Comparisons - I wrote this near the end of the 2012 year and forgot to post it earlier. My apologies. It is not a positive post and I wasn't going to place it here, but it is what I felt at the time and therefore my historical point of view. I don't name anyone or any club so take it how you like.
It is nearing the end of the year and tomorrow will be my last training session of TSYR for 2012. I happened to attend the last training session of my aikido club as well, earlier in the week. The teenage daughter of an old work colleague of mine was grading to 4th kyu and I was interested in seeing her progress and seeing what I could still remember of aikido. All people on the mat participate in a grading at this dojo. So even though I was not grading I was pairing up with people and doing the techniques asked by the grading panel just like everyone else there. As it turns out the young woman had a solid grading and I hadn't forgotten any of the kihon waza asked at this level. I discussed this with my aikido sensei afterwards. How is it that I could still perform the techniques crisply and without hesitation after being away from training for many months? Well, the first thing that happens to any athlete that ceases training is that their body loses condition. Of course this is not the case with me because I am still in fact training in the martial arts, just not aikido. I know of many examples where people have ceased training and then returned to find that their mind is willing but their body is not. After nine years of aikido, the techniques were still locked away ready to be used and the fact that I was in the familiar setting of the dojo I learnt the art in and going through the rituals of a formal grading, it was easy to fit right in. Also of importance was the calibre of the grading, it was 4th kyu, not very high up the ranks and the test was pretty limited as to what was asked. However, at that level all techniques that I consider kihon were asked for. From katatetor; ikkyo through to yonkyo and shihonage. From shomenuchi; iriminage, ikkyo and nikkyo and from yokomenuchi, any two techniques. There were other combinations as well as the grading panel pushed the young girl to her limits. Kotegaeshi from munetsuki, tenchinage from a two handed grab, sumi otoshi from katate tori and so on.
As a nidan in aikido none of those techniques posed a problem for me. But here’s the snag. I like the people I train with at aikido, they are genuinely, nice people. However, after training elsewhere in what I consider a potentially more dangerous art, I had concerns for my safety at the grading. Why? The emphasis appears to be on making the technique work, come what may. As I have trained in TSYR and my body alignment and structure has improved, I don’t lose my centre as easily and I have become more sensitive to the balance of my training partner. Most of the people at TSYR are even better at this than me so when a technique doesn't work, they don’t think “push harder” they think “what have I done wrong, where have I lost the connection?” So they stop adjust and dump me cleanly on my backside. I had one experience during the aikido grading where my partner was attempting ikkyo on me and he swung my arm in the appropriate manner but simply didn't move me from my base at all, I wasn't resisting, in fact I was quite relaxed (thank goodness) and because I didn't move as expected he proceeded to try and force me down by putting his knee into my arm as well. Now, I still didn't move as the pressure was still being applied in the same way, but now with his knee. However, seeing where it was going I moved appropriately and he pinned me. As I got up he said “Man, that didn't really work, even when I put my knee in.” I'm thinking, what is wrong with the training methodology here that an aikido practitioner of a reasonable rank would think like that? Of course I am/was a product of the very same dojo and I know my TSYR instructor has ironed out a few kinks in my thinking since then. Another incident occurred when we were asked to perform any techniques we wished from yokomenuchi. At one point I looked across to the pair training next to me and my partner. A young black belt had a complete novice in a dangerous technique that included a head lock with the uke’s back arched. The poor girl didn't realise she needed to tap her leg to signal submission and she was going red in the face while this young show-off applied the lock. Needless to say I quietly but very firmly told him to let go and to take into account the abilities of the training partner.
I had mixed emotions about the night. I was happy for the girl grading as she had done a great job. I was happy that I slotted back into the aikido dojo without any of my techniques showing any ‘rust’ and I enjoyed catching up with people I hadn't trained with for a while. However, I was disappointed at how no one I trained with that night showed any evidence of good internal body structure, and during a formal occasion when things are often at their safest, I saw/experienced some practises that were very dangerous.
This leaves me thinking. Was the dojo always like that when I was a consistent practitioner? I certainly know that my posture and general body alignment was rubbish before I trained in TSYR. The grading was set up so that only dan grades trained with kyu grades to allow most experienced to work with least experienced. So I never got my hands on the other black belts that night. However, all but three were my junior so I have a good idea of what they are capable of. I honestly believe I can now see a contrast in the training methodology of each of the two dojos I have trained in. It was not as apparent while I was still training in both vigorously. Now that I have been away from the aikido dojo for a while, my eyes have been opened to the differences.
A part of me wants to be involved in changing things at the aikido dojo but it is not my place. It is my sensei’s dojo, not mine. I can simply choose to train elsewhere and go back from time to time to keep the bonds of friendship with the people in aikido, ignoring the aspects of training that bother me. As the saying goes, when in Rome…