Our students put their hearts into their training and show amazing dedication. We believe it’s the responsibility of the dojo to make sure our students get maximum value from their efforts. If our students dedicate a significant part of their lives and focus to learn the art of aikido, we better make sure they get the most out of their efforts. We believe it’s our duty to do so.
It’s easy for both students and instructors to get into a pattern of training in a group class, going home, and repeating. If you simply enjoy the movement practice, this is a fine way to train. However, after overseeing the development of over 1,000 students, we’ve found that group classes are necessary but not sufficient to maximize one’s development.
Practitioners who progress most dramatically are those with a training strategy built across 3 dimensions:
This training format doesn’t need much explanation. Group classes are an excellent venue for learning new techniques, but more importantly, learning how to adapt and apply known techniques to a range of body types. There’s no substitute for struggling through the process of discovering how to make a technique work on a teenage girl, a 230 lb. bodybuilder, a 6’4″ tall man, or an incredibly flexible (or stiff) attacker.
Group classes also build the dojo community, allow us to support the development of our fellow students, and give us the opportunity to learn through observing others’ successes, struggles, and failures.
In our experience, we’ve found that group classes are necessary but not sufficient to excel, because group classes, by definition, can’t be tailored to the individual. Personalized training seeks to understand each student’s goals, strengths, and weaknesses and then align training activities to help them maximize their individual potential.
Not only do we see clear evidence of the effectiveness of this kind of training, we also surveyed our members and found that getting individual time with instructors and senior students was their highest priority.
At Ikazuchi Dojo, this kind of individualized practice takes a variety of formats. Most students already receive one-on-one training with a senpai (senior student) when they prepare for kyu tests or when they seek refinement of a specific technique after class.
Other forms of individualized training we employ include personal training sessions with instructors, intensive small group programs, and an instructor development program.
This video is a short clip of one of our instructor development sessions.
The instruction Matsuoka Sensei is giving Chris and Nastia is critical for their development and geared specifically for them. For other students at a different skill level, or with different movement capabilities, this training would be confusing or irrelevant. However, for these two instructors, this is rocket fuel that will push them to the next level. You can see a slightly longer clip from this training session (about 5 minutes) here.
Individualized training with an instructor or senior student allows practitioners to shore up deficiencies, leverage their talents and strengths across their techniques, and understand how to customize and tailor their movements and tactics to best take advantage of their body type and even personality.
Independent practice can take many forms. This type of training will vary from person to person and will evolve over time for each individual.
The video below shows some of my current independent training exercises. At this stage in my development, one of the ways I learn best is to take ukemi from Matsuoka Sensei so I can feel his technique. There are many subtleties in his movements that are difficult to transmit through language. I can pick them up more easily through tactile and kinetic feedback. Now in my 40s, it’s a priority for me to be able to take his ukemi safely and effectively, so I focus on training exercises that allow me to increase the efficiency of my ukemi.
You’ll see me working on moving from a back fall to kneeling position while balancing on only the back leg, refining my forward and back rolls to make them more efficient, and practicing some drills to help ensure a controlled descent to a prone position when being thrown quickly.
For others, independent practice may be totally different. One person may focus on increasing ankle and toe flexibility to be able to sit in seiza and practice seated techniques. Another may need to practice footwork drills to reprogram sub-optimal movement patterns.
Independent training doesn’t always have to be physical in nature. Some may focus on diet and nutrition, or even invest their time watching randori videos to learn positioning tactics when dealing with multiple attackers. One non-physical element of my independent training right now is to learn more about the historical evolution of the art of Aikido. Thanks to Stan Pranin Sensei, I’ve been able to get exposure to valuable writings, photos, and videos to support this endeavor.
In 2015 we had hundreds of workshop participants, ran almost 450 one-on-one training sessions, led many students through intensive small group training programs, and established our instructor development program.
Since we’ve begun to transition our instructional strategy to align behind these three key training components, we’ve seen a huge positive change in the quality and consistency of our students’ aikido.
For example, even though we’ve always had stand out kyu tests at lower ranks (5th-3rd kyu), we now find the quality level at those ranks increasing, and that quality is seen more consistently across all of our students. We also find that our senior students are more prepared for (and successful at) randori during their dan tests than ever before.
After we more consciously aligned our programs around these three core pillars of training and observed the results, the value of the strategy became clear. Our next step is to establish better methods to ensure that every dojo student at every level can get clear guidance and direction on how to focus their training across all three dimensions. With a growing dojo, we need better systems to meet this goal. We’ve already implemented some systems successfully, but still have a way to go.
If our students think it’s worth their time and focus to walk the path of a martial artist, we think it’s worth it to make the journey as powerful, rewarding, and transformational as we can.