Monday, October 26, 2015

Things Karl taught me

There was so much that Karl taught me, and so much that Karl taught my teachers who then filtered the lessons to me, that it is difficult to condense it to a handful of memorable teachings,but here goes...
  • Karl was a master of heuristic-based teaching - He was very good at coming up with specific, measurable, rules of thumb to guide practice, but he always phrased them as absolutes, like,"always keep your arms exactly centered and unbendable."   This sort of rules-based aikido got a lot of us emulating some form of jutsu pretty quickly, but the rules-based thing is a self-limiting form of aikido.  He would often tell us, "There will come a time to break all the rules, and that moment will make itself known.  Until then, follow this rule religiously and it'll make your aikido work better."  Even with him telling what he was doing, it was years before we figured out that they were rules of thumb instead of absolutes.
  • And that brings up eidetic learning and the difference between explicit and implicit teaching - There is always, necessarily some difference between what a master teacher tells you he is doing and what he is really doing. A lot of times the masters are not even sure what they are doing to make something work, so they grasp at straws trying to describe it.  The secret is you have to know this phenomenon happens and carefully watch for yourself what the instructor is actually doing (as opposed to what he says he is going to do) so that you can "steal the technique."  Karl taught us this, or else we learned it from dealing with Karl.
  • Karl was a master of finding aiki in fun places in everyday life and bringing it back to the dojo in innovative ways - We were always experimenting with ping pong, dart-throwing, tango, BOSU boards, electronic surfboards... the list goes on and on.
  • What Karl called "Kihara" in the later years was essentially what Ueshiba called "takemusu aiki" in the early years.  A lot of folks gripe about the changes Karl made in his class structure and teaching methods around Y2K, but I think they are probably missing that he was looking for a way to get at that ineffable mystery that Ueshiba had described years earlier when he said, "Whenever I move around, that is what aiki is."  They were both getting at a kind of movement that is spontaneously generative of infinite technique.
  • Do it while it's fun, and when it's not any fun any more, stop doing it - Similar to Becky's proclamation that she "has a religion and aikido ain't it," Karl often advised me to "do aikido and judo while it is fun, and if there comes a day that it is no fun, then stop."  Several times during the last years of his life he told me that he wanted to move away from Houston to some tiny Nowhere-ville and start over with maybe a half-dozen brand new students at a tiny house dojo (similar to mine).  I don't know if he was blowing smoke up my ass, or if that was a real dream of his that he never got unstuck from, but like the rest of Karl, it was interesting and memorable.

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Patrick Parker
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