NGAExperience® Nihon Goshin Aikido

Training Progressions

By Jonathan Wilson

24 March 2015

When I was an athlete, I was a huge fan of Maximizing Meaningful Repetitions because I believed it helped me master concepts in the fastest means possible.  Later as I transitioned into coaching, I built my practices on the same “max reps” concept.  Give me 90 minutes, and I’ll make sure you get 2,000 - 2,500 individual (and related) touches on the soccer ball.  With those types of numbers daily, you can’t help but improve day to day ~ and significantly.


So, how do you maximize meaningful reps?  I believe that one of the answers rests in focusing on “theme based” instruction.


Now most of us have a limited amount of time per week to focus on our aikido studies.  Similarly, in order to insure the amateur status of the collegiate athlete, The NCAA limits training time in all sports to a maximum of 20 hours per week.  Now that is a ton of time relative to the 2-4 hours you may be getting in aikido, but you can always seek to maximize your results in the time you have available.


One of the ways I was able to get by with NCAA restricted training hours was to focus on “Pace of Play” in training (which I discussed at length in an article titled, “Pace of Play” ~ which you can read by clicking here).


Another way I maximized my players meaningful reps was to make my training progressions as efficient, well thought out, and thematically based as possible.


Consider my soccer practices ~ which used the traditional US Soccer pedagogy:


Every one of my soccer practices were divided up into a 3 category practice progression.

  1. Fundamental:  Where a simple idea is repeated over and over again without defensive resistance (this is often incorporated into the context of a warm up ~ with stretching breaks done periodically throughout this phase of training).
  2. Match Related:  Where the simple idea introduced in the Fundamental portion of the practice is transferred into a game like scenario (using a soccer game as our template, we would add defenders, restrict space, provide a direction of attack, etc.).
  3. Match Condition:  Where the simple idea you introduced in the Fundamental stage, and developed further in the Match Related stage finally reaches a mature thought.  Now your idea or training concept is finally incorporated into a match like environment.  Match Condition is exactly what it says it is.  In the template of a soccer practice ~ Match Condition represents a portion of the practice which is essentially an inter squad “match” between teams of equal numbers, playing with direction and purpose.


In the coaches’ meeting before the practice began, I briefed the assistant coaches on the topic of the session, handed each of them an outline of the practice plan/format with time breakdowns diagrams of training grids, and most importantly ~ specified coaching points.  In other words, there may be 100 things going wrong during the practice, but THIS is what I want you (as a coach) to focus on when you make your corrections.  We also briefed the players on our goals during the warm-up ~ so they would know what we, as coaches, were expecting.  


In the Fundamental (beginning) stage, when corrections needed to be made, we first looked for faults that applied to the entire group (and fit the practice narrative).  The moment it was noted that there was a “general fault” ~ we halted practice to make the correction to all of the players.  In most of these training sessions, general fault corrections were made multiple times.  As a rule of thumb, it is important that they are identified and corrected early, lest the players begin to believe they is doing something correctly, when they are not.  It is also important to make the corrections quickly.  People learn the golf swing by hitting golf balls, not by listening to someone talk about hitting golf balls.  The same is true in soccer, and in aikido ~ “less talky more worky.”


Now as the practice progresses into the Match Related section of the practice, unique or player specific corrections are made.  As always, a clear picture is always worthwhile, so the coach must be able to demonstrate the concept, and should demonstrate it frequently (but quickly) so that all can experience it.


Important point:  if you’ve been effective with your corrections through the Match Related portion of the practice, the Match Condition segment of the practice should have your primary theme for the day on display in spades.  In other words, when you say, “Okay, we’re going to scrimmage” ~ you should see the simple idea you were training earlier in the session incorporated throughout the Free Play segment of the practice over and over again.  If you don’t see the idea manifest itself regularly ~ you need to make a correction immediately.  Note this is NOT unrestricted free play ~ where the players can do anything they want.  On the contrary, the Match Condition phase of the practice should reaffirm everything previously taught during the training session.


Now, EVERY practice I ever conducted was organized in this fashion ~ around a central theme, and that theme was carried through the practice from beginning to end ~ just as we described.


I’m sure you can see the parallel in our Aikido studies.  Using US Soccer’s training pedagogy, the practice outline is easily observable.  


Fundamental Stage:  This is our Classical Technique.  Generally a foundational tool, it should be done first.  Preferably focused on a single technique like the Elbow Chop.


Match Related:  This is the Application of THE Classical Technique (“The” is capitalized to indicate a single idea ~ eg:  the Elbow Chop) ~ and multiple Elbow Chop Applications would be introduced.


Match Condition:  Is Uke & Nage Free Style, Single and Multiple Attacker Randori, and/ or Attack/ Defense Lines.  In this situation, all applications of technique would be Elbow Chops ~ the more the better.


Now if you are in a seminar format, or you have a 2 hour class or something and thereby have more time, you can restart at the Fundamental phase of training with another idea ~ preferably an idea with a related notion or concept regarding the movement of the hands or feet.  In this way the Fundamental phase can be shortened in the next round of instruction.


Using the previous example in seeking a related concept, if the Elbow Chop was the topic of the first vignette (after you proceeded through Classical Technique/ Application/ Uke & Nage Randori), the next vignette might discuss the Slap to the Side of the Head (in the same Fundamental/ Match Related/ Match Condition format) ~ since they are closely related ~ the prime difference being the closer distance between uke and nage with Slap to the Side of the Head.


Of course (and this is a serious disclaimer).  I’m not an aikido instructor.  In fact, as far as aikido goes, I’ve only used this training template once as a fill in instructor for Brian Winfree at the Irmo Dojo ~ so it may or may not work for you.  That said, in the class I used the progression described above, we had a bunch of white belts, so it was easy, and the topic was, in fact, “The Elbow Chop.”


The format for the class went like this:

Classical Technique:  Elbow Chop

Applications:  Elbow Chop

Jacket Grab

1 handed choke from the front

Round House Punch

Straight Punch

Attack Line:  Uke attacks were limited to the Applications taught earlier in the session, and the technique employed by nage HAD to be the Elbow Chop.  


It was a very smooth class, and even first time students (and there were two in that session) were able to navigate the Attack Line with some reasonable success.


One Nihon Goshin Aikido Consideration:  since we have an order in our techniques, and not every class will contain students of the same belt level, it might be best to work around general principles that can be applied universally across belt order.  For example, establishing and maintaining proper mai-ai is a concept that crosses the great framework of all of our techniques, or using ki energy in your techniques, etc.


Last point:  The photographs on the left demonstrate common flaws with training programs.  The only photo I didn’t get was one of a group huddled together talking about heaven knows what for 15 solid and continuous minutes of an hour long practice.  Take a look at the photos and read the captions underneath.


What say ye?


Want to add to the discussion?  Post your comments in the comment box below!

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This is better!  It is clear that the coach has done his homework.  He is in the Fundamental Stage of his practice.  The players are operating in a grid with very specific instructions.  “Pass the ball through the players’ legs in the middle of the grid and to the player on the other side.”


 After a quick demonstration, the coach walked around and individually taught every player  the basic concepts of a push pass.  Note the absence of lines.  Active rest is achieved by switching the player in the middle of the grid to one on the outside thereby maximizing meaningful repetitions.


Eventually defenders were added and a small scrimmage was conducted at the end.


The visible improvement in these players’ ability to accurately pass the ball was significant ~ in just an hour of training.


[From my son’s soccer practice this evening (one of the adjacent fields to the one my son was training on)].

Master Nara says, “Practice Thoughtfully to Optimize Your Capacity to Improve.”

This demonstrates poor training principles with regard to MAXIMUM reps.


A concept was taught, but the line is WAY too long to allow it to sink in.


 Players could triple their meaningful repetitions by having 3 lines.... Or better yet, NO LINES.  


There was no measurable improvement in any player during the training session.


From my son’s soccer practice this evening, he’s the kid in the orange jersey and orange socks.

This is poor training with regard to MEANINGFUL reps.


Certainly better (regarding repetitions) than the long line approach in the first picture, but the lack of a theme is obvious in the picture.... The kids just ran around chasing the ball for the entire practice.


While the players got some touches, and some fitness out of the session, there was no coaching during any part of it.  It was simple chaos.  


There was no measurable improvement in any player’s ability during the session.


[From my son’s soccer practice this evening (one of the adjacent fields to the one my son was training on)].

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