Can You Learn Aikido on Your Own
Aikido is a popular Japanese martial art. You may have seen some movies with Steven Segal using Aikido moves to beat up the bad guys or maybe you are intrigued by the philosophical and spiritual aspects of Aikido, but is it possible to make any significant progress in the art, by learning on your own? We explore that question in this article, so please read on.
Is it a Sport?
Although some martial arts emphasize the sporting aspect, like Boxing or Judo for example, in general martial arts are much more introverted and individual practices than team sports like basketball or football. Also, in the case of Aikido, it’s not just a physical sporting activity, but also an art.This may lead you to a quick conclusion that Aikido is something you can learn on your own. This is only partially true, because the teacher in Aikido plays an important role. However, we can’t deny that Aikido seems introverted, focused on self-improvement, and for better or worst, you are the best person to rely on for that job.
Aikido Learning Compared to Academic Learning
In an academic setting which is common in most parts of the world, a teacher is pointing the way, while students do all the studying and exercises needed to gain knowledge and experience. Those of you that have gone through the formal educational system, by now have probably concluded, that most of the work, all the learning and practice has to be done by the student.
Sometimes, when there is no appropriate teacher for a subject, a good book can be more helpful than a bad teacher. There are some good books on Aikido, and I’ll try to recommend a few before the end of this article, but just reading and talking about a martial art, will not make you a master. The positive aspect of knowledge is that you will have much more information, more opinions to consider, and all of that will make you wiser in a way, and you will approach practice in a very differently. So, definitely, consider as much theory as possible, but in the end wrap it up with practice.
Aikido is similar to an academic environment in that the student has to take responsibility for his/her improvement, a good teacher will only show you the way, but you have to do the work anyway.
Compared to Corporate and Professional Learning
Later on in Life, after finishing formal education or when you start working, it’s the beginning of your career, but It’s not the end of learning. On the contrary, successful business people are looking for professional knowledge and improvement all the time. Often they relay less and less on a mentor-teacher, because they already know what they want to learn. That doesn’t mean that workshops and people with expertise will be of no help, they can be a brilliant opportunity. However, most of the learning that professionals do, is by their own compass and management. This is important, and it’s another supporting point for the statement - “ there is a space for self managed learning in Aikido.”.
So Why Not Learn on Your Own?
Having this perspective on learning in general, the question is - Why shouldn't you be able to learn Aikido on your own, without a teacher? Is it possible at all? Many people will tell you immediately that learning a martial art on your own, it’s not the wisest choice, but let’s not stop there, but look deeper into this question because it hides lots of understanding. I’ve been practicing Aikido more than 8 years, and even had short Judo background, and believe me I’ve considered these questions more than once. I guess many beginner Aikidoka(Aikido Practitioners) have not yet really considered the teacher-student relationship because they are buried in technical dilemmas. That is only natural, but as you mature in your practice, you will ask more questions.
If you are already studying Aikido I invite you to take a more entrepreneurship based approach to studying the art, and not just mindlessly copying movements. I believe that part of the beauty of Aikido is it’s completeness. It engages you on so many levels simultaneously and you have to grow.
The Spirit of Entrepreneurship is the Modern Spirit of the Warrior
In the previous paragraph, I started mentioning the importance of spirit or attitude in your practice. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it. Aikido is a form of Budo - “The Martial Way” traditionally highly regarded by Japanese people. This is not just a good sounding phrase meant to be poetical, but rather means that in Japan, very long time ago, people realized that warriors have to manage their life very differently that people who were farmers or craftsmen. They adhered to a special code of conduct and high moral values known as Bushido(“The Way of the Warrior”).
As you may notice, many of today’s popular Japanese martial arts end with “do”, for example: Judo, Kendo, Aikido, Karate-do. This is because at certain point in history, probably during and after World War 2, a big shift in the mindset and attitude towards modern Japanese martial arts happened, and the emphasis had moved on to preserving practices and moral values that would be beneficial for the common citizen, and not just reserved for military and soldiers.
The practice of martial arts should help people to develop skill and self confidence, to become leaders and role models, to be creators and protectors, not people that would do more destruction and violence. This kind of thinking inspired the evolution of Aikido.
The Negative Sides of Learning Without Teacher
I’ve spent most of my article so far, writing words of encouragement to people that are willing to use their own self-leadership, motivation and talent. To be passionately curious and rebellious against any lazy, superficial, shallow or ego driven ways of approaching this beautiful art. These words of encouragement are really needed, since martial arts, and maybe it’s even more true for Japanese martial arts, are somewhat conservative and traditional. That is not necessarily bad, but it makes it easy for people to fall in traps of dogma. When people are afraid, the natural instinct is to become stiff, closed, to protect one-self. Aikido should be slightly different, and teach you to stay open to opportunity, even in the face of danger. All this talk is to point your spirit to the right direction, but what about reason? It would be foolish not to consider the facts and experiences of many other people, and many will tell you - “it’s crazy to try and learn on your own.”. Why is that? There are really some strong reasons that can’t be overlooked, so let’s go through them as quickly as possible.
It’s Not Safe
One of the greatest argument against completely self-managed practice without the survalen of an experienced teacher is safety from injuries. Practiced Aikido movements may seem really soft and gentle, but if not practiced in a safe way, may lead to serious injuries. So, if you are practicing with a partner and none of you have experience, it’s big risk, and you should be extremely cautious for a very long time. Do the movements slowly and deliberately, with lots of sensitivity. Never force your partner to practice any movements he doesn’t feel confident and comfortable with. If you feel pain during or after your practice sessions, it’s an important indicator that some of the practice may be harmful in the way that you currently practice it, so reconsider the way you practice and always put safety first.
You Are Taking the Long Road to a Far Away Destination
Any art takes lots of practice to master it. Some popular studies indicate that it takes at least 10 000 hours of deliberate practice, to master a skill close to its full potential. This is very true with martial arts, you need a lot of practice before you feel skilled and competent. Even with some of the best teachers and trainers it will probably take years of dedicated practice before you rich your true potential. What is likely to happen if you practice on your own is that you may take a wrong turn here and there, and may take you much longer to learn the lesson. So, if you don’t study what other people do, and use the experience of other people, it will take you ridiculously long to get to the conclusion, or you may even never get there. If you are learning on your own you need to read and study other masters much more, don’t trust first impressions. Be humble, and open to learning. If you come to a conclusion that you are the best master in the history of the Art in your second day of practice, you are probably fooling yourself. Patiently continue your inquiry.
How will you evaluate your perspective?
Aikido also has a spiritual aspect, that maybe in the simplest way means that some of the best “fruits” of the practice is the freedom from ego. This is at the core of the art. When you practice on your own, you have only your own point of perspective, and it’s easy to get locked only in one mindset. Only one set of rules that is likely to trap you, and instead of giving you freedom, it may lock you down. Practicing with many people and having a great teacher is a great environment that is likely to help you to outgrow yourself.
Are you doing the movements precisely?
A mirror can be a great teacher when trying to polish your technique, but is it enough? Again, it is easy to stay locked into only practicing the moves you like, and maybe you are not even practicing a proper form. A teacher brings lot’s of value by encouraging you to practice the moves and techniques that you avoid practicing. How are you going to learn if you don’t practice what you don’t know?
Often we tend to badly misjudged a physical movement’s form, especially when we are doing it. When you perform a movement, your mind focuses on certain feelings and sensations and that is completely your perspective. You may be surprised when playing back a video recording of yourself doing the movement. It’s usually not what you would expect.
You are maybe trying to fix the “good” movements
Sometimes, when practicing a certain technique, something may obviously feel wrong. Without a teacher, the only way to go ahead is to try to analyze each detail and each aspect of the movement, and that is kind of a good thing, but early on in your practice, it may be misleading. You may start “fixing” the correct movements, and by that breaking them, and making the technique even worst. Instead of inventing the wheel, it’s wiser to first learn the natural evolution of techniques, so that you don’t have to reinvent everything by yourself.
The role of the teacher in Aikido practice is very important, and proper development without one is almost impossible to imagine. On the other hand, the student should not rely on the teacher fully, and should take responsibility for his/her learning. If you love or are falling in love with Aikido at the moment, please give a better thought about the roles of Teacher and Student, because they are a key dynamic of development in the practice. If possible, find a good teacher, and respect his/her willingness to help your own development to take full advantage of the opportunity.