Kihon Waza – Practicing Basic Technique

This is the eleventh in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   

K is for Kihon Waza.

Kihon Waza [KEY-hone WAH-zuh], or basic technique, along with other important skills like learning to be present, to feel, and to respond appropriately, is a good place to start when learning Aikido.

Various schools interpret the idea differently. In some organizations kihon waza is a specific set of basic techniques that one can list. These techniques are divided into groups like pins vs. throws, or joint locks vs. balance breaking.

The meaning I am more familiar with is that kihon waza is a basic way of learning and executing any technique being taught. We go step-by-step through the technique, from a static start. That is, our uke [OOH-kay], or attacker, does not come at us in motion. They grab or strike just so.

Step, by step, by step. Feet move this way. Turn! Hands stay in front of you. Settle! Relax your elbows. Watch your alignment.

Through this regular, set process we learn the mechanics of what will someday become flowing, effortless, natural responses to a variety of situations.

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“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.”
~ Jim Rohn
Business and Marketing Author

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It can be hard to practice this way. Tedious. Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and want to jump right into the fun stuff.

But slow is boring!

Once, years ago, I went to Blues Week at the Augusta Heritage Festival, in West Virginia. I was a decent guitarist, mostly playing finger-picking folk music. I’d been playing for years, and taking lessons locally. I felt ready to stretch my wings a little. So, I saved my money, sent in my registration, and made reservations for red-eye flights and a cheap rental car.

Off I finally go to the summer music adventure of a lifetime, to learn fingerstyle blues guitar with Woody Mann, who learned from Reverend Gary Davis himself. How exciting! I fly across the country, and drive for hours, move into my dorm room, and hustle off to our first class together – just 14 of us, all reasonably competent, with nothing better to do all week than learn from a master. This is going to rock!

After introductions we get out our guitars, and darned if Woody doesn’t get out a metronome. And set it on slow. S. L. O. W. Tick, tick, tick, tick… Kind of like this, but slower.

I was crushed. Really? I came all this way to play along with a metronome? I thought this was supposed to be a pretty advanced workshop, not for beginners who still needed a metronome!

But it works!

Ha. Was I ever wrong! Yes, on the first day we played slowly. We picked apart the details of the tune and examined the fingerings that made the chord changes most efficient. Slowly. But more important, we played correctly. Instead of rushing through the piece, setting poor technique and sloppy errors into stone, we did it right. Slowly.

And it actually sounded quite good! The rhythm was correct, the tune had integrity. The beauty of the piece was there, even at this very relaxed speed. And surprisingly it wasn’t boring at all. Paying careful attention to each detail, and really focusing on getting it right was fun and engaging in its own way. Definitely an improvement on blundering through the thing with awkward pauses and sour notes.

The next day we worked out a few troublesome bits, and then picked up the pace a little. A little! And the next day faster still. Plus we started the process over with a few more pieces. By the end of the week we were able to play several tunes at a pretty respectable clip. Well. Cleanly.

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“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice make perfect.”
~ Jane Savoie
Olympic Equestrian Coach and Author

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That experience at guitar camp stuck with me. If we can be patient and do a thing correctly, however slowly, we will master it much more easily and quickly than fumbling our way through, badly. Karen Kustedjo, a friend and one of our instructors, puts it this way, “Practice makes permanent.”

Patience, Grasshopper.

This deliberate, methodical practice ingrains the correct form in our muscle memory. Jim Conrad, a friend from the dojo, told me recently, “Muscle memory doesn’t have any speed.” Or as you might hear around firearms training, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

Whatever you are learning, do the kihon waza. We all still need our metronomes from time to time. Practice doing the thing correctly, no matter how slowly you have to go. The speed will come.

Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

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