Learning in Aikido: How do I know I know?

I wrote the following in answer to Maestro Marcus, one day out of the blue (as he is apt to do), asking me how I knew I had learned things in aikido. I would very much like to hear from readers if any of my reflection resonates with their own experience of learning aikido or if they have other perspectives on the matter.

Learning Aikido is a complex process. Partly this is because it is about educating the whole person and it involves teaching and learning in physical, spiritual and mental realms. This learning typically occurs within a group-training context where the student is part of a community of practice focused upon self-development and ultimately upon a care for nature, humankind and society.

group training

How do I know I have learnt to respect and demonstrate gratitude for:

• Myself?

  • I arrive at the dojo and calmly prepare myself, bow onto the mat, train in a positive manner, bow off and help clean the dojo. I maintain my focus and concentration on my practice. I experience pride and satisfaction through my practice, efforts and contributions.

• My teacher?

  • I listen to his instructions. I care about what he is trying to teach me. I reflect on what he says and does. I make time to discuss things with him. I try to assist him in appropriate ways. I feel gratitude towards him.

• My fellow students?

  • I greet them in a cheerful way and maintain a positive attitude towards them. I train with them in a way that matches them and their level of development. I feel gratitude towards them.

• The space we practice in?

  • I clean the dojo, sweep and wipe its floors. I feel grateful that we have such a great place to come to and train in.

• O-Sensei and the ancestry of Aikido?

  • I bow to the shrine area of the dojo and feel deep gratitude for those who created our wonderful practice.

How do I know I have learnt to execute Aikido techniques correctly?

I watch my teacher demonstrate a technique with his partner. I observe and attempt to remember the details of the physical movements and the energy transactions. I listen to his comments and advice. I picture the movements and relate them to other aikido movements I have learnt in the past. I practice what has been demonstrated and spoken about. I investigate the techniques with my partners, collaborating with them to reach a better understanding of each aspect of the techniques. I reflect on all of the above and continue to repeat the cycle including private and group times of reflection. Eventually I build up my knowledge, skills and ability to apply the techniques.

I know I have learnt the techniques when I can lead/control/pin/throw my partners consistently, and effectively with a degree of ease; my teacher is satisfied with my performance; I can remember the techniques, perform them at will, or with a little research or prompting; and I can successfully show and explain to other students how to do them.

By Daryl Pellizzer 2010

learning techniques


How do I know I have learnt a technique correctly?

I observe my instructor demonstrate the technique with his uke (attacking partner) I pay close attention to the placement of the feet and the movement of the hands. This forms the basic pattern of the technique in my mind. I then pay close attention to crux of the technique, the energy transfer and where the centre is position. While I make the above observations I relate what I have observed with other aikido techniques I have learnt in the past to assist my understanding; I visualise the technique I have just observed in my mind, this helps my body prepare just before I practice with my partner.

I know I have learnt the technique when I can repeatedly execute the technique effortlessly on demand and do so with control. I know I understand the technique when I can teach a technique to my fellow students quickly in simple to understand terms, and they are able to reproduce the basic form of a technique in a short amount of time.

I further my learning by exploring the technique with my fellow students when training at the dojo I continue my learning with individual training outside the dojo.

By Gabriel Ung

training with Sensei


Do you recognize when someone doesn’t know but thinks they do know? and how do you come that realization about others and yourself?

As a student I try to be open to even a raw beginner’s offers at least to start with; sometimes I gain a new perspective from this. But if the aiki isn’t there, if I my attitude is clear yet I think my partner is blocking our training, I try different approaches.

Ideally I aiki those blocks, i.e. I keep my intentions positive, I Iook to myself, my partner and what we are trying to do together. I might call on our teacher to clarify. How will I harmonize?

If my partner is blocking, I will train with them as best I can. I will not be eager to train with them again. I will certainly not try to share my knowledge with them through words. I will try to execute the prescribed techniques as well as I can and then bow in respect to them as sincerely as possible.

As teacher I think I use a similar yet more sophisticated and perhaps less tolerant approach.

By Daryl Pellizzer 2010