Brian Kagen pick: “Should You Ever Give Up on Someone?,” by Jeff Broderick

“So, what do you think? Should some people just be encouraged to take up bird watching? Weapons kata are not usually very dangerous, but I’m not crazy about the idea of training with somebody who often does the totally unexpected, or without any control of his motions.”

Brian Kagen is an avid web researcher with a particular interest in martial arts. His training background includes both judo and aikido. He has contributed hundreds of article links over the years for AJ readers.

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  1. I had an interesting experience with some other exercises.

    Ask him after every session what he has learned. Pubicly. So many people don’t take responsibility for what they learn; it’s something you’re supposed to just give them. Make him take responsibility. Learning is an active and not a passive process. Yelling at him still leaves him in the passive role.

    Try something really basic like unbendable arm and see what happens when someone tests your posture while saying things like “I don’t want to do this, I can’t do this, I’m doing something wrong, etc.” I find people collapse even with this basic simple exercise. No amount of teaching seems to overcome a student who doesn’t want to believe in themselves, their teacher, or their practice. With genuinely nice people, actually putting themselves in a position to possibly hurt someone or actually think about something violent sets up a huge mental block that can make everything impossible. Meditation can help, but someone else who can function will need to guide the meditation or he’ll reinforce the existing thought patterns.

    If this is someone who has never really lived in their body and genuinely can’t tell their left from their right, the basic solo practice will probably open up huge doors that make his life much more enriched. The feeling of coordination and integration feeds into everything. Yes, he could get the same things from dancing (and maybe with fewer mental blocks and injuries), but he chose martial arts. Maybe he never will be able to fight his way out of a paperbag, and that would be sad and frustrating but if he enjoys it what’s the harm?

    I had a legally blind student with multiple joint injuries who couldn’t even roll without taking further joint injuries. I actually got to the point I did tell him to quit, which just made him want to try harder. I wasn’t the head instructor, so I couldn’t enforce the choice. I was still scared for him and he did eventually get too injured to practice – but now everything in his life was much more difficult because of the new chronic shooting pains in his shoulders. Every movement caused him pain. Similar story with a man who wanted to learn Aikido despite a pathological dislocating shoulder, or a woman who never stopped putting her hand behind her to break a fall until she broke his arm slipping on the ice after three years of us trying to teach her how to fall. I get sick thinking about it.

    I had an arm injury that left my left elbow paralysed. I was told to quit by several people, and I’m still there and doing alright by comparison to some others. I did need to change what I did – lots of Taiji, lots of Bagua and standing meditation to supplement my Aikido practice; but getting back to the beginning, everything I did to stay on the mat was my choice. No one could do that for me.

    I am very sympathetic – I care about what I teach and practice, and I want people to get it. Sometimes I can’t be the one to help them. Several kohei prefer to listen to other people and sometimes to their detriment. I hate the responsibility for the final result.

  2. …if the person isn’t a danger to others, what’s the problem? if he/she is a danger, then take the weapon and give them something less dangerous, like a cardboard tube or a foam “bopper”. if that still doesn’t work, ask them to work through the form with nothing in their hands. get a senior student to accompany them the same way. maybe both will learn something. i do empty handed jo all the time. in places where the real thing would be alarming, open handed is just eccentric…

    as long as the person is sincere and respectful, no problem. if, however, the person is trying to show off inappropriately, accelerate the process toward open hands.

  3. Hillendflynn says:

    … have you thought that the problem may lie with your about this? Not wanting to be rude but if this guy is, as you say, sincere then surely he deserves sincere help, not impatient help that expects him to success (by creating the idea of success you also create the idea of failiure)… I am of the thinking that in aikido we will always to fail for we are trying to copy our teachers, who try to copy their teachers up and up until we reach O’Sensei, and at the end of the day none of us can be anyone but ourselves. Maybe you (and your Sensei maybe) could have a visit of some of the things O’Sensei said and wrote about aikido. This might change your attitude which in turn might change your aikido and in turn help this guy, you never know.
    Many thanks for the honesty of your post.

  4. I have never gone to class with the idea that all the people I get to practice with or teach will ” get it ”. In fact many don’t. I think it stems from a combination of nerves, poor body recognition and the fact some people do not move well. Some new students- not yet beginners as to be a beginner takes years of hard practice- I have many many years but will always be a student- get so overwhelmed they don’t know the left from the right. At the dojo where I train this is pressure they put themselves under. The dojo in the article seems to have reached the end with this student. I know how frustrating it can be at times but this can be a failing of the teacher not the student. If the student is unteachable or dangerous then Sensei must make a decision and either train him in a way different to every one else or ask him to leave. Then the ”problem” will be solved.
    On a different issue there is also the authors role in this.
    I will assume the author of the article is a sempei but if he has any martial awareness how come this old man with no skills was able to ‘bop’him on the shoulder? I know they were doing kata but it seems his kata is just a series of movements similar to a dance and if someone gets it wrong and actually hits his partner then that is incorrect. It is a bit like stopping a punch with your face!!! At what stage does the student avoid the jo coming at him? It seems not at all as the old man was not doing it right and not in the right place. I thought it was a martial art and object was not to be hit? Or at least to try and see it coming and make some attempt to move, blend or block. Not stand there and admonish the student who hit you just because he is no good and in the wrong place for if he was in the right place the dance could continue and no one would be hit!!!!!
    Ah well I’m sure they will work it out soon.

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