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The Role of Seniors | Philosophy of Teaching | Rules for Instructors

The Role of Senior Students

Seniors should take the initiative to make friends with new students and make them feel at home. Show them how to put on their gi and tie their belt, and how to bow onto the mat. Be ready to assist them during warm-ups.

Seniors, who are given the privilege and responsibility of guiding beginners through their first days in the dojo, should give new students a positive experience. Show kindness and patience. Through you, new students get their first impressions of Aikido, the quality of the dojo, and your true character. If you show you care and show them what they can do (rather than what they can't), you go a long way to opening a whole new world to them.

Five principles for teaching Ki:
  1. Trust and have confidence in universal principles.
  2. Share what you learn with others.
  3. Practise and apply what you teach.
  4. Teach according to the person.
  5. Maintain the attitude of learning and growing together.
Seniors should help other students with sincerity. They should show and feel true concern in guiding them. When helping others on the mat, we must all overcome the tendency to be too verbal. Mat time is practice time. Talking too much is a mistake. Keep your words brief and to the point. Although in the western world we are used to learning through verbal instruction, learning in Aikido comes from experiencing it.

Seniors should allow students to complete their technique: they become frustrated and resentful if you constantly stop their attempts. They are learning what makes a technique effective and if you stop them from experiencing and expressing it for themselves you make true learning nearly impossible.

When you make it too difficult for them to practise their technique, or stop it before it can get started, they instinctively want to use other options and are not encouraged to keep to the practice at hand. Guide them through their technique with your ukemi - let them feel their specific response to the prescribed attack. As they grasp the basic technique, how it relates to a specific attack and its ukemi, they are able to begin working on changes and variables as well as increased resistance and intensity.

Five principles for Ki testing:
  1. A test not of strength but of whether or not the mind moves.
  2. Give instruction appropriate to the level of the student.
  3. Test in order to teach, not in order to contest.
  4. Learn by testing others.
  5. The test merely points the way and is not an end in itself.
So, when you are helping someone, keep the talking to a minimum, be patient, and show kindness. Let them practise and learn. Let them experience the difficulty, the joy, and the value that comes from their own discovery. Your partner will appreciate it and think better of you for it. If your words are condescending and your attitude is bad, or you stop their attempts at technique, don't expect to make a friend. Treat them as you would like to be treated and you will not only get their attention but their respect and friendship as well.

Senior students should always set a good example in demeanour, etiquette, practice, cleaning and care of the dojo, personal appearance, and ability to smile.

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Philosophy of Teaching

The success of a dojo is not based on locality, modern facilities, or even the art itself. The ability of individual instructors to impart not just technique, but the 'spirit' and 'heart' of Aikido is the essence of having a successful dojo. It is important that students have the security of knowing that their instructor has internationally recognised qualifications, is trustworthy, and has their best interests at heart.

Every student is special and unique. Individuals come to Aikido training for a variety of reasons, and their reasons are evolving constantly. There will be students who are a pleasure to teach, or those who are just plain difficult, some with natural coordination, and others with special needs. Each student represents a challenge for the instructor to further their communication skills and teaching abilities. To be a good instructor, you must never give up. Keep exploring new ways to explain or impart knowledge, never losing respect or patience with even the most challenging student. As Nonaka Sensei says, "Be strict with yourself, but gentle on your students".

The role of instructor goes far beyond teaching techniques. Sometimes students confide their most intimate matters and concerns to their instructor. To act as a confidante or to offer advice can be an enormous responsibility. Objectivity, compassion, and imparting the principles of Aikido are the priority when helping a distressed student. Ma-ai, the proper distance of respect, should always exist between the instructor and students. This does not mean aloofness or withholding advice. Confidentiality must be maintained.

A good instructor will always find a way to illuminate Aikido's message to each and every student. But it must be remembered that teachers and students alike are followers of the Way. Each has his or her own path to follow, which is sacred. The Sensei is also a student, as practice is a lifelong journey.

Rules for Instructors

The following are very brief summaries of Tohei Sensei's "Rules for Instructors" taken from Ki in Daily Life.

1. Growing together.

By earnestly and kindly attempting to lead others we make great strides in our own technique and in our own personality. The way of ki is to learn with our companions, progress with them, and help them. This is certainly a good path to follow in the world as well. Do not be stingy with a technique you have learned: if we give of what we have learned as much as we can we can learn still more. Do not worry that the supply will be exhausted, the universal is infinite.

2. An instructor must be modest.

Just because someone is teaching does not necessarily mean they have mastered all of the principles the universal has to teach. For instructors to consider themselves perfected beings is a ridiculous illusion. Conceit closes the eyes of the spirit and leads to regression rather than to progress. Though a great instructor propounds it, a mistake is still a mistake; and though a beginner performs it, a correct act is still correct. A person becomes a splendid teacher when they possess a humble heart.

3. Pupils are the teacher's mirror.

The virtues and faults of the teacher are visible in the pupil and vice versa. If the pupil sincerely studies, the teacher will teach with sincerity. If a student is disrespectful to the teacher or shows interest in learning the techniques only, the teacher will know it, and the student will be unable to learn the best the teacher has to offer. Instructors who teach the principles of the universal must ensure their own words and actions conform to the principle of unified words and actions they expound. It is vital to preserve the attitude that they can learn from their students.

4. Right not might.

Though it is good that instructors teach their students to become strong, strength should not be the sole aim. In ki training, where the goal is unification of mind and body and the perfection of the human personality, even a little of the desire for power or complacency that one knows all of the techniques is disgraceful and demands correction. It is not the mighty person who is right, but the person in the right who is mighty. The path that conforms to the law of the universal is the way to the greatest strength.

5. Attitude not seniority makes an instructor.

Strength and technical skill and being a good instructor are different questions. One does not have to be a wonderful swimmer to be a good swimming coach. If you have studied and believe the laws of the universal you need have no hesitation in saying, "I myself am immature, but this is what I have learned. Let's train together". Since the universal is infinite if you wait until you have mastered it all to teach others, you will never do any teaching. When it comes right down to it, we are all immature. The fine instructors are those who, with a true faith, attempt to walk the path of progress together with others.

6. Be fair and impartial.

A teacher must be completely unattached - yet kind, fair, and impartial to all students. Impartiality does not mean that you have to teach everyone in the same way. Some people learn something the first time they hear it, others do not get it down after ten repetitions. Anyone can teach a person who is good at whatever they try. A person who can teach those who really need teaching is truly an enthusiastic instructor. This is the way to become a truly impartial instructor, a person illuminated by the spirit of love and affection for all, a person with compassion for everyone.

7. Instructors must work together.

Instructors must not squabble among themselves over techniques and teaching methods. In the same technique many methods exist, and the technique varies in accordance with the way an opponent applies force. All of them are correct if they adhere to the basic principles of ki. The universal is broad, and its rules are deep. Always be modest, always strive to learn all the universal can teach, and always lend an ear to what people have to say. Teacher or student, elder or junior, right is right, and a mistake is a mistake. Engrave this thought on your hearts.
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