo). This way, the student finishes every practice with the feeling that they’ve learned something and they can see the progress in their training.
Ukemi is the way a student can feel safe and comfortable in receiving the technique. A nervous student is not happy or able to focus on positive learning. And an injured student, especially a beginner, will be much less likely to return to the dojo. So the instructor should teach ukemi often and try to ensure that the student is learning how to train safely and comfortably.
The instructor should resist the urge to try to correct every flaw in the student’s technique. In the West, most learning systems, especially schools, focus on the students’ output either being right or wrong.  It’s easy to look at a student’s technique and point out all the things that are wrong, as though one is correcting an English essay or chemistry quiz, but this doesn’t serve the Aikido student very well. Most students can’t retain a long list of corrections and improvements while still trying to move their body in an unfamiliar way. This procedure will usually complicate their thinking and confuse them further. But then, of course, every student is different in this aspect as well, so it is up to the instructor to assess how much information the student can absorb at one time and customize their critique to that person’s aptitudes.
Apart from the student’s own progress and accomplishment, another aspect that makes Aikido enjoyable is the aesthetic appreciation of the art form, in the same way a person can enjoy music, dance, or the visual arts. For the beginner, it is difficult to perceive this aspect, but the instructor can find ways to show it. For example, it’s important that the student trains with advanced students so that they can “feel” the technique working. Beginners should also regularly watch senior students demonstrate so they can see where their training can lead. This kind of learning is very important and the senior students should take this role seriously. The subtler aspects of Aikido are not easy to teach and it is largely up to the student to investigate these on their own, but the instructor’s role should be to illustrate that basic physical training is only the beginning of a much more interesting path.
One might argue that a teaching focused on enjoyment is in danger of losing sight of the martial aspects of Aikido, or that there should be a more serious tone on the mat. But I am not suggesting that the training shouldn’t be practical, serious or rigourous. All of these things could make the training more enjoyable, to different degrees depending on the student. I would suggest that the overall tone of the dojo atmosphere is a crucial element in fostering a positive learning environment and one should be careful not to foster a culture of militancy or aggression. Enjoyment does not mean flippancy and to take the training seriously can be an enjoyable pursuit in itself.

 

4th Dan essay

Andrew Barron
Calgary Aikikai, Canada

“The Essence of Aikido is in a Handshake”

Aikido is formed from three kanji and is commonly defined as the unifying, or combining, or fitting of spirit, or energy, or mood or morale in a way, or a path.

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In 99% of situations if one were to extend a hand to another, the other would extend theirs, and both parties would shake. In a sincere and meaningful handshake, the two hands would blend without competition for dominance ensuing. There would be no pulling or tightening of grip but rather a warm mutual recognition of respect and trust that is sensed by  both and allow the opening  of the interaction to a positive and mutually positive outcome.

One theory on the origin of the handshake ritual was that by using the right hand, which was considered the dominant and therefore could hold a weapon, that the possibility of attack was diminished and safe verbal discourse would follow. However, one might recognize varying degrees of aggression in many handshakes.

Aikido is a physical interpretation of the concept of a mutual handshake as it is similar to the blending of nage and uke as a demonstration of mutual respect and trust as each take turn performing and receiving the technique.

We can classify partners in aikido using the analogy of the handshake; there are the Crushers, the Tuggers, and the Unifiers or Blenders. 

The Crusher attempts to establish dominance by powerful and painful grips to demonstrate their control over the other.

The Pullers draw one in towards them to demonstrate control by reducing the maai (Interval or engagement distance) to create a perceived advantage or dominance in the interaction.

The   Unifier or Blender, however allows maintenance of the self by using neither force or power to allow both parties to bond without feeling forced or unsafe in any manner.

The philosophical essence, a goal of Aikido is to become a Blender in a mutual exploration of mutual respect.

 

 

4th Dan essay

Shane Fielder
Calgary Aikikai, Canada

“How Do You Teach Beginners?”

I’ll never forget the feeling of being a beginner in aikido. When I began aikido over 23 years ago, right before my sixth kyu exam, I stopped training because I didn't have the confidence and belief that I could be as good as all the other people in the dojo.  I stepped away from my practice for a few months and one day, something called inside of me to go back to aikido. I phoned my sensei and asked him if I could come back to aikido. The next day, I went and met with my sensei. Sensei said to me, “If I take you back, you must agree to never give up your training and always train whether it's a good or bad day”.  I made the decision to commit to sensei and to continue my training.

When thinking about how I teach a beginner, I focus on helping the new student develop confidence, train safely with momentum and to have fun.

I start by building a new student’s confidence by having a conversation with them and reassuring them that they've made a wise decision to start practicing aikido.  I commend them on the decision because for many people it is sometimes scary to start something new. I make sure to tell the new student that the great thing about martial arts and aikido in general is that everybody else in the dojo all started at the same place as a white belt. You never need to fear asking a question or for help because everybody in the dojo remembers what it's like to be a white belt and they're there to help you help you grow, learn and succeed in aikido. 

The second thing that I teach a beginner is basic elements of ukemi and the importance of safety in learning how to fall and roll so that they can be safe in receiving the technique.

The safety aspect of aikido comes from learning how to take the falls first so that you can practice versus focusing on throwing people and doing the techniques. I want to personally work with the beginning student to show them the basic ukemi, hanmi and posture for several weeks. If I cannot personally teach them, I make sure that they are well supervised with someone that's experienced in the dojo so that they get the safest training experience.

Once the student has started learning ukemi, they can start practicing and receiving technique.  We start focusing on building momentum in their technique. I focus on helping them understand the various steps in the technique. Generating momentum is key to helping them understand where to position their body and how to protect themselves. At this point, it is critical not to criticize their technique or focus on very small details such as foot or hand placement. At this point, I believe it is important to get the beginner into momentum.  It is important to get them feeling the technique and working through the technique. Once a student has passed fifth kyu, that's where we can start honing and crafting their technique, and where we can focus on their stance, posture and the timing aspects of their technique.
These and many more points of refinement we can work on for the rest of the student's journey in aikido. In the beginning, it's important to get them thinking about momentum and feeling like they are accomplishing something meaningful each practice.

I think it's important to have a light approach to teaching beginners and make the environment very positive and where they have fun. If the student is having fun in the beginning, it helps to ease their anxiety of learning a new martial art. Plus, if the student has more fun, they will be encouraged to keep up with their training and the dojo will have a long-term student for many years to come. If you create a negative or fearful environment, the student won't stay. Enjoyable practice which is fun can be a gateway to opening the beginner’s heart and mind to receiving the training and become part of the dojo.

I've had the opportunity to train in several dojos throughout the world in the last 23 years of my aikido journey. Some dojos, I saw the beginners moved to the side and given to lower ranked students to train the beginners. Many other dojos, I have seen the beginners given to very high-ranking students or yudansha members to train the beginners. Early on in my aikido journey, I wondered why this was the case. As I approach yondan, I now realize that you should give a beginner to the most experienced person in the dojo. The Sensei or Sempai will help to build the foundational skills of ukemi while making sure that their training is fun, and the beginner builds confidence with momentum of practice.  This takes someone of experience versus someone with inexperience.  Whenever I have the chance to teach beginners, I see it as a privilege and an opportunity versus a hardship. This is how you teach beginners aikido.

 

 

 

4th Dan essay

Todd Lachance
Calgary Aikikai, Canada

Teaching Aikido to Beginners

I can remember my first days in Aikido like it was yesterday. Inaba Sensei’s smiling face, my eagerness, all my frustration. I remember Michaella was kind of “standoffish” to me the first little while- I later learned that she would only learn your name if you made it to 5th kyu. She was nice enough but didn’t say much. She would say, “You know, there’s more to life than Aikido…” Back in the old dojo we could do 8-10 classes a week, and I did almost all of them! I came to aikido after being an elite athlete in Speed Skating so I could handle it.

The learning curve was so much fun! I would learn something new almost every day and it was a completely new challenge for me. It was an exciting time in my life and as I rose up the ranks it was a passion for me to improve and hone my skills on the mat.

Now, my mat time is mostly spent as Sensei. Even when I go to the dojo to just train I inevitably still end up teaching. I honestly went through a period where I didn’t want that, but I have since happily excepted my role.

When I am teaching, I will have a range of students from someone being on the mat for the first time, to people who are 4th Dan. I will sometimes have students ranked higher than myself. I will have students of Inaba Sensei who are now my students. I have had to earn their trust and their respect. There have been a few that did not come back after Inaba Sensei passed away. I can’t blame them for leaving. I almost stopped Aikido. I missed Sensei so much it was hard to carry on. I still miss him dearly.

When I teach a class I have a very loose idea of what I am going to do. I know some instructors have a strict outline that works for them. That’s not my way. I base my agenda on who is in class that day, their level and ability, what I think that student needs, what I have been teaching or what others have been teaching and sometimes what I feel like doing. If it is highly ranked students I like to give a lot of “free playtime”. This may sound childish, but I think it’s very important. This is where your just react and your creativity blossoms. If I do see technical things I will interject and make corrections. I may make a suggestion about where they could go with a certain technique, but I try to stay out of it and let them have fun.

Beginners need a defined structure and high dose of fundamentals. Weapons are a great way to work of specific movements, maai, and focus. Students seem to not have any trouble focusing when you are hitting them with a weapon…

Obviously, some students are more athletic than others. Some retain information more readily than others, so it can be a challenge to make a class run smoothly. I generally start off with mae ukemi and ushiro ukemi. Students need confidence with taking ukemi or they will hesitant and get injured. Almost everything falls under the basic taisabaki exercises of ikkyo undo, funakogi undo, uderfuri undo, tenkan, kaiten and irimi. I love to see the epiphany moment when they start to make the connection. Once they connect this to the techniques, their Aikido really flourishes.

I don’t like to separate the students based on rank or ability. I was always forced to work with everyone and I think it’s crucial. We have talked about beginner classes and I think it’s a mistake. The higher ranks need to be able to blend with a beginner and show empathy to the new student who has just begun their journey. For the most part, our students are good with this. The beginner gains confidence by working with higher ranks. They stay motivated by seeing the high levels they can reach. They stay frustrated.

I think the frustration part is very important. The kind of student I want in my dojo is a problem solver. Someone who is shown something and practices it, fails, tries again and slowly masters the task. By doing this they will engrain the movement and it will become second nature!

I feel that the basis of a strong class is a lot of repetition in basic movements that lead into the techniques. I like to start with the basic techniques and from there add onto the movements or teach variations. It’s also nice to give the beginner something new at the end to keep it fresh and fun.

I’ve tried to pattern my teaching style after Inaba sensei, which in-turn is similar to Igarashi sensei. A lot of basic movements, repetition, minimal explanation with minor corrections as I see them. I feel this is a strong approach, especially for beginners. I feel much gratification from teaching and watching beginners blossom into fine martial artists.

 

 

1st Dan essay

Leandro García Muñoz
Aikido Unión Argentina

What is 1st Dan for you?

The blcak belt or the first dan, I dont really know what it means. If I go back to the beginning of the practice, I feel most of us want to get to that precious black belt as if it were a final goal. Then I realized that the main goal is the practice of Aikido itself, at least for me. Given the complexity of the martial art, the closer I got to my shodan test, the more I saw that it is then when you start getting ready to practice Aikido.
In my case, I didnt know anything aobut Aikido until a friend of a friend told me about a Dojo in La Plata. We went to check it out with a friend, he did two classes and Im writing this now.
If I had to describe in simple words what shodan means to someone who doesnt practice Aikido, I would say that it is like arriving to the floor form below, then the Aikido mountain starts. Focusing in the first dan, many people think it is a roof, a place to finish, etc. On the contrary, knowing there are so many more dans to come, the first dan is the first step.

 

 

2nd Dan Essay

Lautaro Delgadillo
Aikido Unión Argentina

What have you gotten from your Aikido practice?


Since I started practicing until now, my point of view has changed a lot. The way I see movement, the way I see breathing, the way I see life. Aikido inside and outside of the tatami rules my life, and took me a few years to figure it out. It is as if it were an eternal Ikkyo-undo. Aikido helped me through the years, through life at several points. When we start the class we do mokusou, we strive to stop thinking about anything else, we try to clear our minds and our spirit, we turn everything white around us and then we are ready to learn. We are always learning; we never do what we know (even if we think we do). After mokusou we start breathing, we let energy from the Universe enter into our bodies and get us ready for the techniques. Sensei shows the kamae, then the taisabaki, the movement of the arms, the movement of the body and always reminds us to focus in keeping the centre. We stay focused in keeping the center where it is supposed to be (with me, with uke, with the dojo itself). That forces us to pay attention to our environment, Zanshin, we look like blind people who see everything. We change partner, then we do the same technique or another one, but we focus on the same things. What Im trying to explain is what Aikido practice as given me, and if you pay attention very closely, I already did. Aikido gave me a way to speak because Aikido is the language of nature, of life itself, that OSensei has translated for us. We need an empty mind to understand nature, we need to breath (not only in a physical way, but with kokoro) to be one with Heaven and Earth and we need to keep the center to be the kind of people nature needs us to be, and the kind of people we want to be. Aikido practice is that for me, and thats what Ive been taking from it. Domo arigatou gozaimashita.



 

 

2nd Dan Essay

Nahuel Lombardi
Aikido Unión Argentina

What have you gotten from your Aikido practice?

My Aikido practice gave me a taste of freedom. Through constant presence in the Dojo and through experiencing different approaches and different Senseis I started to see how endless the possibilities are, and yet, all of them are powered by the same energy. Through the practice of Aikido it is possible to become friends with our body, with our heart, with our mind, with our story, it is possible accept oneself and to be at peace. True freedom comes from peace with oneself. The expression of that freedom is our way to share with others.
Aikido has been a vehicle for me to sense freedom, to feel inclusion and to explore my curiosity. Nage and uke are one in essence and are divided by conflict, through Aikido these perspectives merge and the dance of life happens in unpredictable ways. It is within that unpredictability where the biggest expression of joy manifests.
Aikido encouraged me to keep looking for new perspectives, it walked me through recognizing my body, it showed me my natural reactions with conflict, and it gave me the courage to face conflict. It is a space to share curiosity with others.

 

 

3rd Dan Essay

Diego Rafael Picicelli
Aikido Unión Argentina

What is 3rd Dan for you?

The Third Dan means a lot for me. There is the pride of getting there, but it is also reaffirmation of my love for Aikido and the fact that I have achieved certain degree of understanding of its philosophy.
When I received my First dan, I said I had learned the alphabet and I needed to start making words. The Third Dan means that I have started to speak Aikido, to understand it, to breathe it every day of my life and to use it in every situation I must face.
Even knowing theres still a long way ahead, the commitment I feel towards the constant practice and its application in every moment makes me say: Thank you Aikido, thank you Igarashi Sensei, thank you Picciola Sensei and thank you to all who have dedicated their life to the teaching of this wonderful art.

 

 

 

3rd Dan Essay

Ezequiel García Luna

Aikido Unión Argentina

What have you gotten from aikido practice?


Can you make a black belt more black?
Is there a direct relationship between practice and graduation?
Are these questions important? Probably not.
I started Aikido fifteen years ago, at first I did not know very well what I was looking for, although I soon realized that I liked it, still did not know why.However, one of the first things I noticed was that Aikido was a lifelong adventure. It seemed like a very long project, but it was for me, and I immediately felt ready to face it.
At some point decided not to set goal nor give a special sense to a graduation to that long road that I was willing to follow, however, I find it very difficult, almost impossible and I cannot avoid seeing the road as a stairway in which one is going up,in these sense of growing, improving, strengthening the practice.As the steps get longer, they take more time and greater difficulty.
All this brings me to the subject of the essay, what is the 3rd Dan of Aikido for me?I could say that it is the biggest step I have had in front of me, and that from the outside being a sandan does not change anything.Inside it implies the satisfaction of some years of practice, painful ukemis that I improve but that can continue to improve, always traveling this long way that makes me happy.


 

 

3rd Dan Essay

Jerónimo Ponce Figliozzi

Aikido Unión Argentina

What does 3rd Dan mean for you?

As I write these essays, the first thing I remember is the time I have spent practicing this thrilling discipline. Today it is almost 15 years since I started Aikido, a long time during which I have got great concepts such as solidarity, respect, patience and constancy straight from the practice.
The 3rd Dan means one more step in the endless stair we climb through our lives. It means dedication, effort and, in my case, the end of a cycle and, therefore, the beginning of a new one. Now with the knowledge of basic techniques, I think it is time to look for more precision and fluency. It is also to feel responsible in front of the kohais, during practice and at the moment of transmitting what I have learned.
Finally, 3rd Dan means the need to continue learning, as I always say, day after day, practice after practice, in AIKIDO, one acquires new concepts. We unconsciously learn something new every day, even if it is a small detail in the realization of a technique.

 

 

 

3rd Dan Essay

Gonulenko Ruslan
Aikido Unión Argentina

What is 3rd Dan for you?


The way of the warrior cannot be encompassed by words or in letters.
Grasp the essence. And move on toward realization!
The Art of Peace - Morihei Ueshiba- Quote 42


It is like reaching the age of majority. It does not mean that you know everything or that you are not going to get wrong, but it does mean that it is time to become responsible for your decisions.
This is the time to revise the already travelled path. This review is not to identify ourselves with any of the emotional states implied in the process or to delight ourselves while remembering old, simple stories.
From now on it is not convenient to delay the application of everything we have learnt for one or two more decades or to be just fine feeling that we are practicing something which is not even possible to learn.
Our learning map, our path is there and it has always been there. Now it is time to be coherent and get the call, follow that path.
Igarashi Sensei once said that there were four stages in learning and practicing: hard practice, soft practice, fluid practice and finally, the practice in harmony with KI. At this moment of my AIKIDO, close to get my 3rd dan examination, I am focused in achieving a fluid practice and in harmony with the vital flow of the Universe.
In a tangible level, this implies being impeccable in our practice as well as in the transmission of AIKIDO, essential attribute of a warrior.
O'Sensei said: "The totally awakened warrior can freely utilize all elements contained in heaven and earth. The true warrior learns how to correctly percieve the activity of the universe and how to transform martial techniques into vehicles of purity, goodness and beauty. A warrior's mind and body must be permeated with enlightened wisdom and deep calm." (The Art of Peace - Morihei Ueshiba- Quote 53)

 

 

 

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