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Aikido is a relatively young art, but has a huge broad base. Morihei Ueshiba had many contemporaries and many students. He had difficulty sharing his full vision of his art, and so many of his students developed their own methods of communicating what they learned and what they felt was important. Ueshiba had many influences: from the Koryu world of Sokaku Takeda; to the rational dissemination and preservation of skills of Jigoro Kano; to the military machines of his day that wanted methods to create/regurgitate entire battalions in the shortest possible time; to his religion that criticized his government, his emperor and the war; to the consequences of the Battle of the Pacific and Japan's surrender; to the opening of his legacy to the entire planet under multiple generations of students.
I started training in a small dojo, the only dojo for the entire province of Saskatchewan. Aikido did not exist until you reached Winnepeg to the east, or Calgary and Edmonton to the west. If there were schools in North Dakota and Montana, the Canadian and American economies were such that I seldom travelled south of the border. Going north, the nearest dojo I would have found was likely in the U.S.S.R.
There were two Shodan and two Ikkyu instructors, and a couple of fourth Kyu who trained me for my 5th Kyu test. They were everything Aikido to me. They had their disagreements and didn't perform their techniques all the same way. I ask many questions and I am a challenging student, so I spent a lot of time drenched in sweat with bleeding knees and sore wrists. In the disagreements, who was "right" was often answered by me being in pain - and it got driven home that there was so many right perspectives; so many ways for me to feel more pain. We all shut up and practiced, and I loved it. There was only one Shihan for many years, Yukio Kawahara. He liked it when people shut up and practiced too, and so we did. He seldom if ever mentioned politics that I know of. Akira Tohei visited the province once, sharing a seminar with Kawahara Sensei.
I was stunned when I started to travel to other cities for seminars. Some places, I could never visit without having someone try to determine my political allegiance. What was this Ki Society stuff? What was the war time stuff? People who didn't tolerate questions. People now talked about how Aikido had changed, who was closer to the source, who didn't like to train with who, why someone else was wrong, why their school was better. People who lectured on harmony, peace, and love but clearly and openly despised and harshly judged their fellow Aikidoists. People who would rather skip a day of training than risk being contaminated by the "wrong element." And, this is how they treated people in what I would learn were the same associations, with nearly identical lineages and allegiances!
Books became more plentiful, and also hinted at a much larger and nastier Aikido world. This new-fangled Interweb was starting to catch on. My first major seminar nearly 20 years ago had ten Shihan teaching. Students were walking off the mat when an 8th Dan direct student of Morihei Ueshiba that they would maybe never see again was teaching; openly saying because it wasn't their teacher. I loved the opportunity to see the other perspectives.
My teacher is now deceased, and I miss him. So, what is my future and the future of my Aikido? Anyone at this writing who has trained in Aikido for less than 46 years never had the opportunity to even meet the Founder. Out of the ten Shihan teachers at this one seminar decades ago, over half of the instructors are now dead. Out of the other associations, so many great teachers are now dead as well.
"Tradition is about keeping the flames alive, not worshipping the ashes." Gustav Mahler
I have a lineage, and I will honor it. There are still beautiful opportunities to be had. Our collective art started with one man, then promptly fragmented. The full scope of what Morhei Ueshiba taught is still perhaps alive, but it is in pieces.
The old parable about the blind men and the elephant goes like this: the one man touches the elephant's ear and says an elephant is like a piece of paper. One touches the trunk and says the elephant is like a snake. One touches a leg and says the elephant is like a tree. Another touches the side and says the elephant is like a wall. What would you learn if you talked to all of these men? Certainly stories would contradict. Would you pick just one of them as being "right?"
A new phenomenon in Aikido for me is the Friendship Seminar. In this area in particular, the late Toyoda Sensei's Aikido Association of America lineage has regularly and generously opened their doors and invited the larger Aikido population. A local Birankai affiliated dojo recently held an open door seminar as a fundraiser for Chiba Sensei's family. Raleigh Aikikai is an excellent dojo representing the late Mitsunari Kanai. Several paths that can be traced back to O Sensei are represented very close by.
I have fond memories of meeting Takeshi Kimeda of Yoshinkan, an energetic dynamic powerhouse who never hesitated to open his doors to an outsider and was an inspiring ambassador. I had a very insightful, thoughtful and thought provoking seminar with Patrick Parker of Shodokan Aikido and Kodokan Judo. Patrick in particular went out of his way to not only be the instructor for the weekend, but also very much a gracious host to me as an outsider. So many blogs and websites are for self- promotion; his Mokuren Dojo site is very generous with his abundant knowledge.
How do we move Aikido forward as a powerful, vibrant, martially viable, healthy, health-promoting, creative, timelessly innovative Art with a strong connection to history and lineage? For me, increasingly the answer is, look back. Look to the other schools who focused on another teaching method, or another facet of the beautiful gem of Aikido. Experience the lessons of the other teachers who saw Morihei Ueshiba and Aikido in different times and circumstances. I believe the greatest future opportunities for the Art of Peace lies in Friendship.