Not that I would ever want to admit that doing kids classes is good for me but I feel it only necessary to attribute the beginning of the following concept to being in kids class. Consider yourself warned.
Often in class I will see a technique or opening and think I've done that one before or oh thats just like the one we did Monday. I believe this to be a common part of the human existence, to make things more palatable to my mind I connect it to something my mind is already familiar with.
I accept that this is a strong skill to have when I'm looking for something in the fridge because I can look for the package that looks just like what I remember and it totally works out. I also accept that this thinking closes off or limits what I can see or understand of the uniqueness of the technique I'm looking trying to learn.
Now this whole thing started when I was lined up in kids class. The kids are doing really well and Sensei no longer needs to use me as an uke, he calls the kids up and they do a great job. This however presents the situation where I need to pay attention and, more importantly, I need to look like I'm paying attention while Sensei teaches a technique I have seen and done upwards of a dozen different times. I am there after all to set an example and it better be a good one or Sensei will “demonstrate” the bad behavior right out of me. So, I created a new way to watch each technique and each version of each technique and for that matter each time Sensei does each version of each technique, a state of openness where I actually watch to learn.
I know this sounds like what we are all doing all the time in class but I mean really learning something from each time Sensei shows the technique as if I had never seen it before. Looking at the angle Sensei slides off the line, the way Sensei anticipates movement and puts himself in a position so that the next step is faster, easier, smoother. Essentially I maintain beginner's mind with the added benefit of not always having to watch each thing because I know a little of what is going to happen. I can watch Sensei's hands on a technique every time he demonstrates and learn something different each time.
I guess a piece of this is a desire to stay in the moment. I'm not good at meditating, it is a struggle for me. Aikido as meditation seems much easier. Staying in the moment not thinking about how I am going to do the technique. Staying in the moment not thinking about how I did it last time. Not asking “Is this on my test?” Staying in the moment and learning a technique by watching it for this moment.
Now you might say what is there to watch or learn the 50th time you've seen the same technique taught by the same instructor. Well, there are always the little things like angles, hands, breathing, energy emphasis, weight placement, you know the things that make Aikido effective. But, beyond this, there is also the idea of the broadview. The big spiral that starts at the grabbing hand and runs all the way to Sensei's knee as he pins. The vertical pop that takes someones balance as they step (oh but keep your center down while you pop). The way an entry presents a target that is never attained but constantly sought by uke and leads them in an ark of destiny that ends **splat** on the mat.
I also find my moment taking me to a contemplation of real life application. Now please don't confuse this for the often queried, “What would you do if I did this?” I mean a real life application. Ikkyo is kind of like a graceful conversation. I know you disagree but a slide off topic over here puts us in a position where we look at things the same way, then I take control of the situation by making my point (below my center) and then zigzag around the topic until you can at least see my point of view if not agree, if I've done it well.
So I challenge you to keep a state of openness to each demonstrated technique and try to stay in the moment and watch it like you're actually going to try and learn something. Not only that but find some little thing and some big thing that enhances your understanding of the technique. Then, when you really feel adventurous relate it to a real life situation. I promise we can talk about it over a beer or root beer sometime and you'll find we've been learning and imagining the same things in different ways all this time.