Sunday, November 09, 2008


The topic of teaching is one that I have been wanting to discuss for awhile. The above pictures were taken in the 1960's and show both Robert Nadeau and Robert Frager with Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba Osensei. These were the men who introduced me to Osensei's art in fall of 1969. They were both instrumental in my becoming a full-time aikido teacher. I got my first chance to run a dojo from Robert Frager in 1975 when he left the UC Santa Cruz club to found the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Robert Nadeau sold me the current dojo in 1980, after having invited me to be one of its original faculty in 1976.

How does one go about teaching in aikido? You are usually a student who is asked by an instructor to cover a class. If memory serves me, my first class was summer of 1970 at UC Santa Cruz. Robert Frager was going to be gone for one of the club practices and he asked me to take it. It was a surprise. At the time I was a new blue belt(4th kyu). He probably asked me to take the class because he trusted that I would not do anything too weird rather than because I had tremendous ability. When I was at UC Davis Allen Grow, one of the finest of Nadeau sensei's earliest students and founder of the Aikido Institute in Oakland,was the sensei of the Aikido Club. He could only make it there once or twice a week, so I led(rather than taught) an informal third class a week. Among those who regularly attended was the famous transpersonal psychologist Charles Tart, author of "The Psychology of Altered States of Consciousness" and faculty advisor for the aikido club. Again, no big deal. In those days if you were a colored belt, it was the equivalent of being a black belt today. The only black belts then were the teachers.

After I graduated with a Masters from UC Davis, I was back in Santa Cruz with my parents and preparing to make my first trip to Japan. I was given permission by Frager sensei to start Rec Department classes off campus. I did that only briefly before leaving for Japan and Shingu.

When I returned from Japan my first regularly scheduled class was given to me by Frank Doran sensei. I took over the Thursday night adult class at Woodside High School and then later took over the afternoon kid's class. This was significant because it was at an Aikido dojo(then Aikido of Woodside, now Aikido West), it was my class to teach, and I got a salary for teaching. This may not seem a big deal these days, because the vast majority of the student body makes much more income than I do. At the time, however, I was able to sign over the check from Doran sensei to my father and help him out with a little rent money. And the money I got from teaching the kids was my run around recreational money. I left for a second Japan trip in August of 1974 so my first regular teaching gig lasted about 7 months and change.

My next teaching stint was in Shingu. The nature of the dojo was that even though you had very high ranking teachers, there would be the odd class when I was the only yudansha, and so I would lead the class at the beginning and hope Yanase, Anno, or Tojima sensei would come late. I would always turn the class over to shihan level instructors and even to senior yudansha. I was there to train, not to teach. In the weekdays there were classes for the Accounting School during the afternoons. Hikitsuchi sensei would usually formally teach the Mondays and Fridays. I started showing up the other days. Being a yudansha, I could expect to lead the class. It gave me a chance to try out stuff i saw in class. I was able to empower the girls in the class by calling them out for ukemi. And a lot of the guys were what you might call pretty thick, ie not interested or responsive, so it was a good chance to open up a bit. It was something that I myself chose to do, not something that was offered me. One day I took and afternoon off to get a hair cut. I was then scolded by Hikitsuchi sensei. I realized that whether I liked it or not, those middle of the week classes had become my gig.

I realize that this has much more to it than I originally thought, so I will continue it in my next blog.


Blogger gabe. said...

I really enjoy reading your posts, thanks for taking the time to write them. Also, what a great picture of Doran Sensei.

3:43 PM  
Blogger elcartero said...

Jack, I love these old photos and the posts on your experiences with teaching. There is depth here. The 'black and white' photos of old seem to hold more presence than the beautifully HD color of new. Even old color photos seem more...real. There's something to that.


2:33 PM  

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