Can you find the Other Corners?
By Michael Rowe
Last year I visited Japan for duty with the Navy Reserve Component. I had other plans as well I wanted to experience some more martial arts training in Japan. I have been training in Hapkido for almost 30 years and I wanted to spend some time with its sister art in Japan, Aikido. In 2016 I had a chance to spend a few hours training at the Aikido Hombu Dojo and meet with the current Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. I was hoping to get a greater level of training this year.
When I arrived in Japan I checked into the base recieved my housing assignement and checked into the job. As I expected there was going to be an amazing amount of time that I could travel from Yokosuka to Tokyo to visit the Hombu Dojo. After checking in at the Aikiki Dojo I changed into my gi and placed my white belt around my waist. The sensei of the Dojo did remember me from my previous visit from last year and recongized I was not a total beginner but they wanted to go through the paces. Being that I know that Aikido and Hapkido both have the same root there are some simliarities but there are going to be major differences. I was give the task of demonstrating and practicing Ik Kyu the first fundamental teaching of Aikido. We call it simply the straight arm bar.
While I felt that I had done an satisfactory job presenting the teaching from the variety of attacks presented, but the Doshu thought differently. He told me to work on one particular movement of the technique – it was a bit too much muscle and needed move relaxation. I bowed and then prepared to continue with the technique.
I worked on the technique very hard against many variations of attacks: same side wrist grabs, cross wrist grabs, lapel grabs. double wrist grabs from the front and rear, and punch as wel. I practiced what was presented to me for correction for about ten minutes when I noticed that Doshu was on the other side of the dojo, giving instruction to another student.
I chose to continue to to practice the technique even though I have been practing the technique for almost 30 years already. I did it for almost an half hour, my gi was was soaked with sweat. After more than an hour’s worth of repeating the same fundamental technique, one of the senpai (senior students) came over and told me to demonstrate Ni Kyu - the second teaching.
So this is how it went for the basic 5 teachings of Aikido that we covered that day. My arms were lead, my legs were shaking, I could barely change and get down the stairs, walk to the train and get back to base. But I was back in the Dojo training the next day. Something about the intensitiy appealed to me.
Now, I will walk away from my students while they are working on a particular form or technique – just to see what they’ll do. Most of them will continue to practice what they were told. A few will walk over to me to ask what they should do and some discontinue practicing as they begin to talk and socialize with their classmates. This seems to happen regardless if the students are children, teens, or adults.
It has been said that if a teacher shows the student one corner, the student should be able to find the other three. If he cannot (or will not), then the teacher should leave him alone because he’s simply a waste of time.
Grandmaster Pak and Grandmaster Pellegrini both would often show me a particular technique or an aspect of a technique or form and then see what I did with it. Would I simply forgot whatever it was that was shown to me? Would I practice it on my own time, striving to improve my performance? Would I simply fool around and play with the technique, perhaps ask for constant guidance on if I was doing it right? Or would I train at the school, and at home in my free time the teaching presented? Would I refine it and make it my personal expression of movement?
One thing I figured out was that the teacher was always watching and evaluating. Oh sure they would talk with us and joke now and then but they were always calculating. Would I be one that they would teach the real material too? Could I find not only the four corners of the room, but all the entrances and exits? Was I worth teaching the real methods to?
So what are you gong to do to find the corners?
Many parents think about putting their children in a martial arts program, but choosing the right one can be difficult. Are all of the martial arts the same? Is one better than another? What should a parent look for in a school or teacher? I hope to try to answer the questions every parent has, and provides the information necessary for parents to make the right choice.
Why should a child study martial arts?
The martial arts are an independent activity. The student who practices a martial art should always strive to be better than they were. Within the context of the group, everyone is on their own path. Regardless of which tradition your child may choose to follow, there are important life lessons that they will learn and carry into adulthood.
What should you look for in a school?
Educate yourself about some of the branches of the martial arts and the subtle nuances between them. While that may be too time-consuming for some parents, I think the best way to find the appropriate school is to ask the question: Why do you want your child to study martial arts?
I think the answer to these questions will better steer you toward the best choice for their child. There are competitive and non-competitive arts, but there is no one art that is better than another. There are only arts that will better suit your goals and objectives.
If you are looking for something to prevent bullying, you may want to look at arts that don’t strictly emphasize competition, but rather emphasize self-defense situations. These may include multiple opponent scenarios and defense against weapons. Arts like: Hapkido, Krav Maga, and Brazilian Jujitsu may be a good fit.
If you are looking for some form of physical activity that provides a outlet for competition then arts such as Taekwondo, Karate, and Judo may provide a great option.
There are more as well, but asking the teacher about their overall philosophy should narrow things down. Are they training for a national title, or to deal with three bullies in the hallway? Some may do both, but most specialize. Most arts will answer the questions raised previously in different ways. More important than the art, is the teacher. The first thing to remember is that a good martial artist is not necessarily a good teacher. Seek an instructor that has both knowledge and understanding in the area in which they are teaching. If they are teaching a competitive art, did they compete? If they specialize in self-defense do they have a practical understanding of violence and aggression?
Ultimately, parents are looking for a teacher that can convey knowledge. Can the teacher express their knowledge in a way that the student can understand it? A good teacher can explain the subtle nuances of how or why something works or doesn’t, as well as why the student should do it. They can provide drills and suggestions to improve specific problems that a student may need to progress. It is important to meet the teacher and be sure that you express why you are thinking of having your child study martial arts. Tell the teacher what you want to achieve. In turn, the teacher should be able to articulate why or why they aren’t a good fit.
How will they meet your objectives? If your child has special needs. I would ask if they have ever worked with special needs students before. What is their approach? and what success have they had? I recommend watching a class as well as having your child participate in the class at least one time. Parents should concern themselves with the following:
Are the instructors attentive? Do they give clear directions? Are there a lot of injuries? Injuries can happen as they do in any sport, but excessive injuries can be a sign of a problem with the school or teacher.
Is the class organized? Does it seem like there is some kind of plan? Are the students learning a specific skill or technique? Is there order in the class? Who is in control, the teacher or the students?
Is the teacher like a drill instructor, doling out punishments, or a milquetoast that never raises their voice? Somewhere in between is best. A good teacher will be no-nonsense, but not cruel. They will maintain control without being petty or too permissive. They should know when to step on the gas or brake. It is not easy to skirt that line, but that is what you are paying for.
The students should be learning, following directions, and accomplishing tasks, but also having some fun. It shouldn’t be drudgery. There should be a good mixture of work, learning, and having fun. If your child learned something new and is sweaty with a smile on their face, that is probably a pretty good class.
Observe the classParents should observe the class at least a few times. This means you must actually observe the class. Far too many times, I have had parents observe my class, and they are on their device not even watching what is going on.Remember that you are assessing how the teacher is teaching and how your child is doing.
Many times I have had children do amazing things in their first lesson and looked up to see a parent with their eyes down scrolling through a screen. Parents must focus to make sure the class will deliver what they are looking for.
Try to do the class yourself. I have had parents tell me that they didn’t think that their child was catching on after the first lesson! I always ask the parent, “Have you tried it?” I make it look easy. I have been doing martial arts for decades
A new student will always have difficulty, so that is not how you evaluate the class or your child’s abilities. Achievement will come through hard work and focus. Don’t be fooled thinking that it should be easy.
Unlike soccer, baseball, basketball or football there is no team in martial arts.This means that success or failure is dependent upon the student alone. The student learns how to be self-reliant, how to succeed through self-discipline.
In order for a student to achieve their goal of a trophy in competition or their next belt rank, the student most focus on what needs to be done and do it. When they achieve their goal they will know that they did it themselves and that they are capable of anything. They will know that they can be successful in any pursuit that they put their energy into. I think that this is the best reason for everyone to study martial arts.
Michael Rowe is the Founder of Alpha Omega Martial Arts and has been dedicating his life to the study and teaching of self-defense. It is his goal to motivate, inspire, and transform the lives of all his students; young and old!