Gordon Shumaker (4th Dan)



     There was a first-kyu grading in progress when I arrived at the dojo.  I sat with the spectators and watched.  One student did remarkably well during the jiyu-waza portion of the exam.  That prompted one of the spectators to say, “He is really good.”  I agreed.  The spectator then asked, “Who taught him how to do that?”  I replied, “Well, he is self-taught.”  With that remark, I likely insulted all of his instructors, including myself.  But I was serious about my remark, even though it does not capture the whole story of Aikido training.

     My statement reflects the attitude of noted educator and author, John Holt.  Two of his most significant books are How Children Learn and How Children Fail.  Holt asserts that “learning is not the product of teaching.  Learning is the product of the activity of the learner.”  I think that assertion fits Aikido well, and I have felt for a long time that aikidoka ultimately teach Aikido to themselves.

     The instructor, of course, has a significant role to play in organizing a curriculum that will allow for the most efficient and optimal development.  The instructor also serves a “corrective” function, calling attention to errors that can develop into counterproductive habits.  But, once the student acquires a sense of the fundamentals, he takes over the responsibility for his own learning.  That requires him to pay attention to what he is doing and how he is doing it, and to provide his own feedback.  He must work on becoming self-aware and must acknowledge that he always needs improvement.  He may from time to time receive the guidance from instructors, but then he must translate that guidance into personal performance.

     We cannot deny that, at some stage in the aikidoka’s training, he is on his own.  No teacher will always be there to assist and correct and encourage.  So, the learner’s responsibility is this: Teach yourself.

     And I will end with another piece of advice from Holt to teachers:  Let the learner direct his own learning.

James Nolan