Teacher’s Technique… Student’s Techniques

I first thought of writing something on this theme after realizing that contrary to what I thought initially, there were some interesting differences in the way my techniques were performed and intended according to whether I was demonstrating them as a teacher, or performing them as a student. Of course, for the experiment to be meaningful, these techniques had to be applied on the same partners each time. What struck me most is that the sensation was totally different according to the status I was assuming on the tatami.

* For Philippe Gouttard, Ikkyo, Shihonage and Tai Sabaki are the means that allow us to progress within the technique. Technique itself is defined by more general criteria such as standing straight, being relaxed while we are receiving and being aware when we throw or pin a partner.

As the teacher, I was feeling almost invincible. Indeed, in this framework, my partner was called at the center of the mat in order to be submitted to what I call a mean*. He was already "under control" and I had no difficulty to mobilize him. However, during a seminar where I was merely a student, the same partner did not seem to me as compliant. How could I explain this phenomenon to myself while both of us had the same physical and technical abilities as before? We were doing the same techniques and we had the same body.

Philippe Gouttard and Guillaume ErardThe explanation comes from the fact that as teachers, we go through the whole class only as Tori, while the fact of being Uke requires a terrible investment that wears down both our resistance and lucidity. Moreover, as Uke, we have to cope with wrists locks, projections and it requires an uncompromising attention. However, as teachers, because the role of Uke becomes more remote from our sensations, it becomes obvious to me that we tend to forget how hard it is to give in and to surrender in order to allow the teacher to perform the perfect technique.

It seems crucial to me that teaching should never overlook the fact that the techniques that we master well are for us, teachers, basic techniques. However, for our students, these very same techniques can seem like very much advanced. It is of course crucial to "pull" students to the highest level but it is just as important to make it accessible enough so the challenge and the difficulty do not become a source of over frustration or failure.

How come that, when I am a student, during a class taught by another teacher, what used to be so easy for me while I was standing at the center of the mat demonstrating the very same technique becomes so difficult to realize? Once again, we are the same body and our partner has the same physique but the change is to be found in the relationship between Tori and Uke as well as the mental interaction. Obviously, the practitioner in front of me is no longer the submissive student who hoped to be taken in the middle and tried to understand what his teacher is expecting of him.

Instead, when placed in a corner of the mat, hidden by the other practitioners, this same student will expose a completely different side of his personality. He will practice in a much more personal fashion and since I will have to be submitted to his technique, my behavior will shift from dominant to dominated and it changes completely my relationship with this person.

Philippe Gouttard and Guillaume ErardWhen I am standing on the tatami, there is a concept that I always try to put into application. In a single sentence, it goes like this: "When we are students during a class, we try to be as perfect as a teacher would be, but when we are teachers, we should put ourselves in our student''s shoes in order to demonstrate a technique that is accessible to them without having them experience the sensation of impossibility".

In addition to that, it seems very important to me to know about the history of each technique that is being taught, especially from the perspective of the one who attacks (Uke) in order to stay lucid and capable of feeling the reactions of our various partners. That being said, I have sometimes had the feeling that some of my own teachers were demonstrating techniques that they could not really receive themselves. I therefore ended up wondering if we should not demonstrate these particular techniques at all or at least, only to students with a sufficient background and knowledge to translate with their body these apparent discrepancies.

I am convinced that the basis of teaching is to bring up students who will one day do better than us a style that will be unique to them. Our duty , as teachers is to bring them to this moment of "choice" and "freedom", in a total physical and spiritual freedom, while making sure that the small physical and mental pains gathered along the way do not hider their research of a better Aikido.

Philippe Gouttard
Author: Philippe Gouttard
Philippe Gouttard, 7th Dan from the Tokyo Aikikai, is a prominent French Aikido teacher who teaches seminars throughout France and Europe. He is also a prolific author of articles on the practice of Aikido and a certified practitioner of Osteopathy.
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