Ki-Aikido Lessons: learning from everyone

By | August 23, 2021

Besides things related to the Japanese language, training in Ki-Aikido is one of my other major hobbies where I try to spend a lot of time. I’ve written about Ki-Aikido a few times before (for example this article which goes into some detail), and since I recently got promoted to brown belt I thought it would be a good time to write another article about Ki-Aikido.

While there are a few good books available and some videos online as well, to really learn many of the principles of Ki and Ki-Aikido it’s best to train in person in a dojo. So rather than talk directly about any principles or techniques that are explicitly taught, this time I’ll focus on something I’ve personally realized in my years training.

When training in Ki principles or Ki-Aikido there are some exercises you can do on your own, but a majority of the techniques require a person to work with. Depending on your level and those you train with, you will have various options for partners, including those above your level, at your level, or even significantly below your level. Here “level” doesn’t mean just experience, but also the degree of understanding certain principles and being able to apply them.

As part of the training process, typically one person is trying to do some technique (waza) and the other is helping out, often as what would be considered as an “uke” (someone who receives the technique). We also do Ki tests that applying a little pressure at a specific place (for example the chest or the wrist) in order to determine their state of body and state of mind and convey that back to them.

In both of these cases, feedback is an extremely important part of the learning process. While it is possible to learn a great deal from just your own experiences of trial and error, if your partner (which may even be a sensei) gives you good direct verbal feedback it can help accelerate your growth and understanding. 

One of the things I really like about training in Ki-Aikido is that regardless of the level of two people working together, there is always an opportunity to learn from one another––at least as long as both sides are open to that possibility. One way to look at this is a form of humility; in other words, no matter how advanced someone is, they always have something to improve, something to refine. I’ve seen senseis with decades of experience admit they made a mistake or could have performed a technique better, and these role models help me develop similar humility and openness myself. Conversely, no matter how inexperienced someone is, they can still provide feedback that is useful, even if that is simple as “this time it worked better” or “something changed and now it’s not working”. I’ve even seen a sharp student with only a few weeks experience give excellent feedback.

For sure, some people are better than others at communicating their observations, feelings, and deductions in the form of productive feedback. Sometimes inconsistent or illogical feedback can be confusing, but learning to interpret a variety of feedback and apply it to your personal growth is one skill that needs to be trained along with everything else.

As a side point, I wanted to mention that spoken language is only one way to give feedback. Sometimes simply trying to resist a certain technique can give the nage (the performer of the technique) enough information to improve their execution, and learning to give and receive non-verbal feedback is an important part of training in Ki-Aikido and Ki principles. In fact, some senseis will ask that you keep verbal feedback to a minimum since actually performing the technique with a partner is one thing that cannot be done easily outside of the dojo.

Thinking back, when I was in school it was not uncommon for people to help one another in certain subjects, even if one person was younger or had less experience. But I think when one becomes an adult and moves into a life of primarily working there can be less opportunities to learn from others––not to mention that as we age, I think there is a tendency to be more stubborn and less open to learning from those who have less experience than ourselves. I admit that it took me a little while to get used to someone below my level (or even near my level) giving me feedback, but I’ve learned that it’s an important part of training in Ki-Aikido.

As a new student, it can be a little uncomfortable to start giving detailed feedback to those with more experience, and such feedback is by no means mandatory. But if their partner has more experience, he or she can try to kindly ask for feedback using simple questions like “how did this feel?” If the less-experienced student has done the technique in question with a sensei, the student may be able to convey the difference between the sensei’s execution of the technique and some other experienced student’s execution. 

Speaking of humility, during a trip I recently came across an older gentleman, and during a conversation with him the subject of martial arts came up. I mentioned that I am training in Ki-Aikido, and he said he trained in Karate and had even trained with some well-known Ki-Aikido senseis in the past. He didn’t volunteer any more information, but when I asked what his level was he nonchalantly said 7th-rank black belt. This totally caught me off guard, and later that day he told me how he feels it is important to not try and brag about one’s skill or ability, and therefore doesn’t mention his level of experience unless someone asks him about it. 

I think this sort of humility is an important characteristic that really helps a person stay able to continue learning, no matter their experience or level, instead of simply stopping once you get “good enough”. It reminds me of the idea of “Beginner’s Mind” in Zen Buddhism (something I studied a while ago), which is about being open to various possibilities, regardless how far along the journey you are.

Ultimately, one of the things learned when training in Ki principles and Ki-Aikido is how to better interact with others, whether it is when performing a physical martial arts technique, or just having an everyday discussion. And learning how to teach and learn from others, regardless of their skill level, is an important part of many interactions. Without a doubt, learning to give and receive positive feedback in our daily interactions is a truly valuable skill.

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