For those interested in discovering Aikido.

Live training and Aikido: part 2 What kind of training does Aikido use?

Live training in Aikido: Part two

What kind of training are you doing now, and how is it different from live training?

In the last article, I talked about how the general public became aware of live training methods, and how, previous to this, most people thought that exotic and special techniques were the key to martial ability. Here we’ll talk more about the kind of training most Aikido schools are doing now, how it differs from live training and how a move toward the latter will better position us to get the most out of training.

Currently, Aikido, for the most part, consists of forms training. A form is a training method in which you isolate a set of ideas and practice them in a prearranged order. By doing this over and over, you gain a better understanding of those ideas. In essence, we are putting the technique in a vacuum, looking at just this one situation and studying it very intensely.  For example, if you want to master a technique like “Kotegaeshi”, slowing going over the exact movements required to preform the technique in one specific station, is a great way to better understand the specifics of the technique.

In a world where you believe the key to martial success lies in the technique itself, this might seem like a perfect method of study — and the best way to gain mastery over a given technique. And if the only matter of importance was mastering a certain movement or application in isolation, your assumption would be correct. This kind of training is a time proven way to isolate a technical idea and allow yourself to fully integrate that understanding into your body. It allows us to break down the idealized methods (techniques) for a given situation and focus on them exclusively in order to master their exact execution.

In the context of martial arts, this training method is called “forms training” — removing a certain situation from the physical conflict, in order to look at that part alone, working on only one small part of the problem at a time to quickly improve that one aspect. It is the primary training method used by Aikido practitioners.

The problem with forms training is that physical conflict doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is an important flow that happens during physical conflict. Forms training eliminates the possibility of choice and distorts the actual way a situation will play out. In forms training your partner always has the same reactions. Every time you do a form, the resistance you face is the same. Once you’ve mastered the technique in that from, you will always be successful in applying the technique. This is by design, of course, but it keeps us from seeing all the other things that could happen at the moment of technical application. This is a problem because in a “real” situation our attacker could (and likely will) do many things that are outside of what the form teaches us.

Aikido does have an idea to account for this. Several Aikido forms utilize “Kanren Waza” or adaptive techniques. These forms teach us different ways that a given situation might occur and help us see the various options we might have at a given point of application. However, we are still seeing these variations through an abstract form, and can never really get a feeling for when and how those spontaneous changes happen.

Live training allows both of the people to make dynamic choices about how the situation will play out. While there are many important aspects of live training, the most important aspect for Aikido students to understand is choice. In all forms training your partner (the uke) has his ability to choose what he will do next removed. He will always give you resistance in the same way, and will always have the same response to your actions. The person doing the form will never learn the different ways that the uke could respond. Given enough time doing the same form, you will be lulled into thinking that you know what will happen when you make a specific movement or apply a technique; this is never true. The real truth is that you will never know. Each person will respond to stimulus in a different way, . Some will resist strongly, some will cower away. Every time physical conflict happens it is new and unique — a fact the founder of Aikido spent lots of time trying to convey to his students. Live training allows you not only to understand many of the choices your partner might make in a given situation, but also allows you to deal better with the shock and surprise that comes when things didn’t go the way you expected.

Think of live training like learning a language. It’s one thing to memorize the meaning of words and memorizing some key sentences and the common responses (akin to forms training). Through this memorization you might start to feel like you can speak a new language. That is until the first time you try to speak with a native speaker. You quickly realize your memorization left you unprepared for the natural complexity of conversation. The first time you spout off one of your memorized sentences and don’t get the response you expected, you’ll be confused and unable to respond. The key to learning the language is not just memorization of word meaning, or exacting pronunciation. That is just a beginning step. If you really want to learn a language you have to listen to it being spoken naturally and participate in hours of conversation. Only though this process will the language become natural for you to speak.

Live training is like having a martial arts conversation. While, in the grand scheme, all aspects of learning are important, butconversations are really much more interesting, and at the heart of what speaking a language is all about. This is what live training can do for your Aikido. It can move you beyond the ideas and application methods and take you into actually using the system as it was intended.

Let’s learn to speak Aikido!

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