Went to aikido! Small,…

Went to aikido! Small, friendly class -- just three students, plus one senior student acting as sensei while the actual sensei is away on a trip. She'll be back Monday.

I had a mixed reaction -- not to this particular class, which was very welcoming and went to pains to make it manageable for the newbie. But just in general with hating not being competent at things. I was really happy during the warm-up stretches and such, which a) felt good, and b) I could do reasonably well and pick up quickly. Legacy of years of dance classes, occasional yoga, and those three months of karate in college, I guess.

But then we moved into the actual aikido moves, which they took pains to explain slowly and carefully, and I'm sure I wasn't worse than any other beginner, but still. I was slow, and confused, and did things wrong over and over again. I hesitated to do things that might hurt people, even though that was kind of the point of the exercise. I couldn't bring myself to shout hai! I'm particularly bad with my feet, it seems -- I keep picking them up instead of sliding them, and lifting up on the ball of my foot with my back leg, instead of keeping that foot planted. I think part of this is my dance training actually getting in the way -- so much of those beginner dance classes were aimed towards lift, towards air. Whereas here, I think staying grounded may be more the aim.

I can learn these things, of course. It was a one hour initial class -- no one expects me to be magically good at any of it right way. No one but me, that is. And this is where being the bright kid in the class fails me, because it is so tempting, always, to just stop doing anything I'm not easily and automatically good at. That habit, learned in grammar school, got me into big trouble in college. It's why I flunked calculus -- not that I couldn't learn it, but that when it wasn't easy, I stopped trying. And in general, I didn't study in college, so my grades are unsurprisingly skewed -- A's in English and anything else that came easily. Mostly C's in everything else.

I learned (somewhat) better eventually, in grad school. I learned how to study, at age 30. I just wish I didn't have to learn that lesson over and over and over again.

The next step at this dojo would be to sign up for six beginner lessons, for $65, which seems like a reasonable price. The regular sensei will be back for Monday's class, which is unfortunately at the same time as the stitch-and-bitch at Buzz, so I might or might not get to that one. But I think I may try the six class beginner sequence. Because when I did the third move right, and got to force our sensei down, to the floor, and lead him into a roll -- it felt great. I burst out laughing, and everyone else laughed with me. Because it was surprising, and also delightful, to have it actually work. Does that make sense?

5 thoughts on “Went to aikido! Small,…”

  1. It makes sooooo much sense. Like you, I didn’t learn to work hard at things that didn’t come easily, and “doesn’t come easily” still feels like “failure” if I’m not in the right headspace. But, as you found out that third time, there is such incredible delight in getting it on the tenth or twentieth attempt! And I’ve been trying to reinforce that with Violet, to say “wow, you worked so hard and finally you got it!” instead of just “you’re so good at that” and I think it’s getting into my own head, finally.

    Obviously, I think you should take that class. It sounds to me like that decision, and taking the class, will already be a big brave accomplishment, regardless of how “good at aikido” you are by the end.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    🙂 If I already get credit for being brave just for signing up, how can I resist that?

    I have to admit, your climbing posts have influenced my even attempting this. So however it turns out, thanks!

    I do have other weird stresses about it. Like — I kind of hate that whichever student I’m partnered with has to slow down so much to work with me. I worry that he’s going to feel like he’s wasting his training time. (Even though he was incredibly nice about it, of course.) And that my being so incompetent on everything is actually going to mess him up somehow — lead him to do things wrong, or something like that. I don’t fret about this when I’m working with the sensei, but definitely with the other students. Does that make sense?

    Also — and this is a bit of a weird one — I found the class oddly arousing. I don’t know whether it was just that my partner happened to be cute and exactly my type (okay, one of my types), and that I liked the way he manhandled me? Or whether it was simply the physicality of it, being slammed into (gently), slammed into the floor, etc.? I get a lot of touch these days, but most of it’s gentle snuggly kid-touch. This was emphatically not gentle. And it’s not anything that ever came up in dance or yoga, where I was always working on my own. (I guess if I’d ever advanced in dance, I might have ended up working with a partner, but I never got that far.)

    Do other people experience this in martial arts? Do I just ignore it? Is it okay to flirt in the dojo? It feels disrespectful to even think about it…

  3. My sensei always says that Aikido is one of the hardest things in the world to learn (seriously, it takes decades to really get good at it — and even then you still keep learning; it’s layered and way more subtle than you think). I am *very* good at picking up physical movement thanks to years of dance training, and I had a hard time remembering movements from my first class or three. Also, you’re right that some things in Aikido are the opposite of what you learn in dance — for me it’s which foot steps (often, it’s the front foot that steps first — that slide you mention — and that’s backwards from most dance steps). I’m also always lifting up a heel here or there when I shouldn’t be.

    Do not stress about slowing down the ranking students! Part of their training is to learn to teach newer students (or it should be; it seems to be in most dojos) so you’re sort of *helping* them by making them break it down, think about it, and explain it to you. It probably didn’t help that you had such a small class — with more students, you’re not partnering with the same people as often, so the newest person gets passed around more. But I’ve only been doing it for 3 months now and I’m already starting to consider how I’d teach certain moves (this is mostly because I’m testing for 6th kyu/ orange belt in June and I’ll start occasionally getting partnered with white belts after I pass).

    Oh, and you probably won’t mess them up. I was spinning the wrong way on shionage my first class, and the black belts were delighted, because they could counter with a fancy different move. The lower-ranked students would simply stop and correct me, which was actually more helpful for me than those black belts 🙂

    Arousal. Heh. Well, first of all, I wouldn’t flirt in the dojo. If you ever go out socially, then maybe. But I’m pretty sure it’s very bad etiquette to flirt on the mat.

    Now, I tried 2 Aikido classes when I was 24, and there were two reasons I stopped, and one of them was that close physical proximity to all these cute boys! I couldn’t handle it. These days, I’m not really on the market for someone new, so that helps, but I do occasionally find something someone does hot. I try to just accept, “wow, being thrown so very effectively yet gently was hot” and not dwell on it. I don’t think of it as arousal. I’ve talked to a couple other people I’m close to about it, and those “that’s hot” moments happen to them too, but you just acknowledge it and move on. I’m probably more worried than most about keeping sexuality off the mat, but then I remember it scaring me away 12 years ago, so I’m careful to keep it compartmentalized when I practice.

    Ok, I’m actually running off to practice for my test, or I’m sure I’d go on and on. Aikido is my new passion. I’m so excited that you’re trying it out, Mary Anne!

  4. I too have the “give up if I’m not immediately good at it” thing. Great advice/comments here from Jessie and Heather.

    …There’s also another thing that happens for me in these contexts; it doesn’t sound like this is what’s going on in your case, but I figure it’s worth mentioning:

    I’ve found that people who are good at doing stuff with their bodies are often really awful at explaining it in words.

    Me, I need words. One reason I do so little physical activity is that I’m tired of teachers (of dance, martial arts, fitness, whatever) saying things like “You just…[and then they do a complicated action]. And then you…[and then they do another complicated action]. See? Easy!” And I say “Can you explain that in words?” and they repeat what they just said and did. For them, it’s not a verbal thing at all; it’s a body-movement thing, and they can’t understand why anyone would be unable to pick it up by watching it (and/or being forcefully moved through the motions by someone else). Both the teacher and I end up frustrated.

    The times when Aikido and dance and such have worked for me have been times when I’ve had a teacher who was able to verbalize to the degree I needed.

    I know that you don’t have the same issues with body movement that I do and that you can learn stuff nonverbally, and I know you’ve done dance and such, and it sounds like you do have a good intellectual understanding of what you were supposed to be doing in the cases where it wasn’t working, so maybe this comment is useless to you.

    But I thought the more general point was worth making: sometimes teachers’ teaching styles and students’ learning styles don’t mesh, through no fault of either. (Especially when the teacher is also a student and may not have had a lot of training in how best to teach that material.) But that too may not be relevant in your situation, dunno.

  5. I love love LOVE that my writing about climbing is helping you try aikido! What a compliment. And it sounds like you’re having a hard time getting out of the habit of being a teacher–of course you feel responsibility for the experience of other students, but it’s not your job in this class.

    I second Jed’s comment about physical learning styles, by the way. Part of climbing is about looking at the route and figuring out what the moves will be, and I can’t do that at all. People try to explain them and it makes no sense. At first it was hard because it meant I had to do everything wrong the first time, but now I just take that for granted.

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