by Zac Hillier

When we’re fortunate enough to work with a more experienced Aikidoka we have a great chance to learn.

Feel how they are doing the technique. Try to pick out the timing, the entry, how they take your balance, notice how gentle the final throw is and don’t worry if it seems undoable. If you can break each technique down into small parts and focus on improving each element you can join it all back together as you gain experience. Remember it has likely taken your senpai many years, maybe 10s of years to get to this point.

Often when you have the chance to keiko with a more experienced partner they will notice aspects of your technique that you can improve. This may mean they will use their knowledge and experience to highlight where you have a weakness - by not letting you move them no matter their size or strength. This is a huge opportunity and must be grabbed every time you can. They know why you cannot do the technique, and it would be easy to tell you or show you, but they want to help you find it for yourself. This way you will understand much more. A little trick here - if you cannot figure it out, think of the sword.

If you get the opportunity to practice the technique multiple times, notice the next time around how your senpai does the part of the technique you are struggling with. Do they enter deeper off the line, do they turn their hips, are they raising their hands in their centre like a sword cut? Aikido is a martial art of fine details - small aspects that sometimes are very hard to perceive, you must search for these small details if you want to improve and understand more.

Chiba Shihan wrote an excellent article about “Choosing Partners” in which he says to keep an open mind to the individual characteristics of your partner and to consider things like gender, age, height, weight, mentality, personality and much more. By considering these we can understand why some-one who may be physically stronger could “force” a technique through on some-one who is smaller or weaker. But in this example it is imperative that the Aikidoka who is “forcing” the technique realises that they are not actually doing Aikido. If you are using strength and brute force then you are doing the technique wrong and at some point you will meet some-one bigger and stronger and you will not be able to “force” the technique through. Secondly you must realise that if you force a technique you stand a chance of injuring your fellow Aikidoka.

When executed correctly techniques should feel effortless and flow no matter the strength or weight of your uke. This always comes from a triangular entry, circular control and a square finish.

So the next time you feel resistance, no matter who is your uke, question your technique and try to understand.