Posted by: balladofyoko | April 4, 2007

Learning by Teaching

A work in progress. A series of notes about learning how to teach aikido.

Last night, I taught my first class in teaching aikido. Three students came– two orange belts and one black belt. The smaller class actually made me feel more at ease– I feel less nervous working with fewer people. I have several years of experience in teaching private music lessons to individual students; maybe I’ve learned to be more comfortable in this setting.

In many ways, teaching aikido is very much like teaching instrumental music to me. Both involve teaching feeling. This is rather difficult, as I can’t jump into someone’s skin and know what the other person is feeling. With instrumental music, I look for the correct posture, correct positioning, and explain breathing, articulation, and fingering by means of similes and metaphors– “expand like a balloon” “say ‘dah’ as you begin” “feel the rings under your fingers.” There is constant feedback in the form of questions: “How does that feel?” “How can you change that to feel differently?” There is a lot of non-verbal communication as well, in the form of playing music by example.

With aikido, I also look for correct posture and positioning. Non-verbal communication also happens here, but there is more touching involved– in partner practice, there is trading off between being the attacker and being the person receiving the attack. There is the physical feedback in feeling when throwing and getting thrown, and the verbal feedback when asked “How does that feel?”

The two orange belts did a great job in responding to directions and staying focused. They seemed to be challenged but not frustrated, and responded in good humor. I really appreciated that.

Things for me to keep in mind:
*Concentrating on a couple key points of each technique
*Making corrections precisely when they need to be made
*Offering concrete praise often (“good footwork” “I like the assertive attack”)
*Coming up with enough techniques to fill the hour

To be continued. I hope more people come to class over the next few weeks so that I can learn from them too.



  1. Congratulations on teaching your first aikido class!

    On that “coming up with enough techniques” business: Start with something really basic, and then look for points of similarity between techniques that can make for good segues.

    For instance, you might start by doing ikkyo from a crosshand grab. From there you could segue to nikkyo from a crosshand grab, emphasizing how the shape of the two techniques is almost identical, with the difference lying primarily in the size and angle of the circular motion. Then you could go back to the ikkyo for a few minutes, emphasizing a different aspect (starting with one technique, going off on a “tangent” technique, and then returning briefly to the original technique is a nice bit of class structure that is tragically underutilized by most instructors).

    After returning to the ikkyo, you could springboard off it in a different direction – perhaps staying with ikkyo but doing it from a shomen uchi attack. How is shomen uchi ikkyo similar to doing ikkyo from a crosshand grab? How is it different?

    Now that you’ve used the ikkyo to segue into shomen uchi attacks, you can use the shomen uchi attack as your next launching point: go into shomen uchi kokyu nage, which adds balance to the class by moving from face-down pins to backfalls. From there, you can springboard off the shomen uchi kokyu nage and fill the remainder of the class with other variants on the “move to the outside and keep uke going” response to shomen uchi: shomen uchi kote gaeshi, shomen uchi kaiten nage.

    Getting in the habit of thinking about themes, points of similarity, and segues in this way, will give your classes flow and coherence, and with a bit of practice the approach becomes so natural that you can always spontaneously come up with a well-structured lesson to fill any sort of time window.

  2. Thanks, Nicky. I like the idea of doing “theme-based” lesson planning. I had actually done this last night– I introduced yokomen uchi kokyunage, explaining the “block and catch” manuever, then followed that with yokomen uchi kotegaeshi, retaining the block, but now changing which hand holds onto the uke before throwing. I followed that with yokomen uchi kaitennage– switch hands but now drop uke’s arm down. I had one student go through the “persistence of first technique” thing (I made that term up), where she kept doing kokyunage even though we had moved onto another technique. It’s all good, though– at least she kept moving.

    I had a request to go over techniques for a test, so that’s another thing to incorporate in a class, as well as our standard dojo practice of doing a “technique of the night,” which is a set of cards with techniques on them from which every instructor picks from.

    I’m going to try the set of techniques you’ve described in a future class, just to see what happens.

  3. Beautiful!


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